A great idea in theory, in Egypt as elsewhere, Paul Amar explains at Jadaliyya, “the micro-enterprise system has become a massive set of police rackets and ‘loan shark’ operations.”
In the very recent past, Egypt has reemerged as a manufacturing country. . . . And many of the workers in Egypt’s revived textile industries and piece-work shops are women. If you stroll up the staircases into the large working-class apartment buildings in the margins of Cairo or the cement-block constructions of the villages, you’ll see workshops full of women, making purses and shoes, and putting together toys and computer circuitboards for sale in Europe, the Middle East and the Gulf. These shop workers. . . . were the ones who began the organizing and mobilizing process that led to this uprising.
Since the early 1990s, Egypt has cut back welfare and social services to working-class and lower-middle-class Egyptians. In the place of food subsidies and jobs they have offered . . . Micro-credit loans. . . . often specifically targeted toward women and youth. Since economically disadvantaged applicants have no collateral to guarantee these loans, payback is enforced by criminal law rather than civil law. . . . Police demanding bribes, harassing small micro-businesses, and beating those who refuse to submit had become standard practice in Egypt. Internet cafes, small workshops, call-centers, video-game cafes, microbuses, washing/ironing shops, small gyms constitute the landscape of micro-enterprises that are the jobs base and social world of Egypt’s lower middle classes. . . . Police sexualized brutalization of youth and women became central to the “regulation” of the massive small-business economy.
A by-product of these abuses:
. . . the micro-business economy is a tough place to operate, but it does shape women and youth into tough survivors who see themselves as an organized force opposed to the police-state.