Egypt strikes force holiday

EGYPT has been forced to declare today a bank holiday after workers emboldened by the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak and angered by low wages and poor working conditions disrupted operations at the country’s state banks.

Banks were already due to be closed tomorrow to mark Prophet Mohamed’s birthday. Now the market is likely to face further turmoil when it opens on Wednesday for the first time since its closure on January 27.

Egyptian workers have begun to show their pent-up frustration, with thousands staging strikes, sit-ins and protests over pay and conditions at firms and government agencies in fields such as steel, textiles, telecoms, railways, post offices, banks, oil and pharmaceutical companies.

Tarek Amer, chairman of state-owned National Bank of Egypt, the country’s biggest commercial bank, submitted his resignation yesterday after angry employees prevented him from reaching his office, bankers said. The central bank, responsible for the state banks, had not yet accepted the resignation, they added.

The Egyptian pound was little changed in slow trade yesterday, the first day of trading since Mubarak was toppled from power on Friday, and the central bank said it had successfully covered an auction of E£6.5 bn (£691m) in treasury bills.

The Egyptian market is set to impose new restrictions when it reopens, as an extra security.

Trading will be suspended for 30 minutes if there is a five per cent change in the EGX100, a benchmark index. A 10 per cent change would result in a suspension of activity for a period to be determined by the exchange.