Labor unrest spread to Egypt’s main international airport and the country’s largest textile factory Wednesday, as a panel of legal experts began drafting constitutional amendments that will set the course of political reform in the world’s largest Arab nation.
Workers defied the second warning in three days from the ruling Supreme Armed Forces Council to end the strikes, which continued for a fourth straight day and virtually shut down the country. Cellphone users in Egypt received text messages from the military exhorting workers and unions to end the protests.
More than 10,000 textile workers renewed their strike on Wednesday, crippling some mills. Work stoppages have also closed banks and stalled buses in Cairo. Police officers, airport employees, ambulance drivers and electrical engineers have carried out protests.
Economists have warned the work stoppages are deepening an already catastrophic financial crisis and scaring off foreign investors.
The developments came as a committee of judges and lawyers set up by Egypt’s interim military rulers to quickly advise on changes to the constitution met for the first time Wednesday. The review panel, which has 10 days to complete its work, has been tasked with redrafting six constitutional articles in an effort to ensure that national elections expected later this year are fair.
The committee is also expected to propose establishing term limits for the presidency, which Egypt’s now-deposed leader, Hosni Mubarak, held for nearly 30 years.
The group includes a Coptic Christian jurist along with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group banned under Mr. Mubarak’s rule. Seven of the eight panelists are seen as independents. Still, a coalition of more than 60 women’s rights and pro-democracy groups released a statement Wednesday criticizing the committee’s male-dominated roster.
The Reuters news agency reported that members of a newly formed 19-person pro-democracy “Council of Trustees of the Revolution” appeared at a news conference in Cairo Wednesday, saying its main goal is to open a dialogue with the military on the country’s transition to democracy.
Also Wednesday, Egypt’s health minister said at least 365 people were killed and 5,500 people injured in the anti-government protests that led to the resignation of Mr. Mubarak. Sameh Farid says the figures are preliminary because they do not include reports from all medical facilities or take into account those who may have been buried by relatives without official death certificates.
On Tuesday, Egypt’s military rulers pledged to hold new parliamentary and presidential elections within six months.
The European Union has announced that foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will visit Egypt next Tuesday for talks with authorities. Ashton will be the most senior EU official to visit Egypt since Mr. Mubarak stepped down last Friday.