Revolution in Egypt

JENNY LYNN/New University Intern

After nearly three weeks of widespread protests, mass arrests, curfews and civilian deaths, Egypt saw the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday, Feb. 11. Mubarak, who has held power since 1981, relinquished his authority only one day after vowing to remain in office until the Sept. 2011 elections.

Political analysts have cited the successful uprising against the Tunisian regime as a major catalyst in the demands for political reform throughout the Middle East. Following years of harassment at the hands of the Tunisian police and rejected appeals to speak to the governor, exasperated street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside federal offices on Jan. 5. Lack of government response to his self-immolation, combined with decades of restricted political freedom, outraged the Tunisian public and triggered the 2010-2011 Tunisian Revolution, known informally as the “Jasmine Revolution”.

Inspired by the upheaval of the Tunisian regime, Egyptian activists took to the streets by the thousands to protest three decades of abuse by the Mubarak administration on Jan. 25. Demonstrators flocked to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo to march to the headquarters of the National Democratic Party, sparking protests throughout the Mediterranean port and Nile Delta cities of Egypt. In response, Facebook and Twitter, among other networking services, were shut down in an attempt to restrict mobilization. Only hours after the campaign began, Egyptian police relied on batons, tear gas, water cannons — and in more drastic cases — live ammunition to scatter the protestors.

UCI’s Dr. Mark Levine, professor of history and established journalist, was present at Tahrir Square during the demonstrations.

“It was an unprecedented cross-section of Egyptian society that was there,” Levine said, providing an eyewitness account of the protests. “It was the young, the old, the rich, the poor, Muslims, Christians — different classes were all together.”

In downtown Los Angeles, just as diverse a mix of people at the Egyptian Solidarity Rally on Sunday, Feb. 6 gathered at the Egyptian Consulate to rally support for the Egyptian people. The demonstration brought UCI students, human rights organizations and actors.

“I was motivated by the Egyptian people and by the principles that I personally value – principles of justice, human rights, democracy and equality,” said Hadeer Soliman, a UCI participant in the demonstration. “If I feel these things are important for me, then I should want them and work towards them for others as well.”

According to the protestors, these very principles were absent under Mubarak’s regime. Their list of grievances against Mubarak includes repression of political opposition, undeserved incarcerations, police brutality, torture and rampant government corruption.

Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution essentially prohibits any independent candidates from entering elections. Moreover, the Egyptian people suffer crippling poverty rates and skyrocketing unemployment; according to the UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report, Egypt ranks 101 out of 169 countries in terms of Human Development Index value.

“The single biggest problem is massive inequality and poverty,” said Levine. “Egypt has been de-developed; it’s not that it has been retarded in its development. Egypt has been raped by its rulers for decades.”

Although the collapse of Mubarak’s regime sparked worldwide celebration, Egyptians continue to hold demonstrations in Tahrir Square to ensure the creation of an authentic democracy.

“There was social injustice in the country. The majority of Egyptians live on a very low income, and government corruption is rampant,” said Soliman, who has relatives in Egypt. “The government gives no significant freedom to its people. They don’t want a government with total, absolute power that can use its power to encourage corruption, abuse, police brutality and detention without legal consequences.”

Egypt currently operates under the command of the Higher Military Council, which will remain in power until the September elections. The council has already taken measures to fulfill certain demands of the protestors by suspending the Constitution and dismantling the Parliament last Sunday.

“At this point, we have no idea who the new leaders of Egypt will be.  In effect, the military has taken over for the moment,” said Dr. William Schonfeld, research Professor of authority, democratic theory, and comparative politics at UCI. “The military has so far shown a commitment to both democratic reforms and to order.  But, the attempt to create democracy is usually a pretty messy process, and it is unclear how the army will respond over the long haul.”

According to Dr. Lina Kreidie, director of UCI’s Middle Eastern Studies Student Initiative Program, the Egyptian Revolution is far from over. The current demonstrations consist of proponents for a completely new democratic institution and minorities whose rights were oppressed, including women, laborers, students and various other religious and secular groups.

“It is moving from the general, national revolution of toppling the head of the authoritarian regime to the rise of effective citizenry and the call of democratization at every social, economic and political stratum,” Kreidie said. “As long as this movement keeps on going with gradual but strong steps to improve the socio-economic, as well as the political status of those groups, then the Tahrir Square will not turn into the battleground of external regional and international powers. The answer is in the continuous peaceful engagement between the transitional government and the leaders of the revolution.”

Many agree the spirit of the Jasmine Revolution will leave a lasting mark on the Middle East. Yet despite the monumental accomplishments of Tunisian and Egyptian activists, the outcome of protests against the regimes in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen remains to be seen. Authorities have cracked down on demonstrators, often resulting in civilian injuries and death. Hopefully, peaceful resistance can achieve a powerful change for these people as it has in the movements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi before them.