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1977 Bread Uprising

1977 Bread Uprising



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Published by Hossam el-Hamalawy
Excerpts from my MA Thesis, on the 1977 Bread Intifada...
Excerpts from my MA Thesis, on the 1977 Bread Intifada...

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Published by: Hossam el-Hamalawy on Mar 01, 2009
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1977: The Lost Revolution
Hossam el-HamalawyArabawy.org
The year 1976 was more or less a dress rehearsal for the 1977 uprising. The conditions of the economy can be best described by the finance minister's statement that 1975 had beenthe “worst economic year in the history of modern Egypt.” The Prime Minister called for more austerity measures and sought help from “Arab brothers”.
Egypt was on the brink of a social explosion. Violent confrontations took place between strikers and policeforces in the Nile Delta city of Damiette in March, when workers demonstrated,demanding the unpaid wages of 18 days of work. The regime, under pressure, releasedthe detained workers and responded to their demands. In May, workers in a militaryfactory went on strike and occupied the factory because of a conflict related to wages andwork conditions. The workers exhibited a high level of militancy, refusing to negotiatewith the Minister of Defense who arrived in the company of large military policeenforcement. Moreover, the workers threatened to blow up the factory. The minister succumbed at the end to the workers’ demands. In the following month, thousands of autoworkers went on strike demanding their share of profits.
 The strikes spread to most of the industrial centers, with workers stopping work at lighttransportation factory in Helwan, Misr-Helwan Textile factory, El-Sharqyya TobaccoCompany, the Naval Arsenal in Alexandria and Port Said. Events similar to 1975Mahalla strike was also to be repeated in Kafr el-Dawwar, with factory- occupations andviolent confrontations leading to the injury and death of a number of workers. Theseclashes were accompanied by an uprising in the city of Nile Delta city of Manzallahagainst police torture, followed by citizens’ raids and storming of police stations inShoubra el-Kheima, el-Sayyeda Zeinab and el-Darb el-Ahmar protesting against police brutality. Finally, in a move that clearly showed Sadat’s eroding legitimacy, Cairo publictransport workers went on strike in less that 24 hours following the presidential re-election of Sadat in a sham referendum
whose results were 99% “Yes,” causing life in thecity to come to a complete halt for two days.
The Trigger
On the night of 17 January 1977, Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Abdel-Moneim el-Qaissouny addressed the parliament, followed by the minister of planing who presentedthe annual socioeconomic development plan; then finally the minister of finance presented the general government balance for the 1977 financial year.
The government’snew plans meant a direct increase in the prices of several commodities, eliminating
Shoukri, Ghali.
 Al-Thawra wa ‘l-Thawra el-Moddadda fi Misr 
(Revolution and counterrevolutionin Egypt). Kitab El-Ahali. no.15. Cairo: El-Ahali September 1987, Page 217.
Abbass, Mahmoud.
 Al-Niqabat al-‘ummalya al-Missrya: Ro’ya Thawrya
(The Egyptian labor unions: a revolutionary view). Korrassat Ishtirakyya, no.3. Cairo: n.p., 1996, Page 61.
Shoukri, 259, 345.1
around LE277 million worth of subsidies. The basic commodities had the lion share of the eliminated subsidies, amounting to LE205.6 million.
The impact of the ministerialstatements came first from the poor and working class’ districts, with “citizens andworkers assembling in some quarters of Alexandria, Cairo and specially in the industrialdistrict of Helwan on the night of the 17
The Uprising
The Start of the Events
On the morning of 18 January, news of the reduction or elimination of subsidies spreadthrough the radio and newspapers. The public started to feel the direct impact of the risein prices, whereby the prices of gas, oil, cigarettes, sugar, bread, rice, macaroni and taxifares increased.
The uprising started.South of Cairo, Helwan workers took the lead. Before 9am, thousands in Misr-Helwantextile factory went on strike, and took to the streets in the industrial quarter. Workersfrom other factories, especially those in the military factories, joined quickly. Sloganswere chanted against the price increases, calling for overthrowing the government,expressing hostility and bitterness towards Sadat and his family.
