A spontaneous demonstration over housing costs by up to 1,000 people in the Egyptian city of Port Said this week brought growing frustrations over the country’s social crisis onto the streets.
The protest erupted after the Housing and Development Bank suddenly demanded an additional deposit from people who had signed up to a scheme offering flats to those on low incomes. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the governor’s offices in the coastal city, chanting “No to the bank” and calling on the governor to quit.
Protests on this scale are rare in Egypt, and the authorities’ response was rapid and brutal. The local security chief, General Zaki Salah al-Din, called on the demonstrators to leave or face arrest. Minutes later armoured cars ploughed through the crowd and the security forces rounded up dozens of people, including women and young children.
Despite the crackdown, many Egyptians will see the Port Said protests as part of a wider pattern. There are signs of growing resistance from workers and the poor to the regime’s efforts to make them pay the price for its economic failures. Subsidised supplies of key commodities keep running out and sugar disappeared from grocery stores for weeks earlier this month.
Nearly 90 percent of Egyptians are eligible to buy basic goods including food and medicine at subsidised prices.
A rash of strikes and attempted strikes over the last few months points to growing anger from below. Cairo bus drivers called for a strike at the beginning of the new school year. The police swooped in to arrest leading activists from the garages. This followed a sit-in by workers at the Nasr Industries coke plant in Helwan and a strike by 3,000 ceramics workers in August.
The regime’s financial difficulties have increased recently as money and fuel from the Gulf states which bankrolled Sisi’s counter-revolution has begun to dry up. Saudi oil deliveries were suspended earlier this month, prompting panic as government officials scrambled to find alternative suppliers.
The regime has turned to international lenders instead, securing agreement from the IMF for a $12 billion loan in August. The IMF’s prescription for the Egyptian economy will do nothing to ease pressure on the poor, however, as its neoliberal policies promote more austerity and cuts to basic services.