The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Melissa De Leon Mason is a BCC blogger emerita and a scholar of political science and international studies. We’ve missed her fondly while she was living in Egypt. Now she kindly shares with us her view on the currently turmoil in that country.

It was a familiar sight to me. Dozens of men standing silently in a straight line, then bending to their knees, rising again, kneeling, their foreheads touching the ground. I had witnessed it a hundred times before in Cairo. Patrons in the markets, shopkeepers outside their storefronts, security guards and bawaabs behind their huts, all stopping whatever they happened to be doing when the muezzin began the call from the local minaret and performing the salaat, the ritual Islamic prayer. Watching it on Al-Jazeera English earlier today, it almost looked normal. But the kneeling men were not only facing Mecca, they were also facing crowds of uniformed riot police who watched as the men rose at the end of their prayers. And then with loud cracks, chaos one again erupted as tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd.

These last few days have seen me glued to the #jan25 Twitter feed and to Egyptian friends’ Facebook pages as I try to keep up with what’s happening in my former home. I alternately panic and then relax and then panic again as rumors scroll down my screen faster than I can process them. Comic relief comes in the form of Tweeted exchanges between Twitter personas for Mubarak, Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad. I keep trying to get some work done but can’t focus, switching tabs to get a glimpse of the Cairo I remember.

The metro stop exit where I’d buy my weekly ration of tiny packs of Kleenex from a beggar on my way to campus, my eight-months pregnant self panting with the exertion of all those steps up from underground, is now used as a foxhole from which youth hurl rocks and then swarm out as a tear gas canister lands. The wide streets of Tahrir Square, often congested with anywhere between eight and ten lanes of traffic depending on how creative the local taxi drivers were feeling that day, is now packed with thousands of young scared but defiant protestors facing off with young scared but dutiful police officers. In Boulaq, where I once wandered lost and alone through alleys of mechanic storefronts hoping I would somehow stumble on the fabric souq, a body was held aloft and passed from person to person, trying to somehow float it towards medical attention.

An oft-mentioned fact in news reports on what’s happening is that some two thirds of Egypt’s population has been born since Mubarak came to power. The youth of Egypt have known no other rule than the state of emergency that has been in place since 1967. Growing up in a police state with your constitutional rights suspended for your own good would make anyone mad. Add to that the blatant election rigging, the extreme censorship (during our two years there, several editors of local newspapers were arrested for suggesting that Mubarak was in ill health), the knowledge that anything you say could lead to a surprise midnight visit by state police and an extended stay in one of Egypt’s black hole prisons. The regime has successfully beaten the Egyptian populace into a notorious state of apathy. A sense of fatalism pervades everyday life in Egypt. So what changed?

For the first time, the revolution was televised. And Facebooked. And Tweeted. And man, if there’s one thing young Egyptians love, it’s social media. So with the tweets rolling by and the videos loading up, a generation watched the Tunisian Revolution. And took notes. January 25 became a day of anger that snowballed into four days and counting of unprecedented expression and action. And while the youth have been the driving force behind the protests, when the government shut off all internet access, phone services and created a digital blackout last night, reports were that the young organizers turned to the old veterans of the bread riots of the ‘60s and ‘70s to lead them in predigital tactics. As one protestor twittered “we’re about to get medieval on Mubarak.”

We’ve been able to get frequent updates from friends still in Egypt and involved in the protests. Here are some dispatches from Patrick’s former students, many of whom were part of his course on the American Civil Rights Movement:

“I write to you today deeply moved by what is going on in the Arab world. I still vividly remember our conversations on change, hope and possibilities. I have lost a lot of this hope when I graduated but the events in Tunisia regained my faith in change. I felt, like many of the oppressed all over the world, that change is possible; “we can do it too”. As a result of this hope, yesterday, we witnessed unprecedented demonstrations in all the governorates in Egypt calling for democracy and a respect for human rights. I understand now that for change to happen we have to overcome our fear; our fear of chaos and instabilities and all the pessimistic scenarios that people list all the time. We also have to believe in ourselves-in our strength- and believe in our people because we are the only ones capable of making change. “We shall overcome”.”

