Egypt: Plans for general strike and civil disturbances collapse
Plans for a general strike in Egypt collapsed Sunday after the government stood behind its warning to take firm action against protesters by detaining nine people, including bloggers, for incitement. "People are going to work normally, there are no demonstrations, there is no strike," a security official told AFP. "Nine people have been arrested for inciting unrest, whether on their blogs or through other channels," he added.
Among the nine detained are three bloggers, two members of the opposition Ghad party, one from the Nasserist party and three members of the opposition movement Kefaya.
Plans for a strike at Egypt's largest textile factory also collapsed on Sunday after pressure from security forces and internal divisions among the workers, employees said. The strike over low wages and rising prices was scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m..
In Cairo, police and riot police trucks were deployed in downtown areas where protests had been planned. According to the AP, traffic was lighter than usual in Cairo on Sunday, indicating that at least some of the city's millions of residents were heeding the activists' call. But the absence of protests in the city indicated that a warning by the Egyptian Interior Ministry on Saturday against civil disturbances may have been effective.
On Saturday, the interior ministry threatened "immediate and firm measures against any attempt to demonstrate, disrupt road traffic or the running of public establishments and against all attempts to incite such acts." The interior ministry insisted that all public institutions, including schools and state-run factories, should be open for business as usual on Sunday.
The call for a general strike has been circulating for more than a week on the Internet, via text messages and on the social networking site Facebook. A Facebook group called "April 6" calling for the strike has attracted over 64,000 members. Protest movement Kefaya has called for a sit-in against the price hikes across Egypt's 26 provinces, one of its leaders George Ishak told AFP. The UN's World Food Programme said this month that average household expenditure in Egypt had risen by 50 percent since the start of the year.
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has said that it supported the strike but would not be participating.
Later in the day, Egyptians set fire to shops and two schools in a Nile Delta textile town. Police fought battles through the streets of Mahalla el-Kubra with the protesters, led by textile workers who tried to go on strike.
According to Reuters, the demonstrators set ablaze a primary school, a preparatory school and a travel agency, among other shops in the working-class town, and stopped an incoming train by putting blazing tyres on the railway tracks, witnesses said. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protests. Some 40 people were wounded and hundreds of others had breathing problems from gas inhalation, security sources said.
Protesters threw stones at police, attacked police vehicles and tore down the posters of the ruling party's candidates in Tuesday's local elections, witnesses said.