Tuesday, April 22, 2008

FALLOUT FROM EGYPT FOOD PROTESTS !

Anger over rising food prices and the cost of living spilled into running street battles between crowds and police in the Egypt's northern industrial town of Mahalla on 6 and 7 April.
Police arrested hundreds of people across the country who were suspected of trying to organise a general strike on 6 April.
These Mahalla residents blame poverty and heavy-handed policing for the riots.

AMANI MOHAMMED, 35, BANANA SELLER

It was not a demonstration. People are poor, very poor, they were just expressing their anger over the rising price of food.
One kilo of rice now costs four Egyptian pounds ($0.74) and pasta costs five pounds ($0.92).
We can't live like that.
It all started when the police suddenly appeared on the streets and in the market, pointing their guns at us.
A woman got jumpy and started screaming: "Why are you here? Are you going to start a war? Aren't we poor and helpless enough? Do you want to kill us too?"
The police started shooting rubber bullets at everyone, mainly at women and children. People were running everywhere, it was like a war. God help us. What can we do?
I buy the bananas for 2.5 Egyptian pounds ($0.46) I sell them for 3.3 Egyptian pounds ($0.61).
I know it is expensive, but what can I do? Life is expensive, I can barely afford to keep myself and my daughter.
We live on fried potatoes, but even this is becoming difficult because oil is so expensive.

HASHMA SALEH, 40, NURSE

They fired bullets at us, I got one in my leg and one in my chest. 89
I couldn't breathe from the tear gas canisters they threw at us as well.
I was shot as I was coming back from work at night.
I wasn't doing anything; I wasn't demonstrating or shouting, I was just walking.
I am suffering from the price rises, big time.
I work as a nurse at a clinic and the doctor pays me one Egyptian pound ($0.19) for each patient.
I am now 40 years old and not married - I can't afford it. I can't save a penny.

MOHAMED SELIM, 54, CLOTH SELLER

What happened on 6 April should have happened a long time ago.
People can't take this poverty anymore. We have children; they need food and they need to go to school.
I couldn't afford to let my son finish school, I had to remove him from class.
I will have to remove my daughter from school soon too.
I pay 225 Egyptian pounds ($42) in rent every month and I spend 150 Egyptian pounds ($28) per week on food.
My wife doesn't work, and I don't have a fixed job. I work one day and then stay at home for a week.

MONA MOSTAFA, 50, HOUSEWIFE

My son Mohamed is 20 years old; he doesn't get into trouble.
His father abandoned us a long time ago. Mohamed works as an electrician and supports the family.
He went to work on 6 April and never came back. They took him for no reason.
I have asked about him in all the police stations. No-one has any new information.
My son works all the time to feed us. He has nothing to do with any of this.
I am going out of my mind; I just want my son back.

MOHAMED AL-SAYED, 35, FACTORY WORKER

It was an unplanned street demonstration.
We workers had nothing to do with it. We have our own way of going on strikes.
We went on strike last year and the year before and we had a series of strikes in 1975 and 1986.
We simply finish work and go on strike inside the factory until we get what we want.
We are experienced in holding peaceful, well-organised strikes.
For example, when the prime minister came afterwards and gave us a bonus of one month's salary, that wasn't what we asked for, or what we wanted.
We want whole scale pay reform. Salaries are miserable compared to living expenses - and this has to change.
The cost of food and housing has risen so much. All living costs have gone up.
Lack of transport is also a big problem; workers can queue for hours waiting for a bus to take them to work.
It is bad for everyone. Prices used to go up annually, now they go up every hour.

ELHAM MOHAMED, STREET VENDOR

It was like the war between Palestinians and Israelis.
We had stones; they had guns.
They [the government] gave the factory workers a one month bonus. They didn't give us anything.
And even for the labourers, one moth bonus is not enough.
What will they do after this month is over? Oil is just as expensive as it was, so is flour.
We are starving now.

Interviews by Lina Wardani, photographs by Wael Abbas and Lina Wardani.
BBC NEWS REPORT.

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