“Street fights, tear gas, and rubber bullets are used. People are getting arrested haphazardly. Digital media is playing an incredible role. I am getting updates on my blackberry literally by the minute. Everyone is reposting and broadcasting. It feels we ARE part of this. It’s very personal, unlike anything else we witnessed. It’s not the revolution of the poor and hungry so far. It’s the revolution of Facebook youth first and foremost. The majority of who participated were youth who is participating for the first time in a demonstration or any sort of political action. A lot of my friends were there in the field and came back to write notes and share pics and videos. You had youth, educated, intellectuals, even whole families! no clear political leaders, no sectarian or partisan slogans. Just one chant “The people want the downfall of the regime”.”

“A point of hope is the flood of Egyptian youth who stand behind these protests: educated citizens with access to internet and facebook across class divisions. What I want to say is that the protests were not like usual workers’ protesters (which were so far the only successful ones), this time we have people protesting who are not the most oppressed and most vulnerable. So maybe the tipping point is soon to come? Only God knows!”

I stand in solidarity with our Egyptian friends. Their country has been mired in corruption, their poorest citizens forgotten, a full one million of their children living on the street because their families couldn’t afford to keep them, prisons full of political prisoners who went out one day and never came home, and generations raised in an atmosphere of hopelessness. These protesters are brave. They saw hope and possibility in Tunisia and decided that they deserved it too. They e-mail us and ask us to pray for them the next day and say their goodbyes to their families before they head out the door to join the protest. I am heartened to see that American media outlets are finally giving this significant coverage. I hope that both Mubarak and protesters will know that, unlike in the past, with all the social media outlets available, the world is watching.


  1. Extraordinary. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Melissa. What hope is there for a peaceful resolution here? Mubarak is not leaving – he’s just dissolved the current government. Where can things go from here?

  3. Awesome post. Thanks, Melissa!

    I would be shocked if Mubarak’s speech didn’t incite even bigger protests tomorrow. I mean, that was insulting to ME, and I haven’t spent my life being repressed by this guy.

  4. God bless the egyptians

  5. Thanks for such a personal update. I pray things can change for the better somehow.

  6. Melissa,
    While the Arab world is watching things unfold closely, do you think places like Yemen have the ability to end with a government that would ensure more rights? Is there any hope Egyptian riots might end on a note similar to Tunisia’s? Will the shuttering of the internet in Egypt significantly hurt protests, or will the internet be up again soon?
    Thanks for taking the time to share this.

  7. Steve, I think if Mubarak had given this speech two days ago, people would have lost steam and gone home. Especially as the Interior Minister was a main target of theirs. But the momentum of the protesters is unlikely to to halted by this infuriating and condescending speech. They want him out and his obvious lies are only going to make them angry. I think now that the international eye is one them, Egyptians are just realizing the full potential of these protests. I think tomorrow is going to be another eventful day in Cairo and elsewhere.

    It’s also going to be harder for him to allow state violence and continue the internet/cell blackout after the words he just spoke to the world.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Melissa, I’ve been following your FB updates, and I appreciate the additional detail you’ve provided here.

  9. Molly Bennion says:

    Melissa, thanks. Your experience is so helpful in trying to understand what is happening. I would love to know a bit more of your perspective. If Mubarak and the military are forced out, can we dare hope the democratic movement will choose leaders and move quickly enough to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from taking control? Should the MB take control, what do you see as the future not only of Egypt, but of the Middle East, especially in light of the import of the Suez Canal and of Lebanon, Tunisia and Iranian influence in Iraq as we leave? Also, should Obama have supported the most recent protesters in Iran and should he support the democrats in Egypt now? If so, how?

  10. mmiles, I honestly don’t know enough about Yemen to say. As far as the outcome of the Egyptian riots, I think the most we can hope for is they end in reform. It would be ideal if free and internationally monitored elections were called. Mubarak seems like their going to have to pry power from his cold dead hands though.

    Egyptians have been remarkably resourceful in getting around the blackout. Many are using proxies in other countries, iPhone apps and various other technologies that I don’t quite understand to get around it.

  11. very interesting thanks! It’s been very confusin to attempt to watch the news and guess…are the protestors hungry? do they really want a theocracy as some new organizations say?

    Thanks for giving some insight.

  12. I haven’t been so excited since the PRI was booted out in Mexico. But things haven’t gotten better for the Mexicans, near as I can tell. Hopefully things work out better in Tunisia, and (crossing my fingers) Egypt.

  13. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    This is excellent how timely it went up, good one! Seems like the tweeting and FB’ing have implications that gov’ts are only beginning to understand (church included). It really started with Iran. Hopefully Mubarak gets ta steppin’ tomorrow.

