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From the Blog
Historic Revolution takes hold in Egypt
On Tuesday, January 25,Â inspired by Tunisiaâs successful revolution, Egyptian citizens took to the streets in mass protests against the Egyptian regime led by President Hosni Mubarak. By all accounts, activists and everyday Egyptians alike thought the day was going to be normal. Osama Shabaik, an American student who is currently in Cairo, said: âPeople that I talked to who were planning on going to the protests werenât expecting anything. Maybe a few hundred people.â January 25 is a national holiday that commemorates the police forces. The Egyptian protesters nicknamed it the âDay of Rageâ as thousands marched in downtown Cairo. Similar protests were reported across the country is Alexandria, Mansura, Tanta and the southern cities of Aswan and Assyut.Â At first, the protesters streamed peacefully through the streets, converging in Cairoâs main Tahrir square.Â TahrirÂ means liberation in Arabic. Soon however, the police forces stepped in, firing tear gas and using water cannons in an attempt to disperse the protesters. The interior ministry also issued a statement, blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for the civil disobedience. The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition party in Egypt and is banned under the Mubarak regime. It denied the claims. Indeed, the movement seemed to be largely youth-led, coordinated through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and bringing together a diverse range of the population: the rich and the poor, the young and the old, Muslims and Christians. By nightfall, three protesters and one police officer were reported dead, said the interior minister. Twitter also reported that it has been blocked in the country.
Living Under Mubarak
Since the 1981 assassination of PresidentÂ Anwar El Sadat,Â Hosni MubarakÂ and hisÂ National Democratic Party (NDP)Â government have maintained one-party rule under a continuous state of emergency. Under emergency law, police powers are extended,Â constitutional rightsÂ suspended,Â censorshipÂ is legalizedÂ and the government may imprison individuals indefinitely and without reason. The law limits political activity, includingÂ street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations and unregistered financial donations. This has led to the imprisonment of activists without trials,Â illegal hidden detention facilities,Â and rejecting university, mosque, and newspaper staff members based on their political inclination.Â Â Mubarak's government earned the support of the West by maintaining policies of heavy handedness towards âIslamic militantsâ and peace with Israel. The government receives more than one billion in aid from the United States each year.Â Despite high levels of economic growth over the past few years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remain poor.Â In late 2010, around 40% of Egypt's population (which is roughly 80Â million) lives on two dollars a day. A large part of the population relies on subsidized goods.Â According to theÂ Peterson Institute for International Economics, the basic problem is unemployment driven by a demographic bulge: with the number of new people entering the job force at about 4 percent a year, unemployment in Egypt is almost 10 times as high for college graduates as it is for people who have gone through elementary school, particularly educated urban youth, who are precisely the people currently seen out in the streets.Â
Building MomentumÂ The protests continued throughout the week. On Wednesday and Thursday, clashes between the protesters and the police worsened. Police used water cannons, batons and what seems to be an unlimited supply of tear gas to beat back the people in the streets; they responded by throwing rocks. As the crowds surged back and forth, the protesters slowly pushed their way through police blockades. Hundreds were arrested and scores were injured.Â White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs publicly commented on the situation by advising the Mubarak regime to âdemonstrate its responsiveness to the people of Egyptâ and recognize their âuniversal rights.â Israel showed uneasiness over the unrest in Egypt.Mohamed AelBaradei arrived to Cairo on Thursday. BaradeiÂ won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work as the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He is touted as a likely candidate to head the interim government if Mubarak is to step down. ElBaradei says he is ready to âlead the transitionâ if asked.
Despite clashes with the police,Â protesters say they will not give up until their demands are met. Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger services all report being disrupted within the country. Al Jazeera quickly establishes itself as the go-to news agency to follow events unfolding on the ground, with live coverage pouring in from across Egypt. Mubarak has not publicly commented on the events and state television is largely ignoring the protests.Â
As Friday dawns, Egyptians report that access to the internet is blocked, and mobile phone networks are down. In an unprecedented act, the Mubarak regime has effectively blocked off Egypt from the outside world, hoping this will hinder activistsâ ability to organize. The country prepares for mass protest after the Friday prayers. Twenty members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been detained overnight.Â After the Friday prayer ends, hundreds of thousands flood the streets in protest in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria. Mohammed ElBaradei, who has joined the protesters, saidÂ âThe Egyptian people will take care of themselves. The Egyptian people will be the ones who will make the change. We are not waiting for help or assistance from the outside world, but what I expect from the outside world is to practice what you preach, is to defend the rights of the Egyptian to their universal values.âÂ Â Protesters set ablaze the National Democratic Partyâs headquarters, symbolically âendingâ the national partyâs rule. Unrest continues throughout the night, in defiance of a curfew called by the government. Around midnight, Mubarak addresses the people, saying he has dismissed the government. The protesters respond in outrage, as Mubarak has refused to step down himself.President Barack Obama follows Mubarakâs address with his own speech. He explains that he spoke with Mubarak after his late-night address, saying â[I] told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise. Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people.â Obama said that âa meaningful dialogue with the Egyptian peopleâ was necessary, as was âa path of political change that leads to greater freedom.â
