Although he has not proposed any specific labor reforms, presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seems to be something of a working-class hero amongst laborers in the Delta city of Mahalla.
Posters of Field Marshal Sisi can be found on almost every taxi, microbus, tuk tuk, workshop, and on factory walls in Mahalla — a city also known as the ‘Industrial Citadel of the Nile Delta.’
A massive banner of Sisi hangs outside the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, Egypt’s largest textile company, which employs some 20,000 workers.
Sayed Habib, a retired worker from this company, and a pensioner currently employed with the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, participated in by both voting and monitoring the election on Monday.
“Naturally, I voted for Field Marshal Sisi, as did 99 percent of workers in the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, and the vast majority of Mahalla’s workers altogether,” Habib says. “The field marshal has spoken of the rights of both workers and pensioners, and is the candidate most capable of delivering on his promises.”
Others from the company strongly disagreed with Habib.
Mahalla highlights the heavy responsibility and high expectations of millions of Egyptian workers that inadvertently come with Sisi’s popular personality.
Misr Spinning and Weaving Company employees along with 12 other public sector textile companies across the country had launched a strike in February. It came amid a surge in industrial action and workers’ strikes, just ahead of a Cabinet shuffle. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb visited the town in a bid to quell months of labor protests, promising workers they would receive their overdue bonuses.
Ahead of the presidential election, reports circulated claiming that hundreds of workers had given up part of their wages to support the Sisi campaign. However, all the workers Mada Masr spoke to on Monday denied this, with some saying that it was a rumor started by the National Democratic Party —the ruling party of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Tamer Fayez, a worker and independent union leader at the company, is boycotting the election, calling it a “farcical political play.”
“While a majority of workers at our company do seem to support Sisi, the percentage would probably be closer to 60 or 70 percent. Some people are acting as propagandists for the Sisi campaign. They claim to speak on behalf of all workers when, in fact, they are out of touch with the reality of the situation,” he adds.
On the other hand, he says that while the other presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi “has proposed a slightly clearer labor policy, his campaign is quite vague in terms of specific labor rights and liberties.”
Another worker from the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, Kamal al-Fayoumi, is also boycotting.
He criticized the role the media played in openly promoting one candidate, Sisi, for months, while denouncing all his opponents. “The country’s political elite and the mainstream media have misguided millions nationwide,” he says.
“The January 25 revolution did not succeed in removing Mubarak’s regime from power. What has happened is that the Mubarak regime has actually risen to power once again,” he adds. “These Mubarak regime figures are unwilling and unable to resolve the problems of Egypt’s workers. In fact they have sided with businessmen’s rights at the expense of workers’ rights,” he claims.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry, and Sisi himself all served under Mubarak.
Fayoumi pointed out that these ruling figures have been quick to issue laws against protests and strikes, while dragging their feet for three years when it comes to the issuing of an amended Trade Union Law and Unified Labor Law by which to uphold labor rights.
Both Fayoumi and Fayez point out that employees are denied the minimum wage for public sector workers, even though Misr Spinning is a public company and the request for a LE1,200 national minimum wage has been a chief demand since 2007.
They both denounced the lack of a law for maximum wage, to place caps on the salaries of public administrators.
Their company is operating at less than half of its original capacity, due to a lack of raw materials and investment.
However, both also recognize the interim government’s effort this past week in sacking the head of the Textile Holding Company, Fouad Abdel Aleem, who oversees their company and 31 other public sector textile companies.
Public sector textile workers have accused Abdel Aleem of mismanaging Egypt’s textile industry and incurring several billion pounds of losses over the past few years.
In the public Mahalla Carpet Company, worker Mohamed Bassiouny expressed his complete support for Sisi.
“The field marshal is the only one with his hands on the levers. He is the only one who can provide security and stability. He is the only one who is capable of re-operating our stalled companies. This is why I voted for him along with the vast majority of my coworkers,” he said.
The Mahalla Carpet Company has been stalled for nearly two years due to a lack of raw materials and state investment.
In the Gharbeya governorate, beyond the city of Mahalla, the Samanoud Felt Company has faced the same fate for two years.
According to worker Hesham al-Banna, “Only around 30 or 40 of our coworkers voted for Sabbahi, out of some 1,100.”
He claimed that they were sympathizers of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group.
“I trust Sisi and the Armed Forces. They are men of their word,” he says, adding that he expects the Samanoud Company to be “up and running within two months.”
“Sabbahi’s program is a pie-in-the-sky, just like the Brotherhood’s “Nahda” (Renaissance) electoral program. We need somebody who is capable of action, not just rhetoric,” he adds.