May 2 Strike

Egypt’s Minimum Wage Battle: Call Forth the Zombie Armies

My husband graduated among the top of his class in medical school. He got the best possible position a doctor could get in Egypt: a residency at Cairo University Hospital in the specialty of his choice and a stable medical career for life. We started our life together as a married couple just after he started his residency.

His salary was 200 LE a month; roughly US $30.

Those first few years of marriage were very difficult. Our families did not fully realize – it seems – the tough financial situation we were in. We very rarely got help in the first couple of years, so those 200 LE were basically it. Our dignity would not allow us to ask our families to help us through the tough times.

There were times when friends would stop over for a visit and I did not even have tea to serve them. Once, a very good friend of mine got married and I could not attend her wedding because I did not even have 25 piasters to take a bus to the wedding. There were times when I went hungry as a pregnant and later breast-feeding mother.

Having lived through that, I was cautiously happy to hear that workers in Egypt were going on strike on May 2 to call for a minimum wage in Egypt of 1200 LE. Cautiously, I say, because I’m among the pessimistic majority in the country that thinks change is still far away in the future, if it will ever come at all.