Where are the Men? Here are the Men and the Women! Surveillance, Gender, and Strikes in Egyptian Textile Factories


For the past decade Egypt has been experiencing the largest wave of labor action since the 1950s with over two million Egyptians protesting in the workplace between 2004 and 2011. The centrality of gender in labor protests seemed obvious when in December 2006 the female workers of the Egypt Spinning and Weaving Company, the largest Egyptian textile firm, mobilized and chanted the slogan, "Where are the men? Here are the women!" to shame their colleagues into joining the strike. By exploring the connection between the political economy context, the reorganization of work, the rise of the security state, and the redefinition of masculinity, this article analyzes the shifting gender dynamics that influence labor protests in Egypt. Based on an ethnographic study conducted in two textile factories of the Nile Delta region between 2008 and 2010, I argue that protest is a phase of transgression of gender relations for both men and women, and broadly reflects the impact of economic change on the domestic and work spheres. The factory materializes changing gender roles and narratives through policing and surveillance of workers' behaviors, gendered logics of social control, and the visibility of female militancy in labor protests. As a result of these transformations, women's roles in labor protests have become part of the process of men reclaiming their masculinity, which has been humiliated by wage erosion, the transformation of labor relations, and the coercive nature of relationships between the state and its citizens.