  14. It looks like the internet ban has lifted. The mood seems to be even angrier after Mubarak’s speech. The upside is that the protests will likely continue. The downside is that that anger might be expressed in increasingly violent and destructive ways.

    Molly, great questions. I won’t even pretend to know the answers. Just from my opinion though, I can’t imagine that we’d see a situation where Mubarak and the military would both fall. The military would turn away from Mubarak first. I think, while not universally loved or endorsed in Egypt, El Baradei would step up with his coalition of opposition parties and at least lead the transition until elections happen. I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is to be as feared as FoxNews would have us believe. In Egypt they’re a conservative leaning towards moderate political party. They’re not the scary Islamists calling for shari’a that people imagine. They’ve come out saying that they support constitutional reform through the mechanisms of government. The fact that they stayed out of the protests and have only taken a minor role proves that they’re not after taking over the government right now.

    I really have no idea of the repercussions beyond that. Whoever takes power should Mubarak fall will be between a rock and a hard place in regards to the will of the people and Israel/Gaza/US relations.

  15. I second what Melissa says (I have to, she’s my wife). But she’s right on the money about the Brotherhood. They’re not the radical Islamists that they were even 20 years ago. When Mubarak granted them quasi-semi-official status a few years ago and let them participate in parliament, that did what integration almost always does for once-violent outsider groups — it mainstreams and moderates them. Any use of the word “theocracy” in regards to them is wildly misplaced. Besides, although they are still probably the biggest and best organized opposition party in Egypt today, by no means do they have a monopoly on power. Even they had to admit that this revolution was not organized by them — in fact, everyone knows they were latecomers, not officially joining the protests until today. If and when something like real democracy occurs in Egypt, they will have to be reckoned with, and may even be the largest single party, but they are far from a majority.

    If Mubarak cedes power in the next few days, I think the likeliest outcome will be something similar to what has been the case in Pakistan and Turkey, where the army has been the real power behind the throne, but has allowed and even supported a democratic process. As was evident tonight, the army is respected even if the rest of the government is not, and I suspect the generals already have a post-Mubarak plan in place. That may include El Baradei at the head of a provisional government, or a military caretaker until elections can be held. But of course, this is mere speculation — right now everything is up in the air.

    Whatever happens, prayers for the Egyptian people can only help.

  16. Yay Melissa and Patrick! Thanks for getting this out and more public. Everyone should be aware of #jan25 and its repercussions throughout the Arab world.

    !الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام

  17. Andrew what’s your opinion as an Arabist on Molly’s questions?

  18. As an Arabist :)

    @Molly (#9): About the Muslim Brotherhood… Patrick hit the nail on them. When they were first created by Hassan al-Banna in the late 20s, they were violent-ish, but not necessarily because of Islam. The 30s and 40s were chaotic times in Egyptian history as the Egyptians began to demand independence from Britain. The MB was one of the vehicles of protest for these early movements. Later, after the king was deposed and Nasser took over, the MB showed some resistance to his rule and got rounded up and put in prison. Violent offshoots of the MB started springing up (al Jamaa’ al Islamiyya, for example) and undertaking horrific acts of violence (like the 1997 shootings in Luxor), but as these splinter groups heated up, the MB became more mainstream and better accepted in the regime. Currently they are kinda-sorta allowed to organize a group (kind of like a caucus) in the Egyptian parliament, and they hold quite a bit of political clout. If they ever do come to power, they won’t turn Egypt into another Iran—they’re far more practical than that.

    The ongoing January 25 protests/revolution was not organized by the MB—the initial organizers (mostly a group called the “6 of April”) avoided them at all costs, knowing that the regime has a tendency to clamp down on anything the MB touches (while they do have clout, they are Mubarak’s perennial scapegoat).

    This revolution is purely secular. The MB did step in today, adding to the critical mass of protesters after Friday prayers, but they are in no way in control (or even hope to be in control) of this movement.

  19. More @ Molly (#9):

    It is likely that once Mubarak’s regime *does* fall (and it will), the MB will be part of the new ruling coalition. And that’s fine. Egypt won’t sever its ties with the US; Egypt won’t become an Islamic state.

  20. Even more @ Molly:

    Patrick mentioned that the likely result from Mubarak’s downfall will be a transitional military takeover á la Turkey and Pakistan. This is extremely probable. The military is currently deployed throughout the country and spend hours today actually fighting against the pro-Mubarak police forces. The military seems to be positioning itself not as an apparatus of the Mubarak regime, but as servants of the state whose main concern is the stability of the nation.

