North Africa: From Jasmine to the Nile Revolution, to… By Genet Mersha
The Egyptian regime went about employing, in a typical fashion of a besieged regime Tuesday afternoon, to bedevil the thousands of protestors in the streets. In Egypt, officially this was supposed to be a Police Day. Egyptian dubbed it a ‘Day of Anger.” By late Tuesday afternoon in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Mahalla al-Kobra and elsewhere, thousands of protesters came out to call for the Mubarak regime to go. Some lives were lost—both civilian and policemen. Several protestors were injured. Egypt has not had such a fury in decades.
As in Iran during its last election, social media has done good by popular action, summoning the people for protests. The New York Times reported more than 90,000 people signed up on a Facebook page to join the protests, “framed by the organizers as a stand against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.” From what I saw in the media, all classes of Egyptians were out there to inform Mr Mubarak and his entourage that people were tired of his thirty years in power.
Wonders never end; Egypt’s Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly has not read the writing on the wall. He warned the protestors on Police Day that they would be detained. And indeed, the police took some of them. Seemingly exhorting himself and his colleagues, the minister said, “Security authorities are capable of deterring any danger to citizens’ safety or damage to properties.” The regime also diminished Internet and mobile phone services.
What is interesting is in unusual concession from the regime, where emergency law has been in place for thirty years now, he said, “the protesters will be protected only if they are merely gathering to express their opinion.” Nonetheless, as if all dictators and their officials graduate from the same school, Mr Al-Adly described the protestors as “a bunch of incognizant, ineffective young people.” However, what the world witnessed on television were experts, women doctors, lawyers, workers…explaining why they are angry, not “incognizant… “
Mr Al-Adly’s words reminded me of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s murderous electoral escapade, in which his forces mowed down in one-day nearly 200 young lives in 2005. Ato Meles went on BBC interview with Stephen Sucker days later accused of stealing election results to claim those he ordered killed and the survivors were “unemployed.” Any ways, what difference does that make? Still he is responsible for their death.
Today, Egyptian police used water cannons and barrages of tear gas on thousands of people that converged in Tahrir Square, not far from the US embassy, the Interior Ministry, and an environ of upper class hotels, according to news reports. Nothing was able to deter Tuesday’s angry protestors. They are determined to initiate in earnest Egyptian requiem for the Mubarak regime, guided by the spirit of the Nile Revolution.
Civil society organizations quickly moved in the protest areas. About 30 Egyptian human rights groups have set up operations unit in downtown Cairo to provide protesters with legal support. Tuesday’s public protest, organized on the social media, is the largest ever in Egypt in years. Initially it was peaceful, even the brutal Egyptian security forces showing unusual restraint, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “in what appeared to be a calculated strategy by the government to avoid further sullying the image of a security apparatus widely seen as little more than corrupt thugs in uniforms.”
A recent visit to Cairo gave me the shock of my life, where within ten days I heard a chorus of complaints from everyone I met, as never before, about the difficult life in Egypt. The chitchat everywhere is about money, cost of living, the dreaded political suppression and brutality of the regime. In a country where only 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line, in this difficult time, it seemed every Egyptian have their wails. Beyond any shadow of doubt the middle class is unhappy with Mubarak and his regime. Bear in mind, this is a class that has relatively done well under him, especially since 2004.
I would not like to think how deep the rage must be in Ethiopia. Under normal times, according to the 2010 UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), the population under distressful life conditions, measured on the health, education and living standards] metrics is 94.2 percent. Especially this time, in a country where poverty has dug deep, and inflation at 15 percent last December that keeps on rising, has been hitting them hard on a daily basis. The ‘ethnocratic’ regime has kept on feeding them false hope about the continually rising economic growth that bears no fruits ordinary people can eat. Is it too much for these people to seek change by any means to their conditions of life?
I recall writing my discontent on behalf of my people, when I discussed in a 31 January 2010 article “The Rise of an Ethnic Oligarchy”, www.addisvoice.com, dealing with the level of institutionalized corruption in Ethiopia. With poverty rising significantly since then, the depth of anguish and anger must have no limit. Water is a good conductor of currents; hopefully the currents of change would pass from Tunis to Cairo via the Nile, enabling Ethiopians to seek their redress.
Professionals I met in Cairo were sarcastic about the regime’s efforts to silence them, their second nature humour intact. They have plenty of funny jokes about the old man and his regime. As in any society under the grips of fear, Egyptians crack their jokes in the privacy of their homes and amongst circles of friends. Day and night, they shred Mubarak’s regime to pieces; they despise it for its corruption. As the BBC after the protests put it this afternoon, Egyptians despise the regime’s lack of vision and sense of the future.
Mubarak fell low in the eyes of the people not only for the corruption and brutality of his regime, but also for daring to pretend Egypt is a democracy for which he is preparing his son to take the mantle of power. The young think and believe they have never had leaders in a long time, embarrassed about the senility of the ‘emperor’, who is now dynastically brokering Gamal’s succession in an election that would take place less than a year from now.
Even separated, as they are by income differentials, taste and life styles, what binds together young Egyptians, the working-class folks and members of the middle class and higher ups is their hatred for the regime that has lost its ways for a long time now and is organizing an election in which, irrespective of the vote counts, his son would be declared a winner.
On 19 January, I read an article on www.almasryalyoum.com. I never realized that it was sign the time has come. It simply surprised me that, in a country where the media is censored and journalists are dismissed or imprisoned, almasryalyoum dared to write the following:
“Before former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s unceremonious ousting from power, he resorted to the desperate tactic many dictators attempt when faced with questions they can’t answer. He blamed “hostile elements in the pay of foreigners…manipulated from outside the country.”
When Egyptian leaders employ this tactic, by “foreigners” they might mean Islamic fundamentalists from other countries. But more often than not, it means just one thing: It’s a Zionist conspiracy.
It took less than two days for some prominent members of Egyptian society to blame a Zionist conspiracy for the five Egyptian copy-cats of the Tunisian man who burned himself as a form of protest against the government.
In an effort to analyze the would-be suicides, member of the Al-Azhar-affiliated Islamic Research Academy Magdy Mehanna told Al-Youm Al-Sabei newspaper, “[Suicide] is an objection against God. [...] How can a Muslim do this? [...] It must be related to the Zionist plans to bring down the Arab and Muslim world.” From orchestrated power outages to remote-controlled killer sharks, Egyptian accusations against Israel range from the plausible to the ludicrous. The frequency and sometimes absurdity of finger pointing in the Israeli direction has left Egyptians vulnerable to ridicule in the foreign media. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal went so far as to dub Egypt “a nation of political imbeciles.”
In the case of Egypt, therefore, the Nile Revolution would witness, if it is not crushed with the level of impunity only cruelty knows, it would have stronger support. What will make today’s protest in Egypt potent is not only its vehemence, but also the non-participation of the Moslem brotherhood that has chosen to sit out, according to Annette Young of France 24.
Quoting the Associated Press, WSJ wrote,” Mothers carrying babies also marched and chanted, “Revolution until Victory!” while the young waved signs reading “OUT!” that were inspired by the Tunisian protestations of “DEGAGE!” Men sprayed graffiti reading “Down with Hosni Mubarak.”