MAC: Mines and Communities

More revolutions must come!

Published by MAC on 2011-02-21
Source: Nostromo Research (2011-02-19)

London Calling on Egypt - and beyond

Last week, MAC posted an item which some readers might have considered "off- topic",

Entitled The Methodical Shooting of Young boys at Work in Gaza it didn't directly relate to the theme of the hour - "Nature too awaits the Revolution" - which attempted to relocate global anti-mining struggles to the uprisings in Egypt.

Nor - though it mentioned Egypt - did the article refer to mining as such anywhere around north Africa or the Middle East. Frankly, few connections have yet been discovered (at least by this author) between the demands set on Egypt's streets, and mineral exploitation in the fields.

This is not to say that recent regional uprisings have been completely divorced from the politics or economics of extractive industries in the region.

Steely resolve

Egyptian Socialist party "blogger", Hossam el-Hamalawy, has pointed out that, earlier this month "[t]here are four hotbeds of economic struggle: a steel mill in Suez, a fertilizer factory in Suez, a textile factory near Mansoura in Daqahlia [where workers] have fired their CEO and are self-managing their enterprise. There is also a print shop in southern Cairo [where workers] fired their CEO and are self-managing the enterprise."

According to one Tahrir Square demonstrator, Hassan Elghayesh: "Ahmed Ezza, a businessman-turned-politician, who controlled 67 per cent of steel industries in Egypt and made sure the National Democratic Party monopolised the parliament" was among the first of Egypt's rulings cabal who was forced to resign ahead of Mubarak.

On 19 February, the state prosecutor, investigating financial crimes, ordered that Ahmed Ezz "must be held for 15 days".

As of this moment, too, temporary workers are reportedly staging a sit-in at the Helwan Steel Mills, south of Cairo.

The second phase

Last week US Professor, Horace Campbell, suggested that: "The stepping down of Mubarak has now paved the way for the second phase of the revolution...that of reconstruction [where] the challenge is how to deepen the victory of the people".

Campbell urged that "what was won politically [should] not taken away by a transition that is built on the ideals of ‘liberal democracy,' where there are no fundamental changes in the economic edifice that was built by Sadat and consolidated by the clique around Mubarak".

Hossam el-Hamalawy doubts this will be achieved in the near future. He points out that, "while workers are participating in the demonstrations, they are not developing their own independent action as workers.

"We still have not seen workers independently organize themselves en masse. If that comes, all the equation of the struggle will change...Whether Tahrir Square occupation continues or not, the real fight is now in the factories".

And why not at the mines and along the oil pipelines as well?

It may take some time before Egyptians at large expunge deeply-embedded capitalist modes of production, the consequent ruthless exploitation of their labour, and having been locked for so long into the vicarious vagaries of global commodities' trade.

An ongoing struggle

Doubtless they will have to march much further before uprooting the pernicious export-oriented production systems, so long bulwarked by the rampant exploitation of resources on, and through, their own lands.

Egypt's major miner, London-listed Centamin, not long ago started exploiting gold deposits near the Red Sea. The company claims to have escaped damage during the recent upheavals, and its operations don't appear yet to be a focus of major criticism by labour activists.

While Centamin's share price inevitably dipped for a short while during the turmoil, its fortunes improved almost as soon as Mubarak was toppled from power.

(Ironically, John Paulson's eponymous hedge fund saw its own ill-gotten fortunes rise as a result; Paulson holds a significant share in Centamin).

A few months before the outbreaks in Tahrir Square, Mubarak's ruling council also announced the promulgation of a new state mining law. This was aimed at promoting more foreign investment in the sector and compounding the privatisation of resources that were a major characteristic of his iron rule.

The law hasn't yet been implemented; it's not too late to stop the legislation in its tracks.

So far, however, there doesn't appear to be any significant civil discourse on the issue.

Focussed on Phosphates

Under Mubarak's rule, Egypt markedly stepped-up projects to advance exploitation of the country's desert-bearing phosphates.

One such project, launched five years ago (although yet come on-stream), is a joint venture between the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Ltd (IFFCO - one of the world's largest fertiliser producers - and the El Nasr Mining Company (ENMC).

Billed as a "greenfield" phosphoric acid plant at Edfu (Aswan), the plant was accorded the status of a ‘Private Free Zone' by the regime and its entire production of phosphoric acid is destined for export.

