by Amal Sedky Winter
January 25, 2011
Today belongs to the youth! Using Twitter and Facebook and who knows what else, tens of thousands young men and women took to the streets of Egypt. They gathered to protest the Mubarak regime. Twenty thousand filled Cairo’s Tahrir square. They protested in Suez, Fayoum, Ismailia, Kafr el Sheikh, Bultim, Mahallah, Mansour and cities from Alexandria in the North to Aswan in the South. Nothing of this magnitude this has happened in Egypt before.
The government had warned the leaders of the few political parties Egypt allows to stay away. The leaders obeyed but their people turned out. The Mufti (highest Islamic authority) issued a fatwa forbidding participation but Muslims turned out. The Church forbade its members from participating; Christians turned out too. The Muslim Brotherhood refused to back the demonstrations—less than 150 of them came. Still, the government claims the Brotherhood incited the protests and admits to jailing 212. For years the Mubarak regime has raised the specter of “Islamic fundamentalism” to scare the Western powers into supporting it.
Despite the warnings, the young people of Egypt protested by the thousands. They demanded change not as party loyalists, not as members of NGOs, and certainly not as Muslims or Christians but as Egyptians—the most for the first time. This is not an ideologically driven event. It is certainly not religiously inspired. It is populist and nationalist.
While organized by those with access to the Internet, the youth of all Egypt’s social classes met in the streets; students from the elite American, German and British Universities of Cairo and the 20-year-old peddler near my building. The three men buying cigarettes at his kiosk had been in the Tahrir Square demonstrations and planned on returning. One, a gardener in the small park across the street said, “I can’t live on 240 pounds a month.” (40.00$) I didn’t say that teachers make less. Students from the elite American, German and British Universities of Cairo.
The government was blindsided. It permitted the ‘standing’ demonstration thinking, as did the rest of the country, only the usual 200 activists would show. Local media coverage was virtually non-existent; a function of surprise and self-censorship. I heard of the demonstrations from my daughter in the States who’d heard about them on NPR. Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, was probably the first to air here but most of us followed the events on YouTube because of the ‘functional’ blackout in the news.
The most immediate impetus is likely a soaring cost of living and grinding poverty. But people don’t need political science to know that dictatorships support the corruption of their cohorts who siphon off public coffers. People know they can’t survive on the dregs.
They chanted “Change. Liberty. Social Justice.” “No to dictatorship. Mubarak must leave. This government must fall.” Some carried pictures of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1952 revolution.) The have specific demands: Mubarak must resign. His son Gamal must not inherit the presidency. Parliament and councils elected in the country’s most fraudulent election must be dissolved, the constitution revised, and new election held which are fair and free.
There were echoes of Tunisia in the air. In Cairo, protesters were and remain peaceful to a fault. The police was reasonably restrained—at first. By afternoon, everything changed. They set upon the young people with batons. They shot water cannons, tear-gas and rubber-tipped bullets and used cattle prods. They killed four in Suez and bloodied hundreds in Cairo and the rest of the cities. By evening, the situation took a turn for the worse. Surrounding the thousands in Tahrir Square, they closed off the routes of escape, blanketed it with teargas and shot into the crowd. They jammed the airwaves and blocked cell-phone reception. Armed vehicles, sirens wailing, sped across the bridge near me. Despite Ministry of Interior guarantees it arrested hundreds and hundreds of people, including 80 journalists. One was from the UK Guardian newspaper. You can hear his moving report from a police van on the paper’s electronic home page. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/audio/2011/jan/26/egypt-violence-jack-shenker-arrest-audi
The protestors pledged to stay the course. No one quite knows what this means but everyone I’ve met is cheering them on. And, true to the Egyptian sense of humor, they say, “When we win this round, we’ll have a rematch with Tunisia!”
January 26, 2011
Although the Hesham Center for Human Rights has 1000 confirmed names and knows of many more arrested, the government has admitted to only 500. Today it called for the use of ”all necessary” force to disperse any gathering and strict enforcement of Egypt’s notorious Emergency Law that makes it illegal for over 5 people to congregate.
The streets are choked with security: policemen in riot gear and dusty blue vans, armed vehicles and water cannons. Facebook and Twitter were closed down for a while—the internet savvy youth used proxy sites. And though bloodied and reduced in numbers, people are still demonstrating: ‘walking’ in Cairo’s streets to offer less of a convenient target, calling for by-standers to join.
And as I write tonight, 500 people are demonstrating at the Lawyers’ Syndicate while literally thousands of police are dispersing supporters with batons to the legs and head.
The EU and France, even the United States has called for respecting the right to peaceful demonstration and called for police restraint and non-violence.
Egyptians are still demonstrating and, while in smaller numbers, they’re all over the country: in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura and Suez.
Change will happen; maybe not this week or next. Maybe not even this year. But things are going to change. They already have.
Calls have gone out for a ‘Friday of Rage’ tomorrow, January 28th, 2011. Demonstartions scheduled for after noon-time prayers.
Dr. Winter is an Egyptian-American psychologist in Seattle who currently lives in Cairo, Egypt during the academic year where she is Visiting Professor of Practice at the American University in Cairo’s Graduate School of Education. She is a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the Arab American Community Coalition in Seattle, and the Arab American Institute’s Pacific Northwest representative. Her numerous consulting positions include the U.S. Department of State where she trains women in the Middle East to run for public office and the creation of training programs for panels of mediation specialists in over 450 Egyptian family courts. She and her colleague, Sheryl Ga Feldman, operate the website www.myeyeonegypt.net
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