Egypt slowly strangles workers' right to strike

Egypt slowly strangles workers' right to strike
2 min read
04 May, 2015
Comment: An Egyptian court has ruled that public sector strikers can be forcibly retired. It was no coincidence that the decision was taken on International Labour Day, says Khalil al-Anani.
Public sector strikers have been told their actions contravene Islamic law [AFP]

While workers around the world celebrated International Labour Day last week, Egypt's supreme administrative court issued a final ruling that forces into retirement those public employees who participate in strikes.

The court said it "based its decision on the provisions of Islamic law in accordance with the rule that gives precedence to fending off corruption over pursuing benefits".

Thus, strikes harm parties that conduct business with the public sector, according to the provisions of Islamic law. Even worse, the court found that "strikes violate Islamic jurisprudence and the goals of Islamic law". It stated that "striking is a crime and obeying superiors an obligation".

This decision is a constitutional violation and negates all the international conventions and treaties on labour laws and the right to strike, which have been signed by Egypt.

Egypt does not strictly apply Islamic law in other areas, yet uses it to justify depriving workers of one of their most important rights.

The court's ruling reflects a selectivity in dealing with the question of religion and Islamic law, which undercuts all of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's claims about the "religious revolution" and tolerance that he peddles to the West.

And the irony is thick when one remembers Sisi's previous statements that one of the reasons he unseated Mohamed Morsi was to stop him implementing Islamic law.

The ruling also coincides with the attempt by the Egyptian Trade Union Federation - known for its allegiance to the government and keenness to appease it at the expense of workers - to issue a so-called "charter of honour" opposing strikes and depriving workers of this inherent right.

The criminalisation of strikes in Egypt is another step on the path to closing every possible outlet for public and societal pressure on the government, and aids the elite to push forward with the privatisation of the state assets.

The current regime realizes that workers represent an important component in any popular movement that might topple it, and this is its attempt to strangle activism in the workplace.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.