Over the weekend, thousands of protesters remain in Tahrir Square, despite aircraft and troops attempting to intimidate them, and in continued defiance of the military-imposed curfew. Police have withdrawn from the streets, replaced by the military, which is protecting Cairoâs famed antiquities museum, along with other important government and financial buildings. It is unclear what role the military plays, although it is welcomed in the streets by the protesters, and has said it will not harm them. Along with the absence of the police, hundreds of criminals have escaped from government prisons. Mass looting begins; in response, civilians create their own neighborhood watches to protect the streets.Â An eyewitness account from Cairo that was posted on suhaibwebb.com reads:âThere is a curfew in effect since 4pm on Saturday, and most people are very scared. Most neighborhoods have set up their own neighborhood watch, with a number of men from every apartment building on the street protecting their homes and families. Many stores, hospitals, and police stations have been raided, and people are in a frenzy to gather and stock up on essential supplies. I was on the street shortly before the curfew went into effect, in a last minute attempt to buy some groceries and canned food, and every shop owner had a baton or other weapon to defend from any looting. Every store I went to was completely out of eggs, bread, and sugar or had already closed for fear of being robbed. Gas stations shut down as well as people were in a frenzy to fill up in case they had to flee out of town. Many cities have tanks and military personnel around to protect local neighborhoods and shopping districts.One beautiful thing is that theÂ masjidsÂ are full and are being used as communication centers. We had a community briefing at Maghrib where we discussed security and emergency plans. Everyone is coming together and getting to know each other.Just to clarify, the majority of protesters are peaceful and calling for nonviolence and refrain from torching buildings. Accusations that police have been looting and torching buildings show that the civilians are not the main culprits behind the chaos. The government has placed plain clothed police to wreak havoc and create instability so it shows that his leadership is needed during these tough times.âHosni Mubarak, for the first time in his three decades in office, appoints a vice-president: Omar Suleiman, the countryâs former spy chief. Suleiman promises to start dialogue with opposition groups in order to pursue constitutional reform. Oppositional parties refuse to meet with him. Mubarak refuses to step down.The international community is growing increasingly uneasy. Britian, France and Germany release a joint statement that they are âdeeply worried about the events in Egypt.â The US embassy advises all Americans in the country to leave as soon as possible. Turkey and Pakistan, along with other countries, send airplanes to evacuate its citizens.The Egyptian government, late Sunday, also revokes Al Jazeeraâs license to broadcast on state television. It states it will shut down the bureau in Cairo. Several Al Jazeera journalists are arrested.Â
The Million Man March
As Monday begins, opposition groups continue the call for a "million man march" and general strike on Tuesday to commemorate one week since the protest movement began. Meanwhile, the military reiterates that it will not attempt to hurt protesters. As 250,000 gather around Cairo's Tahrir Square, Mubarak asks his new prime minister, Ahmad Shafiq, to start talks with the opposition. Mubarak also names his new cabinet on state television.The European Union calls for free and fair elections in Egypt, as investors worldwide continue withdrawing significant capital from Egypt amid rising unrest. The Haaretz newspaper cites senior Israeli officials as cautioning the world to tone down its criticism of Mubarak, in order to preserve stability in the region.Egypt releases the six Al Jazeera journalists who were arrested in Cairo; the broadcast network states that it is facing unprecedented interference of its signal across the Arab region.Tuesday marks the one-week commemoration of the protest movement. More than a million people turn out for protests across Egypt, surpassing organizersâ estimates. Mubarak, through a televised address, says he will not run for reelection come September â and refuses to step down. He also promises constitutional reform, improvement of the economy and new jobs. Opposition groups refuse to accept these concessions, stating that it is âtoo little, too late.â Motaz Salah al-Deen, spokesman for opposition al-Wafd party, says that a ânew national coalition for changeâ has been formed between opposition groups.After Mubarakâs speech, roving groups of armed pro-Mubarak protesters arrive at places where the anti-government protesters are concentrated. Bloody clashes occur in Alexandria, with the military stepping in to keep the peace.
The Battle Over Egypt
After the record-breaking turnout on Tuesday, Wednesday is marked by bloody clashes between anti-government and pro-Mubarak protests in both Cairo and Alexandria. Many speculate that the pro-Mubarak contingent â which comes armed with sticks and knives â are actually plainclothes policemen and thugs that have been hired by the Mubarak regime to cause havoc. Al Jazeera reported that government IDs were found on some of the pro-Mubarak protesters.Internet is partially restored, leading to a flood of eyewitness accounts from Egypt about events on the ground. Protesters reiterate their determination to stand their ground, even as gunfire erupts and the death toll reaches three hundred, with well over a thousand injured. Pro-democracy protesters say the military allowed thousands of armed pro-Mubarak demonstrators into Tahrir Square. Makeshift triage hospitals litter the city, aimed at emergency aid for the injured; Egyptians also face a food shortage. Banks remain closed.Egypt's newly appointed vice-president has said that anti-government protests must stop before dialogue can begin with opposition groups.
The FutureThe situation on the ground is unclear. Many US citizens have fled the country; others have stayed behind, joining with the protesters, risking their lives while participating in a historic moment for Egypt. Whether Mubarak steps down in the coming days or the coming months, one thing is clear: the Egyptian people have won back their right to dignity and self-determination. Their sacrifice in the cause of freedom and just rule is staggering. Hundreds have given their lives. Thousands have been injured. Moving images of men standing in front of tanks, women leading protests in the streets, and people praying while being attacked by water cannons, have defined the courage of the Egyptian people. This courage has stirred people across the region, and around the world, giving rise to protests in other Middle Eastern countries. All eyes are on Egypt: if Mubarak resigns, many other dictatorships in the region will probably face similar uprisings in their countries. Already, there have been protests in Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. Only time will tell if Egypt will follow in Tunisiaâs footsteps as a successful revolution; but even if there is no political revolution, a social one has definitely taken place.