Egypt,  Trade Unions

Egypt: Drop the charges against Kamal Abbas

Cross-posted from Act Now at LabourStart

On February 26 a Misdemeanor court in the city of Helwan, Egypt, sentenced Kamal Abbas, the general coordinator of the NGO the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services, in absentia, to six months imprisonment for “insulting a public officer” during the 2011 International Labour Conference in Geneva. The sentence refers to Thursday 9 June 2011, when Kamal Abbas interrupted Ismael Fahmy while he was delivering a speech to the Conference.

Kamal Abbas, who attended the Conference as a representative on the ITUC delegation, is accused of expressing his objection to the claim that the old state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation truly represented Egyptian workers.

The international trade union movement is extremely concerned by this sentence against Brother Abbas, and its implications for Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, and democracy in Egypt.

We ask you to take part in this campaign to pressure the Egyptian authorities to immediately withdraw all charges, annul the sentence, and to refrain from any further harassment against trade unionists or other civil society representatives for the exercise of their legitimate activities.

Update: Abu Faris writes in the comments:

Thank you for raising awareness about the continued state repression of free labour activists in Egypt.

The junta is attempting to set up the old regime’s pet labour organisation, the EUTF, as the only representative of labour in Egypt. For decades, all the EUTF has achieved is the continued disorganisation and disruption of the demands of the Egyptian working people, whilst handing out profitable sinecures for so-called labour leaders who were nothing but the creatures of the kleptocracy.

There is a mighty struggle going on in Egypt for the hearts and minds of the Egyptian working people. Whilst the junta’s clerical fascist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood rein in the peasantry and the economically marginal underclass in the cities, the junta directs itself to the task of crushing the independent labour organisations that fuelled the revolutionary upsurge in the factories of the cotton towns, the brickworks of the Delta and the docks of Suez and Port Said.

The evidence is (from even the most cursory scan of the election results) that many workers, themselves involved in this great and mostly neglected upwelling of independent working class organisation, have themselves been swayed by the simplistic radicalism of the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, there is also hope that in the course of the ensuing struggle over the last year since the Revolutionary Days of last Spring, many workers involved in the independent labour unions, have realised the utter counter-productivity of hitching their struggle to the rhetoric and demands of the religious far Right.

The Brothers are now in open, often blatant alliance with the junta – and, as any ful no, the junta are trying to cut down and repress any notion that the Egyptian workers might have of independent labour organisation.

The future may contain a showdown between an increasingly secularist labour movement, independent of the state – and determined to maintain that independence regardless of the complexion, military or clerical-fascist, of that state. The timing of the labour movement – and more broadly the movement for democracy and liberty in Egypt – will be critical. They must not be provoked by the regime or its religious fascist allies. At the same time, they must remain firm, resolute and utterly committed to the causes and struggles of January 25th: Land, Bread and Freedom.

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