Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: Chaos rising

April 9, 2008 |  6:30 am

The two-day riots this week that rocked the Delta province town of Mahalla, leaving one young man dead and about a hundred injured, exposed the failures of President Hosni Mubarak's regime. The clashes erupted after the police aborted a planned strike by the town's 25,000 textile workers. Police fired tear gas and rioters threw stones and burned schools and shops.

The workers were angry over low wages and triple-digit inflation that have led to increasing unrest in a country where nearly half the population is poor. The Egyptian economy is growing, but the benefits have not trickled to the middle and lower classes, who blame Mubarak for years of neglect.

"The whole world suffers from inflation. Each state deals with the problem according to its capabilities; however, the Egyptian government failed in dealing with the crisis and let it deteriorate," wrote columnist Khairy Ramadan in the independent al-masry al-Youm daily. "Aimless anger and aimless siege will only lead to chaos."

Ibrahim Eissa, editor of al-Dostour newspaper, did not mince his words in putting the blame on the regime. "We have to admit that this regime is the real instigator of chaos in Egypt," wrote Eissa, a staunch critic of Mubarak. "This regime will not change anything willingly and it will keep acting in a tense manner, which will push things toward complete chaos."

To contain the tension in Mahalla, the government announced that it will raise salaries by 10%. But with doctors, railroads workers, college professors and other clamoring for raises, it is unclear how a government in debt can make everyone happy. The regime has cracked down on activists, including bloggers, whom it blames for inciting the masses. One of those arrested was Israa Abdel Fattah, who posted a message calling for a strike on her Facebook page./p>

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo