Employees of Egypt's public banks in revolt

The staff of Egypt’s largest public banks protest at their headquarters on Sunday, demanding wage restructuring and transparency

Salma Hussein, Sunday 13 Feb 2011 Al Ahram

“The bank.. wants.. the chairman down”, the chant, inspired by the 25 January Egyptian revolution, was well heard on the Nile Cornish Sunday morning. Some 2000 employees of the National Bank of Egypt are gathered at the entrance of the giant headquarters of the country’s biggest bank.

The employees of the unlisted government-owned bank are contesting the board of directors system. “Wages vary tremendously. The board appointed young inexperienced fresh graduates with monthly salaries that start at LE30,000, much more than what middle management get,” cried out one of the protestors who has been working for the bank for 15 years.

All bank accounts of the privileged employees were available and transparent, until recently, when access to their account details was blocked, adds the protestor.

Protestors’ numbers kept increasing throughout the day. The bank’s gates were closed to prevent workers inside the HQ from joining the protest.

Not so far, in Downtown, in front of the headquarters of another grandiose building, Banque Misr, Egypt’s second largest bank, the same scene unfolded. The gates are closed, with hundreds also gathered, many waving a printed list of demands.

On the top of the list – the resignation of the advisors to the board of directors. “This board hired ex-prime minister Nazif’s niece as a media advisor to the chairmam. She gets LE200,000 per month. Fatma Al-Gouli is a dentist. What could a dentist advise about in a bank?” says a branch manager who was among the protestors.

The statement of the “Banque Misr employees revolution”, of which Ahram Online received a copy, suggests that firing these advisors would allow the redistribution of their salaries to the benefit of the underpaid regular staff.

Countless stories of nepotism have been told among every group of protestors. “Partisans of the Future Generation Foundation, headed by Gamal Mubarak, were given permanent contracts in the bank, regardless of their skills, while there are other employees who work on a full-time basis without any contracts,” adds the branch manager who preferred to remain anonymous.

The banks that witnessed these protests have mainly been public ones.

“The grudge is sweeping public banks all over the country. People are asking for their rights, to benefit from the revolution mood,” comments the Central Bank governor’s media advisor, Naglaa Zikri, without giving any further comments. “The governor is not even answering my phone calls,” she says.

The deputy Central Bank governor did not respond Ahram Online’s calls or messages.

At the beginning of the month, credit rating agency Moody’s had cut its ratings of five Egyptian banks and warned that further downgrades may follow.

The five banks affected are the National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, Commercial International Bank and Bank of Alexandria. Moody’s said it was reassessing whether Egypt could support its banking system amid the continuing political unrest.

An 80 per cent stake of Bank of Alexandria was sold to Intesa San Paolo, an Italian Bank, while the government kept the remaining stake. The new owner has kept the same administration of the bank.