The revolutions sweeping the Middle East right now are attracting a lot of international attention. They are raising questions and creating platforms for debates and conversation. These revolutions are often compared to the Iranian revolution in 1979 that ousted the American-backed Shah, comparing him to Egypt’s Mubarak. Egyptians labeling him the US puppet in the Middle East. People are also drawing comparisons between these revolutions, bloodless as they were in Egypt with the French revolution, the American revolution and Western revolutions in general.
On January 25th 2011, Egyptian youth, adults, children, males and females took to the streets. After witnessing the success of the Tunisian revolution in ousting Ben Ali, Egyptians knew it was their turn. Egyptian’s had three basic demands: “عيش، حرية، عدالة اجتماعية” (bread, social equality and freedom). These three fundamental human rights soon became the revolution’s slogan.
The Revolution came as a surprise to many. It especially surprised President Hosni Mubarak who had been in power for 30 years and was planning his son, Gamal Mubarak’s ascension to the throne. This was among the reasons Egyptians revolted; they wanted to ensure their country did not become a monarchy, and they wouldn’t be forced to live the next 30 or more years under the same stifling and corrupt regime.
To put things in perspective, prior to the revolution, Egypt was controlled by the police and the state security, a much more brutal and unethical version of the FBI. The police had the country and its people at their mercy. They were above the law and they ran everything with a sneer and a flick of their finger. Anyone who spoke out against this corrupt regime would disappear and reappear weeks or months later covered in bruises and full of broken bones, if not in a casket. Others spent their lives in jail cells underground without trials or contact with the outside world. One of the catalysts of the revolution was the torture and murder of an Egyptian blogger, Khalid Said, by the police in Alexandria. Khalid Said was only one of many tortured and killed by the police for speaking out against the government.
Mubarak started releasing convicts from jails. These convicts, baltagiya in Egyptian, attacked the protesting masses, attempting to infiltrate them from the inside, vandalized, stole and gave birth to fear. One of the clearest examples of Mubarak’s brutality occurred on January 28th. Mubarak equipped these convicts with horses, camels, knives and released them onto the protesters at Tahrir Square (Check out this story about “The Camel Incident”).
Soon after, Mubarak removed all police and security from the streets. This resulted in even more fear among Egyptians; there were now convicts roaming the streets and plain clothes police kidnapping people from protests and rallies.
In the face of these threats, the Egyptian people came together creating a vigilante system protecting their houses and families. They created checkpoints and searching people in cars for example. This often resulted in catching criminals or released convicts.
Tahrir Square became the hub for these protesters. Tents mushroomed all over the square. Restaurants surrounding the square handed out free food. Protesters organized an area for first aid, an area for artists, an area for the media and an area commemorating the brave men and women who had lost their lives. Protesters also created a security system that closed off the square, ensuring no one entered without presenting their ID and getting checked for weapons.
Mubarak attempted to soothe the continually growing masses with false promises about stepping down, increasing public funding and reducing prices and taxes. Mubarak even changed around a few of his ministers such as Ahmed Shafik and Omar Sulaiman. People automatically protested against having a torturer and murderer be their Minister of Parliament. The Egyptian people were used to these hollow promises that only resulted in worse conditions, lower wages, higher prices and inflation, fewer jobs and no means of providing food for ones family.
On February 11th 2011, Mubarak gave a speech that made peoples blood boil and resulted in even more anger and more people taking to the streets. The next day, Omar Sulaiman announced (watch below) that Mubarak would be stepping down. Sulaiman announced that Tantawi, Field Marshall and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, would be the interim president while SCAF would be the interim government until elections would be held in September.
But here I am, waiting, tweeting and conversing with people about our anger at it being November and no elections announced yet.
However, the revolution is far from over. I myself, like many others believe those 18 days were the first, and integral, step in achieving our freedom and revolutionizing our government and our society in general.
On a final note, if you haven’t watched the announcement that Mubarak is stepping down, I encourage you to do so. Once you do, please let me know what you think of the man standing behind Omar Suleiman in the video. Egyptians are known for their sense of humor and took no time in cracking jokes about this man and creating facebook pages in his honor. The way he stood there, his disgusted facial expression and his eyes darting from side to side provided much needed comic relief at a time like this.