Protest in Egypt: a “Tunisami”?

Written on January 27, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Africa, Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East, News

Another Arab regime under threat

President Hosni Mubarak faces unprecedented protest on the street. But it may not make him go—yet

Some Egyptians are jokingly calling it a Tunisami. The wave of popular protest sweeping the Arab world certainly draws inspiration from Tunisia. As yet, none of the youthful movements clamouring for political freedom and economic relief in such strongman states as Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Sudan and Yemen has come close to reaching the dictator-toppling momentum of their Tunisian counterpart. But for one day at least, Egypt, the most populous and influential Arab country, did look as if it had been hit by a Tunisia-tinted political tidal wave.

A loose coalition of more than a dozen small parties and activist groups had issued a Facebook call for a “day of rage” to coincide with Police Day on January 25th, recently declared a national holiday. Some 80,000 Egyptian web-surfers signed up, pledging to march on the streets to voice demands for reform. Their enthusiasm reflected Tunisia’s influence but was also built on a rising tide of local alienation from the government. Yet few expected that number to turn up, and fewer expected Egypt’s harsh, experienced and effective riot police to let them get very far.

To general surprise, the nationwide protest turned out to be the largest act of civil disobedience in the 30 years of President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, with simultaneous marches erupting in more than a dozen towns across the country. As many as 30,000 people demonstrated in both the port city of Alexandria and the capital, Cairo, unprecedented numbers for Egypt, where public apathy and fear of police brutality run justifiably deep.

Vague, competing lists of demands had been issued by different organisers, including for an end to the emergency laws enforced throughout Mr Mubarak’s tenure, the firing of his interior minister, and a higher minimum wage. But, emboldened by numbers, the marchers refocused their slogans. “Down with Mubarak!” “The people demand the fall of the regime!” and a simple “Go!” were the commonest chants. In many cities portraits of the president and his son Gamal, often tipped as a successor to his 82-year-old father, were ripped down or defaced.

Encouraged by a relatively lenient initial police response, despite the presence of ranks of uniformed riot police backed up by water cannons and thousands of plain-clothes thugs, demonstrators in Cairo managed by late afternoon to seize control of Tahrir Square, a broad traffic junction in the city centre. But late in the evening a police charge with truncheons, accompanied by barrages of tear-gas, volleys of birdshot, plastic bullets and percussion rounds, cleared the square. In the city of Suez plastic bullets fired at close range killed three protesters. A policeman died in Cairo after being hit on the head by a rock. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on January 27, 2011 (from The Economist – Print Edition)


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