Telecom Egypt employees escalate their protest, demanding release of 5 colleagues

A protest, a press conference and an open-ended strike; workers say they will not rest until their colleagues, charged with attempting to murder their chief executive, are released

Telecom Egypt employees organised a protest this morning that finished in an open-ended strike, which they will continue until the release of five detained colleagues. A few hundred employees from the Opera region telecommunications hub, as well as some delegations from different telecommunication hubs all over Egypt, gathered in Opera Square on Tuesday morning, where the five employees were detained on 12 October.

Around the country, the staff of 40 other telecommunications hubs held strikes in solidarity with their detained colleagues. Thirty were located in Greater Cairo and ten in other governorates. Telecom Egypt's telephone directory service (140) and service hotline (111) have been out of service for several days in solidarity with the accused employees.

The anger of the employees, who have been protesting since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, escalated after five of their colleagues were charged with the attempted murder of chief executive Mohamed Abdel Rehim. The accused employees are being held in detention for 15 days pending their case, news that further infuriated the workers.

"The strike will only end after the release of our five colleagues," Essam Abou Senna, a worker, told Ahram Online.

"They arrested five at random. Some of them were not even protesting," said engineer Sherif Mansour, member of the independent syndicate Telecom Egypt employees formed after the revolution.

"There are excesses from the prosecution that the defence registered, like the disrespect in the timing of the exposure of the accused in front of the prosecution. In consequence, two lawyers only attended the investigations with the five accused employees," says Ahmed Saber, one of the lawyers of the accused employees.

In addition to the release of their colleagues, which they consider a priority, workers demanded the resignation of CEO Mohamed Abdel Rahim and the company's board of directors, whom they accuse of corruption and of causing financial losses to the company. They also demanded revision of the salaries of the company's high officials. "The last report of the Central Auditing Organisation signalled many administrative and financial contraventions and this should be investigated. The board of administration is ruining the company," argued Sherif Mansour.

According to the workers, who held a press conference in parallel to the protest, many media outlets simply repeated the "false" accusations of the company's administration.

The workers say Abdel Rahim was visiting the Opera branch, and employees gathered to tell him their demands. He went to an office in the building and sent them a messenger, telling them he would not succumb to any of their demands. "So the workers started a sit-in in front of his office, but nobody attacked him. He locked himself in from inside the room, and didn't want to go out, but he was still able to receive whomever he wanted to," said Mansour.

Later on that night, military police helped Abdel Rahim to leave by cutting into his office from a neighbouring room.

Company management, for its part, denies all allegations of corruption.

"Whoever has proof of administrative or financial corruption by the board of directors should hand it over to the prosecutor general," Emad El-Azhary, Telecom Egypt's first executive vice president, told the Masrawy online news portal last week.

Telecom Egypt, a public monopoly of fixed landlines, provides 70 per cent of Internet service in Egypt, and is the sole provider of international phone services. The company also owns 45 per cent of mobile-phone operator Vodafone Egypt.

ahramonline, Tues Oct 18 2011

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