Strikes damaged Egypt's vital export industries on Thursday as manufacturers kept factories idle because a nationwide bank shutdown stopped them buying supplies and selling their goods, industry officials said.

Business leaders are calling on the ruling military council in charge since President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow to end the strikes and ensure banks re-open as planned on Sunday, the start of the next working week.

The interim government has sharply cut the nation's economic growth forecast to between 3.5 and 4 percent from around 6 percent before the popular uprising. Egypt's stock market has been shut for three weeks after plunging as the unrest began.

The political turmoil has cost the country's tourism, construction and manufacturing industries at least 10 billion Egyptian pounds, the CAPMAS government statistics agency said earlier on Thursday.

The sit-ins, protests and strikes by some people threaten national security and represent a real obstacle to stability, state newspaper al-Ahram quoted an unnamed official as saying on its front page on Thursday.

Honourable citizens will not stand by with their hands tied in the face of any party seeking to harm the interests of the nation or its people.

Taher Gargour, Deputy Chief Executive of ceramics maker Lecico, said many will start to question the wisdom of investing in Egypt if the unrest does not quickly subside.

We're at risk of writing a bill for ourselves that will take several years to pay, he said.

Metallurgical firms were working at only 20 to 50 percent of capacity and the engineering sector was operating 25 to 35 percent below normal levels because of the bank closures, the heads of their industry chambers told Reuters.

Big plants simply cannot sell for cash, said Mohamed Said Hanfy, General Manager at the Chamber of Metallurgical Industries. We are talking about steel companies, metallurgy companies, food, textiles, engineering.

Banks reopened last week after a week-long shutdown caused by the political protests, only to close again early this week after their workers went on strike, leaving a business community unable to honour wire transfers dependent on cash transactions.

Some bankers said the government was probably using the new closure to sift a backlog of requests to transfer funds abroad to make sure none of the funds had been obtained illegally.

The central bank last week lengthened the clearance period for transfers abroad of $100,000 or more to five days from the previous two to give authorities time to review why the money was being transferred, bankers said.


Suez Canal Authority officials said shipping was unaffected by a strike by canal employees, who pitched tents in front of canal offices in Ismailia and waved banners reading Down with corruption and We don't want promises, we want decisions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the state textile sector, a major exporter, was worst hit by the strikes, along with banks.

Employees at state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving in the Nile Delta industrial city of Mahalla al-Kubra and at textile plants in the coastal city of Damietta stopped work this week.

Managers at other factories sent workers home for fear that industrial action will spread.

Sinai Cement said it was affected for several days due to energy and raw material supply issues but normal production levels were returning.

South Valley Cement said it had to stop production and the flow of sales and supplies was very weak because of poor security. The departure of some foreign employees from Egypt had affected some of the company's investment activity.

The market stands still but people are still producing, said Farouk Shalash, director of the Chamber of Engineering Industries, who said there were no strikes in his sector.

Lecico, which exports around 60 percent of its sanitary ware, negotiated a new deal with workers who went on strike this week to demand a pay increase.

Gargour said the army was instrumental in helping negotiate a settlement by sending officers to act as mediators between management and workers.

But he said long-term legislative changes were needed to ensure strikes are not the only outlet for labour demands.

Every company is left to its own devices to negotiate, Gargour said. The government should meet with the labour unions and issue mandates regarding minimum wages, laws and compliance. There have to be laws.