Simultaneously, workers from Shoubra el-Kheima, north of Cairo, went on strike,occupied their factories, putting the production on hold. In Delta Steel Company, workersissued a mock statement sent to President Sadat saying: “the workers at Delta Companythank you for increasing the prices, raising the slogan ‘more increases in prices for morehunger and impoverishment.’” Students at the faculty of engineering in Ain ShamsUniversity held a conference denouncing the price increases, and started a demonstration, joined by students from other faculties, heading to the parliament to express their rejection of the new economic measures. When passing through al-Geish Street, theywere joined by women from the popular districts. Civil servants and Cairo Universitystudents joined the demonstration at Tahrir Square, together with demonstrations comingfrom southern and western Cairo. The mass human waves headed mainly to the parliament, chanting anti-regime slogans. A delegation of students entered the building to present a set of demands to the MPs. When they did not come back for a long time,women headed an attempt by the demonstrators to attack the guards, thinking that thedelegation was arrested. The police responded violently, dispersing the protesters intosmaller demonstrations in Garden City and other districts.
In Alexandria, demonstrations broke out around 9am, under the leadership of the NavalArsenal workers. They were joined quickly by workers from neighboring factories. The
Abdel-Razek, Hussein.
Misr fi el-Thamen ‘Ashar wa ‘l-Tasse’ ‘Ashar min Yanayer: DerassaSiyassya Watha’eqya
(Egypt on the 18
and 19
of January: a documentary political study).Beirut: Dar El-Kalema 1979, Page 70.
Ibid., 71.
Sa’ad, Ahmad Sadek.
 Derassat fi ‘l-Ishtirakyya ‘l-Missrya
(Studies in Egyptian socialism
Cairo:Dar El-Fikr El-Gadid 1990, Page 340.
Abdel-Razek, 72.
Sa’ad, 341.
Sa’ad, 341-2.2
demonstrators spread through the streets of the city, heading towards the AlexandriaUniversity quarters, where thousands of students came out to join the march.Demonstrations, strikes and confrontations spread to Mansoura, Quena, Suez, Aswan andmost of the urban centers in Egypt.
The Violence
Two days before the uprising, the interior minister addressed the parliament, commentingon the riots and confrontations between the citizens and the police that occurred in thesmall city of Billa in Delta: “the presence of the Central Security Forces with its weaponsin any place raises the tension of the situation.”
Despite this remark, the ministry of interior mobilized thousands of CSF soldiers to suppress the demonstrators on 18January. One of the witnesses of the events confirms:Until the night of 18 January, the demonstrations were peaceful. However,suddenly, around 7 P.M. and after series of confrontations with the CSF, theevents in some places turned into violence and sabotage.
One of the magazines, close to the presidency then, reported on the incidents of violence:Attempts were made to cut railway lines between Cairo and Alexandria, whendemonstrators put large numbers of burnt tires on the lines. Such an act led to the burning of line connections for a long distance. Saboteurs also set Kobri LamounStation on fire, causing stoppage of suburbs’ trains. Demonstrators in Gizasucceeded in cutting railway lines between Cairo and Upper Egypt, by puttingrailway bars and broken streetlights on top of the railway lines.
The magazine added that:The demonstrators destroyed the main gas station in al-Galaa Square; destroyed part of the Sheraton Hotel; set fire to Imbaba Railway Station and to the trainstransporting the crops to the warehouses. In addition to that, demonstrators set thecasinos in el-Haram Street on fire, completely destroying Arizona, Nadi ‘l-Leiland Operge [nightclubs]. In downtown Cairo, the demonstrators attacked theheadquarters of the [ruling] Egypt Arab Socialist Party in al-‘Attaba and burnt itscontents. They also tried to storm the police station [in the area], smashing itswindows. Moreover, demonstrators set part of Opera Casino on fire, smashingfront windows of shops in the square. One of the demonstrations succeeded inreaching the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior. The CSF responded by liveammunition and tear gas to disperse it… In al-Geish Square, demonstrators settires on fire inside shops.
El-Guindy, Mohammed Youssef.
Massiret Hayati
(The path of my life)
Cairo: Dar El-ThaqafaEl-Gadidah, 2001, Page 92.
Abdel-Razek, 95.
El-Guindy, 95.
(Cairo) 23 January 1977, no 13: 4.
Ibid., 4-5.3

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