    The military stepped in to stop the Egyptian Museum from getting looted or burning down. They chased the police off the streets. Top-level generals are being recalled from training in the US so they can be back in Egypt for this.

    Forming a transitional government will be relatively easy. Egypt already has a pretty good constitution which will need some changes (like adding term limits :) ), but it has basic systems in place for governance.

    Opposition leaders like ElBaradei, while popular in the Western media, actually have little influence among the Egyptian masses. ElBaradei may play some role in the new government, but the more likely candidate to work with the military would be Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in the presidential elections of 2005 (and lost, obviously). He has a bigger presence throughout the country and is more recognized than ElBaradei, who has spent years in Europe with the IAEA.

    Of course, Mubarak is aware of this. Last night his thugs violently attacked Nour, and last I heard, he’s in the hospital in critical condition. Nour’s wife and kids have been arrested multiple times over the past few days.

    So, one likely outcome, if the military decides to allow it, will be a transitional military/reform government that will eventually allow for free and fair elections after some constitutional tinkering. The MB will most likely participate in the process, and the remaining old guard of the NDP (National Democratic Party—Mubarak’s party) will try to derail it.

  21. Final comment @ Molly

    As for Obama supporting Iran vs. Tunisia vs. Egypt… American policy seems to be focused on supporting pro-democracy movements in countries we don’t like more than supporting them in countries we need to stay our allies. The US had no problem speaking out in support of the #iranelection protestors, and we were quick to forcefully call Tunisia’s Ben Ali to repentance (so to speak), but our response towards Egypt has been tepid at most.

    For me this borders hypocrisy. We’re trying to straddle both worlds. We like having Mubarak in power because he obeys us. The only reason Gaza’s borders remain sealed is because Mubarak doesn’t open the Rafah border crossing (because of pressure from us and Israel).

    We also like having people protest for freedom and democracy because, hey, we’re Americans and we do that sort of thing.

    All the remarks by Obama, Clinton, and other White House and State Department officials thus far have tried to stay on the fence. And that’s infuriating.

  22. And in a non-pontificatory comment, I agree whole heartedly with Melissa’s OP. We lived in Egypt for two years (one overlapped the Masons’ tenure) and completely fell in love with the country and the people. It is our home. Our three-year-old asks us almost daily when we can go back to our “apawpment” in Cairo. Our one-year-old was born there.

    It is heart wrenching to watch this revolution from a distance. I so wish I could be back there now.

    The Egyptians deserve better than 30 years of dictatorship.

  23. It will be such a huge deal if Mubarak is ousted from power and Egyptians can become free in their political processes.

    If this happens, it will have ramifications for the entire Arab world.

    I am more skeptical of the Muslim Brotherhood and I don’t think you have to be a fan of Fox News to be skeptical and concerned about them. From everything I’ve read about them, they are a pragmatic group that is capable of being merely political -or- violent, depending on what the group feels will suit their interests. They are the Islamist group that created an organizational paradigm (followed by many other Islamist groups) where they have separate political and military organizational wings (or cells). The capability for violence is built into their schema … it’s just that sometimes in the face of a authoritarian government or a dictator, they dial down the violent rhetoric to avoid getting crushed.

    But these protests in Egypt have not been instigated by the MB and everyone knows this. The MB will certainly be influential – I just hope they will not be able to dominate Egypt’s political processes.

  24. Molly Bennion says:

    Melissa, Patrick and Andrew, I so appreciate your comments and look forward to more in this post in the critical days ahead. Thanks!

  25. Melissa, thank you- I’m so glad to have your voice here, and your perspective on this important shift in the world.

  26. huckleberry says:

    Sunflower, you’re still on my mind. We need to talk once everything’s final. I’m not an oak.

  27. @ Patrick: Not so sure if going the Pakistan way is a good idea. Military power, if not nipped in the beginning stages, can be the harbinger of more catastrophe. For now people power, as is being exhibited, is the most challenging and crucial.

    Thanks for the blog Melissa and thanks to everyone for their insightful queries and comments.

  28. I wonder if Bashar al-Assad is pooing his pants right now. Any news about Syria?

  29. @RJH: Syrians watching events closely as is entire Arab world. Rumor started flying that Internet had been cut off in Syria, but turned out to be false rumor pushed by Saudi (Al-Arabiya) and US (Al-Hurra) cheap propaganda tools.

