Dina Bishara

Labor Movements in Tunisia and Egypt

Drivers vs. Objects of Change in Transition from Authoritarian Rule

SWP Comment 2014/C 01, January 2014, 8 Pages


Egypt, Tunisia

Egyptian and Tunisian unions have played radically different roles in their countries’ transition from authoritarian rule since the ouster of longstanding Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011. The legacy of different variations of authoritarian rule as well as the history of the respective labor movements has had significant consequences for their ability to shape post-transition politics. Whereas the Egyptian labor movement is fragmented, and control over labor organizations has become a battlefield for competing political forces in Egypt, organized labor emerged as an actor in its own right, playing a leading role in the Tunisian transition by mitigating political conflict and helping to move the process along. In both Tunisia and Egypt, “official” unions will need to address issues of internal reform to become more effective representatives of their members’ interests. In addition, the legal framework will have to be significantly altered, at least in Egypt. German and European policymakers, unions, and political foundations should support steps toward more effective and empowered unions that can represent workers’ rights by encouraging legal reform and supporting independent unions through training and exchange.

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