FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

More articles by:

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail