In 1952, Egypt (in Egyptian Arabic, مصر, Miṣr – don’t even bother attempting to pronounce the dark ‘r’) had a revolution and later a military coup d’état, overthrowing the last Egyptian king, Farouk I (whose sister so happened to be the first wife of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi). Gamal Abdel Nasser assumed full power in 1956 until he died three years after the Six-Day War with Israel, whereby Anwar Sadat took over in 1970. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Khalid Islambouli (who got his very own street in Tehran until being renamed in 2001 to improve still shaky relations with Egypt), he was succeeded by his Vice President and former high ranking Air Force officer, Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled his entire tenure under emergency law. In short, while Egypt may have exported the idea of Nasserism, of the Arab Republic, it seems to have never been able to shake the idea of a Pharaoh. And the irony is is that now the monarchies and emirates of the Arab world seem more flexible and open to change and personal freedoms than the promise of liberation that pan-Arab nationalism had touted.
Since Tunisia, as I wrote in my last article, From the Embers, Jasmine, we have seen copycat self-immolations and demonstrations From Mauritania in the West to Jordan in the East of the Arab world. While no country faces the same set of dynamics or conditions, there are still similarities. But no country in the Arab world is as critical as Egypt, its most populous country. Despite a tenuous relationship with the Arab League since making peace with Israel in 1979, it remains the heart of the region culturally (except for being outproduced in music output by Lebanon) and, perhaps, politically. Add to this being the second largest recipient of US foreign aid (behind Israel and not including Iraq and Afghanistan), and straddling atop a geopolitically vital position, the stakes are high with Egypt. And this may be why unlike Tunisia, this time we’re paying attention.
And pay attention we should when tens of thousands take to the streets, despite severe warnings, across Egypt against a repressive dictator upon whom we rely. The questions remain of who would take over in any power vacuum, with most pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood, though the January 25th protests were organized by the youth, utilizing social media. Former IAEA director and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mohamed ElBaradei, returning from Vienna, has positioned himself as the only readily recognizable opposition voice, though there are actually a few groups (a who’s who) organizing protests. This is happening, like Tunisia, from the grass roots level on up.
For the US this leaves many questions. We’ve been caught in a feedback loop, I am afraid. We support Mubarak as a critical ally in the region, especially vis-à-vis Israel, whose iron fist rule further exacerbates the Islamist extremism he is a bulwark against, and in doing so perpetuates the paradoxical problem – alienating the vast middle of Egyptian society. Though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for reform, what does that mean exactly, especially when the tear gas and bullets being used against protesters are American? Aside from being allowed to assemble and communicate freely, would we really be comfortable with election results that weren’t an outright sham (see Hamas in 2006)?
We have an impossible dilemma. And, while Mubarak falling may seem unlikely at this point (I said the same of Ben Ali weeks before that happened), we need to ask ourselves if we think the people of Egypt will soon forget whose side we’ve been on for all these years. As if we’ve learned nothing from the Shah’s fall (who was also deemed ‘stable’ until the moment he fled).
As I write this the official number of protesters arrested stands at 1,000. If Egypt is anything like Iran and similar regimes, I would double those as a rule of thumb. And it is likely to grow as protesters continue to descend upon the ruling National Democratic Party’s local headquarters, and as Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities have turned into “war zones” (pictures) with protesters not daunted by riot trucks, but pelting and charring them instead, that we shall see just how effective the coming crackdown is in breaking their resolve or not.
It is simply an overwhelming prospect for me to here include and assemble all videos and details of these protests which started Tuesday, January 25th. So, view the space below as a clearing house for us to gather and share everything developing in Egypt, Tunisia, and beyond.
Some of my favorite places to find information and analyses are:
The Daily Beast
Or, a more complete who to follow Twitter guide from Foreign Policy. [H/T bito]
This might come in handy:
Whatever happens, a psychological barrier has been broken, and in the age of the internet, no more do these regimes have a monopoly on information.
Time may fear the pyramids, but does Mubarak fear time?
A timeline thus far.
Images courtesy Muhammad Ghafari.