As the Shura Council’s lights are turned off at 12:50 AM, Amonsito workers know it’s time to sleep after another long day of protests. Dozens of workers from Amonsito have been chanting on Qasr el-Eini Street, clapping to the beat of their tambours, shouting angry slogans against the government and the parliament, and even reciting poems.
Approximately 150 workers from Amonsito occupy the sidewalk facing the Shura Council, vowing not to return to their homes until their factory is reopened. The factory’s Syrian owner has fled Egypt.
The location of the protest was not haphazard. Qasr el-Eini is where members of parliament and the government come to work. It is where the buildings of the cabinet and the parliament are located. It is also a street visited by President Mubarak when he is on his way to inaugurate a new parliamentary session.
But the sidewalk couldn’t accommodate all the protesting workers. They started to look for places to spend the night so they could resume their protests the following day. Some have taken shelter in Omar Makram Mosque, others carried their flimsy duvets to sleep in the Tahrir garden, and yet others preferred the coziness of nearby cafes.
Amid the late night silence, unbroken by the presence of dozens of Central Security Forces, Ashraf Mahmoud Helal, one of the protesting workers, arranges the pictures of his eight-year-old son Mohamed in a small album, aided by the dim light from behind the gates of the American University across the street. Helal kisses every picture and holds it to his heart before placing it in the album. It’s the first time that he hasn’t taken his kid to the National Cancer Institute for chemotherapy sessions.
Mohamed was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. The doctors told his father that his left kidney had to be removed because of a malignant tumor. At roughly the same time, the Amonsito factory was closed and the workers weren’t paid their salaries for two months. Instead, they depend on assistance from the Ministry of Manpower and Migration–LE200 to LE300.
Unable to hold back his tears, Helal says, "I left home and chose to protest after I failed to cover my kids’ expenses, especially Mohamed who needs four injections every 21 days to boost his immunity after the chemotherapy sessions. The cost of each one of those injections is LE1200, whereas the allowance I receive is LE200."
El-Sayyid Hanafi, another protester had to sell his wife’s gold jewelry to treat his son Ahmed who suffers from brain cerebral atrophy, the wasting away of brain tissue.
Hanafi, who has been working for Amonsito for 14 years, had to leave his three children behind with his father. He has been unable to pay his apartment rent for eight months, and has to add another LE80 to buy medication for his son.
"I can’t face my daughter Shaimaa who chose to leave school and help her mother with housework after the embarrassment I caused her by not being able to pay her tutors’ fees for several months," he adds.
As Hanafi recounts his heart-breaking story, I hear the groans of a man in his 50s whose sleep was interrupted by what seemed like a severe pain in his back. "My back is numb," he says. "God is the protector from this government."
The rough woollen blankets and the shabby cardboard boxes used for cover haven’t managed to insultate Mossad Abdel Rasul’s weary body from the pitilessly cold marble floors of the Shura sidewalk.
Abdel Rasul prefers the sharp stabs of pain to the humiliation of being unable to provide for his family.
Abdel Rasul visited his family in el-Qanater el-Khairiyya recently. "I had nothing in my pocket but the cost of the transportation. When I arrived I only had 25 piasters left. I didn’t take transportation into my little town, preferring instead to give the money to my little kid to buy candy."
"I was shocked to find only LE10 at home. I had taken LE150 from my sister before the sit-in, which has entered its 12th day without any response from officials."
After a moment of silence he resumes, "My son Ahmed doesn’t take private lessons anymore, and I couldn’t enrol Mohamed in a nursery school like his cousin. Whenever he sees me he asks, ‘Daddy, aren’t you going to buy me a school bag like my cousin and take me to nursery?’"
"We’ve been on the sidewalk for 12 says," he continues. "Every day the ministers drive past us but we don’t seem to have captured their attention. Can you imagine that one good man bought us koshari meals for more than LE3000? Members of parliament, on the other hand, hide behind the curtains of their cars…except those from the Brotherhood and the opposition.
"One day they’ll beg us for votes!" he adds.
Abdel Rasul warns that the sit-in will take a more aggressive form if the government continues to neglect the protesters’ demands. He discloses some of the details of their escalation plan, saying, "All the workers have decided to shave their heads like prisoners who are awaiting release. We will also use the Shura Council gates to hang the clothes we’ve been wearing for the past 12 days."
Ayman and Ashraf are the two protesters responsible for securing food for the group. Their breakfast is a piece of halawa and a loaf of bread. After breakfast, the protesters go to Boulaq Abul Ela or Zawyet Youssef–both are close to the Shura Council’s sidewalk–in order to go to the bathrooms and get ready for the dawn prayer.
The worker’s breakfast and lunch varies depending on what "charitable people" send them, according to Ayman and Ashraf. They said that often the workers receive bags of koshari and fuul and falafel sanwhiches, as well as cartons of water and juice. Employees at the agricultural credit bank across the street often send them food supplies, too.
Then the workers review the daily statement prepared by Essam Abdel Hamid and the members of the workers committee at one of the cafes in Qasr el-Aini Street. They type it up and distribute it to journalists.
While the workers review the statement, Central Security Forces gobble down fuul and falafel sandwiches.
At 8 AM, Hassan Helmy grabs the tambour in one hand and a microphone in the other and starts shouting out the new slogans that he had spent the night coming up with, inspired by newspaper reports and statements by Minister of Manpower and Migration Aisha Abdel Hadi.
At 10 AM, the excited Helmy climbs the tree that stands in the middle of the sidewalk and starts to chant the slogans that have been approved by his coworkers. Passers-by stop to take photo of Helmy in the tree.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.