This is a background article on the Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011.
It was originally published on January 27,2001 on Slashdot, and needs to be expanded for details at a later point.
There is a lot of confusion on various forums, and mainstream media coverage in the USA seems not up to par. Europe's coverage is much better, and Canada somewhere in between.
The church bombing on New Year's Eve got more coverage than this history in the making period.
First, I am Egyptian, born and raised there, but living outside of Egypt for the last 2 decades. I was personally affected by the regime there for decades, but that is a story for a future blog post. I have family there, and was in Egypt for all of December 2010.
The whole region is run by military dictators, after the post-World War II upheaval. The colonial rule by European powers, or local monarchies, were ousted in military coupe d'etats. Many of the dictators were idealistic at first, and took a socialist or communist slant initially, only to become totalitarian despots, fascists, or something else other than socialist. Now the trend is to make it a dynastic rule, with Syria the first to have a nominal republic convert into a dynastic one. Tunisia's ex-despot had a son in law (Sakher El-Materi, only 30 years old) who was into politics big time and poised to take over the reigns of the country. In Algiers, the president is set to install his brother to succeed him. In Libya, a son seems earmarked for that. In Egypt it is also a son as well. I think Yemen.
Look at the statistics and cringe in horror at how long these despots are in power:
- Libya: Qaddafi - 41 years.
- Yemen: Saleh - 32 years.
- Egypt: Mubarak - 29 years.
- Tunisia: Ben Ali - 23 years.
Let us ignore the monarchies in the region for a bit, since they are not a republic and can nominally remain in power for that long.
Mubarak has been in power FOR MORE THAN ANY EGYPTIAN RULER IN MODERN HISTORY. That is since 1847 or so, NO ONE has ruled as long as Mubarak did.
All of them have had a sham parliament amend the nominal constitution to make it possible for them to run for more than the maximum of 2 or 3 terms, and then make it a lifetime thing as well.
All of them have parliaments that consist exclusively of those from the ruling party which gets 90% or more of seats via intimidation and exclusion of the opposition.
Now, the Operation Egypt thing is relatively new. I saw it today in the morning only. So it remains to be seen if they are helpful or not.
What I can say is that on Jan 25, the Egyptian Presidency web site was showing "under development and construction". I was checking it for a page for the list of modern rulers of Egypt and their time in power. Today, the web site seems to be under a DoS attack.
However, the stars of the show are first Kolena Khaled Saeed (We are all Khaled Saeed). It is a Facebook group that is named after a 20-something youth tortured and killed by the police last year. Police brutality is one of the top demands of those who are protesting. Last I checked, they had 413,000 "likes".
The second star is the Rassd News Network (later overtaken by hackers and publishing misinformation, but an English only version is at RNN World with substandard English). This is a grassroots citizen news organization that is very mature, professional and objective. They verify sources and rate items as either "unconfirmed" or "confirmed". They have both Arabic and English updates from various sources, including eyewitnesses from action. You can "Like" them in Facebook, ignore the Arabic messages, and read the English ones to see updates.
The path to where we are today with protests was a long one.
The parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005 and 2006 show a lot of courage from a very small number of people. They were mainly middle class or intellectuals. The rest of the public did not catch on. Those who opposed the president got the heavy hand of the regime on them. For example, Saad El Din Ibrahim (an academic, and a bit eccentric) got imprisoned on false charges, Ayman Nour (another opposition figure) was imprisoned for other false charges and only freed when Obama came to power.
The Muslim Brotherhood, who have wide support specially in poorer classes, have been systematically excluded and intimidated from politics. The regime rounds them up before elections, and keeps them behind bars and then frees them after the elections are over.
Smaller political parties were allowed to operate since they have very little following and hence not a threat on the regime (Communists, Nasserists, Ancient Egyptianists, Wafd, ...etc.)
In the 2005 parliament the Muslim Brotherhood were allowed some seats, to show the West that Egypt is democratic. In 2010, it was the Wafd party who was selected by the ruling party to be the token opposition, and the brotherhood got no seats.
Elections are not free at all, and have never been so since 60 years. From intimidation, exclusion of candidates, ballot stuffing, ...etc you name it. They use all the tricks in every book.
The current president plans on running for yet another term (after completing 30 years in power) in October 2011. This was to be the next big time for protests, but what happened in Tunisia no doubt accelerated things. People suddenly saw that a dictator is not permanent and can be deposed by just the people asking for what is theirs. That is why January 25 happened. Again, it is grassroots, with no centralized leadership. Think crowd-sourcing. Thing open source. This is it in real life.
The grievances are many: no jobs to earn a decent living. No chance to get a place to live in for a youth. Hence no way to get married. Corruption in the form of bribes, nepotism and others. The ruling elite and their cronies living lavish lives, having cars that cost a million Egyptian pounds, and residence that cost many millions. Amounts that a regular Egyptian would never see in many life times. Political standstill: no way to get rid peacefully of the current president, the ruling party, the ruling elite. Police brutality (around 26 people died in police custody in recent years). The security forces are there to protect the regime, not serve the public. Prices going up on basic food stuff, and with salaries staying the same, people are suffering.
Now to the protests themselves:
No centralized leadership
This is not the Muslim Brotherhood, or El Baradei (ex-International Atomic Energy Agency president and Nobel Peace Prize winner). This is true grassroots when you see it in action. People coordinating via Twitter and Facebook. No one giving marching orders.
People from all walks of life are there. Rich actors, poor youth, lawyers, journalists, movie director, women, girls, ...etc. This is not exclusively for religious or poor people. It is everyone.
Fear barrier has been broken
Egyptians finally got over the fear they have been living with for 60 years, and starting to confront the regime. My father was afraid. I was afraid. The new generation
In the 1960s to 1980s, the government could control the media, because it was all state owned, or they can ban it (newspapers). Starting in the 90s, things changed. There was satellite TV that broke borders, and the internet of course. Today, there are ways for people to communicate that the government can't control (completely at least).
Now today, Blackberry BBM (secure instant messaging) was down for a few hours today, on all three mobile network. Then it was restored.
Facebook stopped working mid-day too. Twitter was down on the first day of protests (Jan 25).
Tomorrow is set to be a big day with people heading to the streets after the Friday mid day prayer (Friday is the weekend there). The United Copts site has urged Christians to join in, so this is again an Egyptian thing, not Muslims only or whatever.
Here is another grassroots effort to document this historic event: 2011 Egyptian protests on Wikipedia (check the versions before February 2nd, since heavy editing may have occurred by pro-regime vandals).
If you want more, join that Facebook group above. Or email me at my username here at Google's thing.
Things are happening too fast, but I will try my best.
Update: Just got a message a few minutes ago that land line internet is effectively down. Mass arrests on the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt-wide.