CAIRO: While many administrations around the Middle East were eyeing the protests in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria with increasing alarm, employers in all sectors were studying the potential implications of the public’s claim that they were “all Egyptian now”.
Migrant workers from Egypt command roughly half the wages of their local counterparts right around the Arab World, a fact long-exploited by employers, tax officials and diners in restaurants who think saying “gameel” to a waiter from Mansouriya is incredibly funny. However, the appearance of placards, t-shirts and banners proclaiming oneness with Egyptian brothers has now started an avalanche of wage reductions as ruthless business owners hold their employees to their word.
“This revolution could save my business,” said Abu Qahweh, a coffeeshop owner in Beirut. “If my guys want to say they’re all Egyptian, they have my total blessing. That’ll save me $5 a head for a start. And they work harder, too.”
The message is spreading to official circles. “This development is definitely something we’re looking into,” says Abdulrahman al-Aziz, deputy minister of labour in Bahrain. “Inflation is scary, isn’t it? We’re looking at any excuse to lower the minimum wage and frankly we’re delighted when the public offered this gesture. We are happy to assume they’re being genuine.”
Similar moves have been reported in Amman, where anyone caught saying or writing “We’re all Egyptian” is being taking to their place of employment and the terms of their contract forcibly renegotiated.
“I wasn’t saying I was actually Egyptian,” says Omar Khattab, an employee at a shwarma stand. “I was just saying that we’re kind of in the same boat. You know? Now I’m having my salary chopped in half. What am I going to tell the wife? She already thinks I’m an accountant at a big school…”