Given such an anomaly - and combined with Egypt's critical need to conserve fertilisers for domestic food production - is it not critically important, post-Mubarak, to set stringent rules on how the country's phosphates are employed?

Already there exist two other North African precedents of citizens' resistance to the exploitation of these vital minerals.

First, there's the long-standing battle by Sahrawi people of Western Sahara to regain control of these resources from Morocco. See: Flying the flag for the Sahrawi People

Then there's the ongoing struggle for human rights, waged by mine-workers along the Gafsa phosphates belt in Tunisia,. This came to a head two and a half years ago. See: Tunisian mineworkers jailed after "travesty of justice"

Hundreds of workers, protesting at living conditions and unemployment at the mines, were brutally arrested under the former regime. Although most were later released, several remained in prison as of last year.

Conditions in Gafsa have only marginally improved, since the deposition of dictator Ben Ali.

Following January's Tunisian revolt, and the installation of interim prime minister, Mohammed Gannouchi, a tent was erected by unemployed workers to press for jobs and other improvements.

Twenty five young men are currently occupying it and blockading the transport of quarried phosphates.

(Appropriately - if not intentionally- their action mirrors that of Sahrawi people, clamouring for social and economic justice, whose protest encampment was viciously destroyed by Moroccan troops).

Last Sunday, 20 February, thousands took to the streets of Tunis, demanding Gannouchi resign.

Eyeless in Gaza?

Now - back to that MAC posting of last week, entitled The Methodical Shooting of Young Boys at Work in Gaza.

We make no apology for referencing it again here. It has everything to do with fulfilling (after food) two other fundamental human rights: the provision of secure housing for Gaza's citizens, and freedom from oppression - specifically that directed against the young.

Fortuitously, just a fortnight after that article was prepared for posting (and on the day it appeared on the MAC website) to its credit BBC TV took up this burning issue.

On Monday 14 February, internationally-acclaimed children's author, Michael Morpugo, showed on BBC-1's "Newsnight" filmed footage of an "incident" he recently observed, when on a visit to children on both sides of the Wall imposed by Israel to sequester Palestinian territory.

Morpugo drove home his message further home the following evening, when delivering the prestigious Richard Dimbleby 2011 Lecture at London's St James Palace , broadcast live on the same channel.

Says Morpugo: "I heard the shots, then the screaming, saw the kids running to help their wounded friends. Now I really was outside the comfort zone of fiction. There was blood, his trousers were soaked in it, the bullets were real. I saw the boy close to, saw his agony as the cart rushed by me. Many like him, the doctor told me, ended up maimed for life.

"Here was a child, his right to survival, the most basic of all children's rights, being utterly ignored. The boy I saw was called Shamekh, I discovered. He lives in a house with 15 family members, and was out there earning what money he could, in the only way he knew how.

Shamekh, according to Morpugo, had "strayed too close to the wall. He was with his donkey and cart, along with hundreds like him, doing his work, gathering rubble to be recycled for building blocks that are so badly needed for the reconstruction of Gaza City.

"So when I was asked to give the 2011 Richard Dimbleby Lecture, I knew this had to be the subject of my talk: that we have to set our children free wherever they are, in Gaza, or here at home. Free to enjoy their childhood, to live in security, free from poverty and ignorance, above all freedom from fear".

Surely, any further comment is superfluous?

[Sources: Hossam el-Hamawy blog: (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/hamalawy080211.html); quote from Hassan Elghayesh:"Chronicles of an Egyptian revolution: A protester's first-hand account" in Pambazuka News, issue 517, 17 February 2011; investigation of Ahmed Ezz for "financial crimes", The Star Hollows Gazette, 19 February 2011; Horace Campbell's comments are from "Revolution and reconstruction in Egypt", published by Pambazuka News (ibid); Recent news on the Gafsa protest is taken from the Financial Times, 17 February 2011; Latest Tunisian revolt:"Thousands in Tunisian anti-government rally", AFP, 20 February 2011; Quotations from Michael Morpugo are drawn from an article he published in Radio Times (12-18th February 2011) and a BBC press release announcing the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, 15 February 2011].

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research. Views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of any other person, including the editors of the Mines and Communities website. Reproduction is welcomed, as long as full reference is provided to this website as the source].

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