Egypt’s ruling military has warned it will not allow the continuation of “illegal” strikes and protests that have disrupted the country’s economy, giving the hardest signal yet it could take action against unrest following the ouster of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
Labour strikes have spread across the country, hitting many state offices and factories, since the final days before Mr Mubarak handed over power to the military a week ago.
The Armed Forces Supreme Council has repeatedly urged strikes to halt, warning of the further economic damage on top of that caused by 18 days of turmoil leading up to the former president’s fall.
On Friday, it issued its strongest statement yet, warning that it would “not allow the continuation of these illegal practices because of their severe danger to the nation, and it will confront them and take the legal measures needed to protect the nation’s security”.
The statement came after protesters held a massive new rally by hundreds of thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, celebrating Mr Mubarak’s fall but also pressing their demands that the military take greater action to uproot the remainder of his regime – particularly by dissolving the caretaker government, appointed by Mr Mubarak.
They have called for weekly protests in Tahrir to keep up the pressure.
The military has promised in the past not to take action against the political, anti-government protests in Tahrir, and Friday’s statement appeared more directed at strikers. But the tough words could mark growing military impatience with the protesters as well.
In an apparent reference to strikers, it pointed to “some sectors that have … organised stoppages and protests, disrupting (economic) interests, halting the wheels of production and creating difficult economic conditions that could lead to the deterioration of the nation’s economy”.
It accused some of preventing state workers from reaching their jobs, “increasing losses”.