Thursday, March 20, 2008

Proletarisation of the middle classes

Food costs are soaring across Egypt. The price of chicken has gone up by 40% in three months, and heating, electricity and transportation costs have more than doubled in the last year. It is not just the poor who are suffering. Increasingly, the middle classes are being pulled into poverty. And as protests grow, the rumbles of discontent are starting to worry the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Dr Mona Mina is the driving force behind an organisation called Doctors Without Rights.
The signs she and her colleagues are carrying say:
"Two-hundred-and-thirty pounds a month is not enough to feed our families."
The average wage of a doctor, 230 Egyptian pounds, works out at less than £25 ($50) a month.

"People think we are beyond money. But how can we live?" said Saad , a surgeon at Nile Hospital . "How can I give the best when I work long hours and earn as much as a nurse or a mill worker? Our salaries need to be commensurate with prosecutors'. They earn 2,000 pounds a month. So, is it more important to put someone in jail or to save someone from dying?"

Civil servants have started to organise. But it is the doctors - middle class, highly respected but poorly paid - who have caught the mood of the country with their audacious but thwarted proposal for a strike.

"We have two classes today in Egypt -- the capitalists and the poor," Farahat , an orthopedic specialist , said. "We have no middle class anymore. Given such conditions, there must be labor strikes."

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