30 June, 2009

"Journalist ya basha? Come write about our troubles!"

Mahalla blogger and former detainee Mohamed Mar'ee reports (with pics) on cleaning workers on the streets of Tanta. He saw them working amidst the garbage without any protective clothing, and stoped to take some pics. But, he writes, "as soon as I took my camera out they stoped working and called at me: Journalist ya basha? Why don't you come and take pictures of us and write about our problems? We make 3 pounds a day!" The workers told him they are 280 workers all working on temporary contracts, with no job security, and a total monthly salary of 156(!) pounds. They also said they have attempted to strike to achieve permanent employment contracts and a raise but were threatened with loosing their jobs.

The narrative of the workers are familiar, but also the story surrounding it. It reminds me of when I first came to Egypt in 2006, believing that it would be hard to get ordinary people to talk openly about politics or criticize the government. Instead, as soon as I learnt a little of the Egyptian dialect I found that wherever I went people would be eager to tell their stories - usually about not being able to make a living anymore - and it would usually end with a tirade against the useless and corrupt "government of thieves" and surprisingly often against Mubarak himself. And that was before either the "global food crisis" or the "global financial crisis" hit.

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