Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

Tunisian and Egyptian Women Talk About Their Revolutions

by CARL FINAMORE

Several women union leaders fresh from the frontlines in Tunisia and Egypt visited California at the invitation of the Sacramento Labor Council, AFL-CIO. They first appeared at the August 16 Women of Labor conference attended by 200 women union leaders throughout the state.

In the days following, there have been other fruitful exchanges between the overseas guests and their American audiences who were quite eager to learn and, perhaps, shed some Western misconceptions about the role of women in the rebellions marking the region.

“Until now men have always considered us second class,” explained Nahed Ben Dakhla, a Women’s Committee member from Tunisia’s powerful national trade union federation, UGTT.

But in both Tunisia and Egypt, she emphasized to a August 18 meeting in San Francisco‘s Mission district, “men saw us in the front lines preventing the police from making contact. We stood between them and police bullets.

“As a result of mass participation by both men and women struggling together, the revolution has changed everything. There has been an awakening of a communal spirit. We are not going back.”

Stepping closer to me with lots of emotion in her face, Nahed passionately conveyed a dramatic image from those early days of police violence in the region where hundreds were killed and thousands injured. These losses are deeply imbedded in the consciousness of millions.

Not Just an Empty Slogan of Bravado

“The revolution has changed everything, we are not going back” was a mantra I heard often repeated on the streets of Cairo when I arrived last February, only a few hours after President Hosni Mubarak’s forced resignation. I heard it voiced again by Nahed and others on the podium in San Francisco now some six months later.

This should not be misread as shallow enthusiasm. Enshrined in mass consciousness is the belief, and even the expectation, that possibilities for change are endless.

This emotional spirit embodies the political conviction that “there is no going back” and is one major reason the mass reform movements in both Tunisian and Egypt have not been sidelined or demobilized by still-entrenched remnants of the old regimes.

The momentum continues according to Marwa Khalil Farghali Khalil, General Secretary of the influential Public Tax Authority Union in Egypt. With some deserved pride, she announced to the San Francisco meeting that “there were four independent unions before the January revolution. Now, we have 88 new unions with a membership of 250,000 in our Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).”

“And our Tunisian national trade union federation (UGTT),” echoed Ayda Zerai, secretary general of a garment workers local union, “has grown 35 per cent since the uprising. We are now 700,000 as a result of the prominent role we played in challenging the regime leading to the downfall of dictator Ben Ali.

“Without labor, there would have been no revolution in Tunisia!” Ayda proclaimed.

All speakers agreed, there are big opportunities, along with major challenges, to really change society. “When the Prime Minister told the UGTT to stop striking and protesting, we refused. The government does not have much power because they refuse to follow through on the hopes of the revolution.

“We in the UGTT persisted and recently won a five per cent wage increase, not just for our members but for all Tunisian workers,” Ayda told an enthusiastic audience that immediately erupted into cheers.

The women unionists from Egypt told of a similar focus by the EFITU to continue strikes and protests as necessary in order to achieve economic and social reforms. Their persistence also resulted several months ago in substantial increases in wages and benefits.

The Revolution is Incomplete

“Our revolution is not finished” was another theme of the speakers. In Tunisia, for example, many democratic reforms have yet to be achieved. “Women have not been appointed to key positions of power and we are hoping this changes with the revolution,” Nahed said.

Madga Mohamed Ibrahim, a leader of the very active Sales Tax Union in Egypt, followed her Tunisian sister by acknowledging that the “representation of women is still inadequate on all levels.”

Marwa was clearly speaking for the whole delegation from both countries when she commented that “the main obstacle is to rid us of all levels of the old regime, not just the top but mid-level too. We need further cleansing,” she said to big applause.

One Last Thing

My interview ended late at night as the speakers were rushing to their hotel to rest after ending their Ramadan Muslim religious Fast and before another very early morning speaking engagement. But Marwa stopped me to make a point she wanted very much to emphasize.

“Women now comprise fifty per cent of the free trade unions (EFITU) national membership. That being said, we are not about to go back.” She clearly wanted me to fully appreciate the determination of women to push forward.

I took the opportunity to sneak in another question and asked her what she learned about American people during her short stay. I observed that there was good and bad in this country with the bad including lots of discrimination against Muslims.

Marwa nodded in agreement and said that before leaving Egypt, her union hosted an American delegation that discerningly readied her for what to expect. But since arriving, she said approvingly, “I have changed my mind about America.”

The translator, a native Arabic-speaker now residing in this country for sometime, quickly, and knowingly, cautioned me that the women had only appeared before very friendly audiences.

Our resident translator, it seems, picked up on the quandary we Americans know only too well – our better side does not always represent the whole.

Carl Finamore is Machinist Local Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He wrote several dispatches from Cairo in the days immediately following President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

July 07, 2015
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Victor Rodriguez
Puerto Rico’s Economic and Fiscal Crisis: Made in the U.S.A.