Egypt Protests – Changing the Rules of the Game
have taken to the streets demanding an end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak and protesting economic hardship and rampant corruption. Demonstrations in Tunisia brought down the regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and this inspired tens of thousands of Egyptians to stage a countrywide "Day of Rage" that started on January 25. Ironically, the mass rallies were held on a public holiday honoring the country’s police force.
In central Cairo , protesters carrying banners denouncing Mubarak sang the national anthem, expressing their loyalty to their country. Mothers carried babies and young men waved placards with the word "Out". chanted "Freedom", knowing that most Egyptians live in dire poverty. The demonstration in central Cairo was peaceful until police fired water cannon and tear gas while demonstrators responded with rocks. Scuffles broke out in a few places. It is clear that the Egyptians have had enough and are no longer cowering under the oppression of Mubarak and co.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt ’s largest opposition, did not officially take part, but its members assembled alongside the general population all calling for reform. Organisers from the lawyers syndicate defended the right to protest saying the rallies constituted "a day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment, marking the end of silence and submission."
The internet has played a significant role in the launch of the demonstrations as some 90,000 people pledged to demonstrate. A Facebook group named for Khaled Said, an Alexandrian activist beaten to death by police, was central in this call that also extended across the population by Twitter and word of mouth.
The Facebook group demands a two-term presidential limit, an end to emergency laws in force since 1981, raising the minimum wage and dismissal of interior minister Habib Adly, who dared to state that the demonstrators had not obtained a licence to rally!
Egyptians are worse off than their Tunisian counterparts who ousted their president on January 14th. Half of Egypt ‘s population live below or on the poverty line of $2 a day. Unemployment is soaring. corruption is rife and the security forces are known for brutality.
A spirit of defiance has been growing since November 2010 when the ruling won 90 per cent of the seats in the popular assembly – an election widely regarded as rigged. Egypt is due to go to the polls again in September to vote for president, however, as yet no candidates have been named although it is expected that Mubarak may stand for a fifth term or nominate his son Gamal in his stead.
At were killed during the anti-government protests as confirmed by state TV and the BBC who also said that in , police used tear gas and water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowds.
The BBC also noted that protests are uncommon in Egypt , as Mubarak tolerates little dissent, adding that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration supported “the fundamental right of expression and assembly” and urged all parties “to exercise restraint.”
In a statement indicating that the US is either not aware of the state of affairs in Egypt or is determined to support the Mubarak regime regardless of its tyrannical legacy, Clinton added that Washington believed the Egyptian government was “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”
Reports state that the regime blocked the social networking site Twitter as well as mobile phone networks in the Cairo area. Nevertheless, the number of protestors exceeded the organizers’ expectations. Police were surprised by the anger of the crowd and allowed protesters to make their way to the parliament building where police regrouped in full riot gear with tear gas and water cannon, temporarily driving the crowd back. However, protesters threw stones and stood their ground, pushing the police back until they were on the run.
Mubarak, hailed as a coward, was surely surprised at the extent and intensity of the demonstrations where people called for revolution, freedom, the removal of their elderly president and their hatred for his son, Gamal. The BBC also reported that in central Cairo , demonstrators attacked a police water cannon vehicle, opening the driver’s door and ordering the man out of the vehicle. The man was not hurt.
Police officers used batons to beat back protesters as they tried to break the police cordons to join the main demonstration. In other places live bullets were used even though Mubarak’s advisors warned him not to be harsh. It is also expected that the police will refuse to fire on the people on any large scale should the protests continue. Moreover, the army is likely to intervene against Mubarak if he tries to maintain his grasp on power despite bloodshed.
Mubarak’s regime fears the influence of the , the country’s largest political opposition. The MB’s influence is more notably felt in rural areas and poor urban areas due to their focus on social welfare. The regime uses the Emergency Law to hound the MB members, who have been in and out of jail for years, and the government has never allowed a free election, fearing the MB would win too many seats. Human rights activists allege that the police regularly use torture, including waterboarding, to suppress the Brotherhood.
The time of apathetic subservience is over and a new page in Egypt ’s history has been opened. It is one of activism and demanding rights. Demonstrators are determined to present their conditions and requests until the regime responds and leaves. However, unlike Tunisia , Egypt has a much lower level of education, illiteracy is high and internet penetration is low. There also seems to be a lack of backing and support for the demonstrations as Mohamad ElBaradei, despite calling on Egyptians to take part in the protests, travelled abroad before they began.
Protestors were carrying cameras as their weapons, showing the world the true conditions of life in Egypt and gathering support, both locally and internationally. One thing is for sure, vibrant Web activism can indeed be translated into street action.
Human rights campaigners have been waiting for this day for a long time and Tuesday’s huge turnout has changed the rules of the political game in Egypt , setting the Arab world on the next step towards democracy.