EGYPT

"It's this kind of revolt that can turn into a revolution"

Protesters tear down a picture of Mubarak. Photo by Mohamed Gaber. What was supposed to be a workers' strike turned into violent riots in north eastern Egypt on Sunday resulting in 150 arrests, around 100 injured and at least one dead. Our Observers in the country explain why.

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Protesters tear down a picture of Mubarak. Photo by Mohamed Gaber.

What was supposed to be a workers' strike turned into violent riots in northeastern Egypt on Sunday resulting in 150 arrests, around 100 injured and at least one dead. Our Observers in the country explain why.

The chaos broke out on the day that spinning and weaving workers from the Nile Delta city of Mahalla el-Kobra threatened to strike over demands to increase the monthly minimum wage of only 115 Egyptian pounds (€15). Although the strike was called off, tensions over low pay, rapidly increasing prices and distrust of the upcoming local elections (held Tuesday) brought the city to boiling point. The riots calmed during the day on Tuesday following mass arrests, but are suspected to continue again at night.

"It's this kind of revolt that can turn into a revolution"

Abdul Monem Mahmud, 28, is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group that is officially banned in Egypt but tolerated. He works as a journalist for al-Dustour and writes the blog Ana Ikhwan (I'm a part of the Muslim Brotherhood).

"The people are rebelling. People who are hungry and demand that someone take interest in them. The parties and unions are involved in the demonstrations, but they are not controlling them. It's not a political movement.

I talk with a lot of people, especially at the market. They tell me that they're not against Mubarak. They're not demanding democracy; but just to eat. Most people don't have more than 150 Egyptian pounds a month (18 euros) to keep their families alive. That's not enough. People are hungry, so they're rebelling. And it's this kind of revolt that can turn into a revolution.

We at the Muslim Brotherhood don't trust the elections organised by those in power. And the people don't either. We tried to get our candidates into the local elections, but the government disqualified almost all of them. They only validated 21, when there are 50,000 seats to be filled in the election. The ruling party controls everything. Citizens vote, but it's the chief of police who puts the ballot slips in the box."

"The security forces were throwing rocks at the demonstrators"

Joel Beinin is head of the American University in Cairo's Middle East Studies Department. He went to Mahalla on Sunday and saw the riots firsthand:

There was a Facebook group of 66,000 people agreeing to take part in the strike, but the committee called it off. Younger campaigners didn't like that. So at half past three on Sunday, the factory workers finished their shift and came out into the square. A demonstration broke out, mainly over price increases. In the end the security forces were throwing rocks at the demonstrators. When it got really intense I left the area. I came back a bit later and fires had been started; people said that schools were being burnt down. Security started trying to disperse the crowds so I felt it was time to go [out of the city]. We got in the car to head back, but as we left the city on the Mahalla - Tanta road, there was a fire lit across it. It was very neat so we guessed it had been lit by the authorities. It was being used to block off the whole town and there were troops heading into the city. We were being boxed in. We managed to find a detour out and head back to Cairo. Now the whole place is sealed off."

Photos taken on Sunday in Mahalla

The beginning of the protest.

Troops head in to quash the protests.

Photos by journalist James Buck.