Egypt’s new prime minister Ibrahim Mehlab used his first speech in the role to plead for an end to strikes and protests.
The former Housing Minister, ex-chief of giant building company Arab Contractors, called on Egyptians to “stop all kinds of sit-ins, protests and strikes” and to focus on “building the nation”.
Mehlab was appointed prime minister by acting-president Adly Mansour after the previous cabinet resigned in its entirety. The ministers stepped down amid increasing public anger over shortages of fuel and electricity, as well as a major strike wave in a number of different sectors.
Workers’ demands vary from industry to industry, but the most common call is for the new minimum wage to be implemented throughout the country.
The military holds real control in Egypt and is worried that strikes and protests will disrupt the transitional period between its coup last year and the presidential elections in the spring.
The government had previously enjoyed the passive support of many Egyptians relieved to see the back of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the absence of improvements in people’s wages and conditions has caused that popularity to seriously fracture.
Strikes have spread among bus workers, weavers and refuse collectors, as well as in key public sectors such as health, where an estimated 87% of doctors struck for higher wages and an increased health budget.
The state response has been panicked.
The army was drafted in to run the bus system and militants have been victimised.
Union leaders warn that if workers’ demands are not met, they may no longer be able to keep a check on anger.
“Who is going to meet our legitimate demands?” said Tarek Elbehiry, vice-president of the bus drivers’ union. “I’m disappointed indeed, and I’m afraid of a third revolution that will be carried out by the workers.”