Upon the January 14 ousting of the dictatorial President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, the culmination of the Sidi Bouzid Revolution (also known as the Jasmine Revolution), the Arab world is being rocked by anti-governmental demonstrations. Nowhere are these more broad or organized than in Egypt, the most populous country in the region. Egypt’s own dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak, having ruled for 29 years since the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat, is the primary target of these protests.
Among the grievances of the thousands of demonstrators are “torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.” In the incompletely modernized nation, technology usage is relatively widespread, yet 40% of Egyptian citizens live on less than (US) $2. Egypt’s population of almost 80 million, and especially the capital Cairo, whose metropolitan area contains 17 million people, is demographically young, technologically savvy, and economically powerful.
On January 25, christened the “Day of Anger,” protests suddenly erupted on the streets of Cairo, and soon spread to other areas. At first, government officials dismissed them as inconsequential. But Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed el-Baradei‘s return to the capital to aid the opposition on the 27th prompted further international headlines. On January 28, the day of the most widespread uprisings yet, he and fellow protesters were shot at with water cannons and placed under house arrest. Packed crowds of demonstrators were subdued with tear gas by police forces, and several opposition protesters were killed in the clashes.
Mubarak’s responses to the protests have been erratic and totalitarian. Early on January 28, he attempted with general success to cut Egypt off from the world, shutting off the Internet and mobile phone service by effectively bullying the service providers into compliance. Later that day, in a bizarre attempt to mollify the crowds converging in Cairo’s central squares and around television reporting headquarters, he announced to the public that he “requested the government to step down.” The entire cabinet. But not himself, of course. The latest reports from the ground indicate that the Internet ban has now been lifted, prompting the question of its motive in the first place.
Egypt’s nascent revolution is being primarily organized and directed by its young, technologically active, and peaceful citizens. Meetings have been organized on Facebook and Twitter. Demonstrators have chanted “peace” and admonished a few who began throwing rocks at the police forces. Their chants are not, as a whole, “Down with Mubarak” but “We are Egyptians, we are brothers.”
As I write this, dawn brightens the Cairo sky. Let us hope this is symbolic of changes to come. #