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Strikes across Egypt ratchet up pressure on Mubarak

While protesters are justifiably angry after President Mubarak refused to step down in a televised address today, there are some very hopeful signs that the demonstrations in Egypt are expanding and that the pro-democracy movement is finally diversifying the nonviolent tactics it is employing. As Reuters reports today:

About 3,000 workers at companies owned by Suez Canal authorities have gone on strike over pay and conditions, although the unrest has so far not affected the waterway. The canal is a vital global trade route and a key source of revenue for Egypt, earning the government nearly $5 billion last year.

Hundreds of government employees and university professors staged protests demanding better wages on Wednesday and thousands of industrial workers have declared strikes in Suez,Ismailia and Cairo.

Railway and post office workers are reported to have staged sit-ins and protests, and several hundred employees of the mostly state-owned landline monopoly Telecom Egypt have demonstrated for better pay.

[…]

If the strikes spread across the country, and paralyse key sectors, it could push Egypt’s army to take sides, after trying to maintain an appearance of neutrality. “Labour strikes of that scale would provide pressure to bring a speedy end to the crisis,” said Safwat Zayaat, a Cairo-based military analyst.

“The army would certainly not use tanks and force against striking workers,” he said. “The army would likely stage a coup and announce a limited period of control.”

Kamal Abouaita, the Tax Collectors Union’s leading member, also told Reuters that they are:

…discussing ways of coordinating civil disobedience such as refusing to pay taxes and utility bills to weaken the state and push the president from power.

As I watch Al Jazeera right now, many see that prediction of the military taking control, at least temporarily, as a real possibility. Earlier today the military released a message to the people, calling it “communique number one,” which the Associated Press said is “a phrasing that suggests a military coup.”

It’s unclear yet what the response to such a move would be by the protesters. One correspondent on the ground said that people he spoke with in Tahrir Square would be okay with the military leading for a short period before elections, while other protesters have spoken out against the military leading the way. According to Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid:

…the new demands of those in Tahrir Square include the entire administration to resign – not just President Mubarak.  They want a one-year transitional period before full parliamentary elections – during which a three-person presidential council should run the country while a panel of experts write a new, permanent  constitution – taking advice from opposition groups and senior, high-profile Egyptians, including the Muslim Brotherhood.