Could the workers succeed in stopping the closure and liquidation of their factories?

Although the Egyptian authorities’ decision to sell and liquidate factories was not a surprise to workers, the real surprise was the workers’ continuous protests, which surprised the regime, which has suppressed every voice opposing it in recent years.

Over many years, the Egyptian regime paved the way for public factories’ liquidation with many measures. It worked to prepare public opinion for years by repeating that these factories were losing and threatening the economy instead of benefiting it. “The third plunder of Egypt” was the title of the late Saad Eddin Wahba’s book, in which he recounted how the regime had for decades sold factories and companies in the business sector (formerly the public sector). However, these factories offered for sale recently, especially the iron and steel factory in Helwan, represent “a special symbolism for the Egyptian industry in general and a strategic importance for the country,” according to analysts. The controversy escalated between workers and those who refused to sell on the one hand, and the government on the other hand, about the causes of these factories’ losses, and whether there were other solutions to treat losses other than the easiest solution, which is selling. Those who refuse to sell believe that the government is rushing to sell these factories and vacate their premises so they can be sold at a low price to sovereign parties (army investments) and Emirati investors.

What is certain about this ongoing debate is the existence of huge losses incurred by these companies and factories. Still, the difference between the two parties is assessing the causes of these losses and how to deal with them. The sales support team, including the government and economic analysts, relies on the fact that these companies have become a great burden on the country’s budget, without production or adding value to the industry.

On the other hand, those who refuse to sell – workers in these factories and economic analysts – believe that the symbolism of these industrial forts and their strategic importance for the country goes beyond profit and loss to national security. This team affirms that factories can, with a little rational management of their capabilities, restore their production capabilities and convert them from loss to profit. Several parties with a leftist and Nasserist orientation rejected the regime’s decision to eliminate strategic industries that could have been saved with a little rationality, instead of wasting them in favour of goals that contradict the national interest.

Ziad Bahaa el-Din, the former deputy prime minister, raised questions about the one who caused the losses, calling for a study of alternatives other than selling and the impact of selling on overall economic activity. Estimates vary widely between the official and the labourers’ story of these factories’ value, capabilities, and assets. Although there is a conviction that the parliament is a form without content, some people hope for the briefing requests presented by MPs Mustafa Bakri and Ahmed el-Sharkawy on the decisions to sell and liquidate factories.

For his part, former Labour MP Tariq Morsi said that what is happening to all major Egyptian factories comes in one context: the “liquidation of the country’s capabilities,” expressing his appreciation for workers’ movements whose protests brought hope back to Egypt’s workers. He continues that the current crisis of Egyptian industry requires patience and a struggle from the workers and a stand by all Egyptian workers who have not yet come forward to take their turn to support their colleagues in the factories offered for sale because if they do not stand with the workers of the companies offered for sale, their turn will definitely come. Morsi notes that the Iron and Steel Company, particularly the first iron and steel company in the Middle East, was subjected to a systematic plan for liquidation. It employed about 27,000 workers, which has decreased to about a quarter now.

It is considered that the division is preparation for liquidating the company and selling its land at a low price, as the price per square metre was valued at less than EGP 500 (about $35), a price that is very much lower than that in the same area.

In turn, economist Mustafa Shaheen says that the government sought to convince the public that these companies and factories are losing and hopeless, which means that they must be sold without admitting that its policies are what pushed these factories down this path. Shaheen asserts that the simplest economic theories say that a single investor should not monopolise a company if the government decides to abandon it, such as in the fertiliser, cement, and iron industries, whose price has doubled 30 times since the state gave up its role in it and individuals monopolised them. He criticises what he described as the government’s negligence of the country’s capabilities of industrial castles, stressing that even the most powerful capitalist countries do not think in this way but rather plan to preserve fair competition among all in the interest of the revival of industry and consumer protection. While the debate continues between supporters and opponents of factory sales, the Egyptian regime seems determined to go ahead with the sales. However, the question remains whether the workers’ movements can stop these efforts.