    There is a group of fantastic Egyptians calling themselves the “Monitor Network” (translation) or RNN on Facebook. They’ve got tons of on the ground sources throughout the country and many of the news networks including Jazeera (Arabic at least) were sourcing from them. They just started an English version which seems to have a slight delay but is still quite fast, see here: Especially with absence of most Internet services (still not seeing many tweets from on the ground), these guys are using existing links with outside world to pass news on very effectively. Suez, Port Said, Mansoura, Asyut, Sharqiyya, Alexandria, Cairo, Ismailiya, Sinai – you name it, they’re getting news out. This is a mass nationwide uprising. The US government – big surprise – is on the wrong side of history yet again in the Middle East. Obama’s speech last night confirmed that, he took Mubarak’s side against the people when he made it clear that a few surface changes were sufficient for Washington to support the dictator remaining in power. Most of my friends in the US who don’t normally follow this stuff thought I was being harsh, they thought Obama made a positive statement. He didn’t. Washington is panicked that they’re going to lose their Quisling Vichy regime in Cairo that supports Israeli Apartheid on their behalf. They are looking for any way they can to preserve Mubarak in power, or if he is forced out to find a general or strongman or weak man that they can ensure will do their bidding and keep killing Palestinians on their behalf. That needs to be remembered: US policy in Egypt is based on only two pillars: (1) Getting someone who will defy the Egyptian popular will and support Israeli Apartheid, (2) getting someone who will torture and kill anyone who has a beard and a political opinion. Mubarak has reliably given Washington both for years, and screw democracy is Washington’s attitude.

    People are angry this morning in Egypt, that was instantly clear in all the Arabic and English reactions across every mass and social media sources from Egypt and the Arab world. Mubarak’s speech was spitting in their faces, and Obama’s speech was a follow-up kick in the nuts (to say nothing of Hillary’s earlier). Protests have typically been starting around lunch time the past week and picked up over the afternoon, but people are already protesting this morning in Suez, Alexandria, and Cairo at least. The feeling last evening was that they had won, but then it became clear that Mubarak and Obama had orchestrated a nasty trick to keep him in power. There’s some despair, but there seems to be far more anger.

    As for the looting, the messages flying around have been that these (as in Tunisia) have been overwhelmingly carried out by regime goons, especially the burning and looting of police and party headquarters in an effort to cover up regime crimes. It doesn’t seem credible that all of it has been regime elements, but a lot of it likely is. What has been clear is that there has been an instant mass effort to form popular committees to prevent looting and protect public and private property. The sense of civic responsibility behind these protests is – as in Tunisia – huge. People want change, not chaos. Mubarak on the other hand explicitly is trying to sow chaos so that people will turn to him as their protector, but people (as with Ben Ali) aren’t buying it, they’ve seen that game for decades and are sick of it. When flames threatened to burn down the Egyptian Museum last night, there was a massive turnout of protesters to secure the location (government goons were trying to break in and loot it) and let the military fire trucks get in to prevent the fire from reaching it.

    Today will be another big test, how many people will turn out. The early morning protests are a positive first sign. But as in Tunisia, the protesters are going to have to overcome dirty tricks from Washington as well as their own dictator. تحيا مصر حرة! الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام!

  30. This is exciting stuff, shebab.

  31. Latter-day Guy says:

    The depth of my comprehension/analytical ability in this particular area qualify me only to say, “Boy. What a mess.” However, FWIW, I did read the following from a family member of mine currently living in Egypt:

    Yesterday I asked [a Cairene friend] about the riots, and she shrugged her shoulders. I don’t care that much about what happens, she told me, I just want to make sure my family is safe and my life stays normal…. I asked her what she thought of the protesters and their desire to change the government. She shook her head. “You have to change here,” she said while holding her fist to her heart, “nothing will make a difference until this is changed. That will make the difference.”

  32. N-A A,
    I can kind of understand the Realpolitik instincts of Obama and Clinton although I’m sure it sounds mealy-mouthed to the protesters. My own instinct is to back the protests given that dictatorship is Bad. But then chaos is also Bad. How would the Muslim Brotherhood fare in a post-Mubarak Egypt. Should we fear them?

  33. @RJH, no the MB boogeyman is vastly overplayed. Numerous reasons for this. The organization itself has evolved, it is not the radical organization of the 50s and 60s (a time when its radicalism was roughly on par with the radicalism of the secular rightist and leftist organizations of the day). It has a major stake in the status quo on one level with its vast business interests. It has been involved in the political game with members of Parliament elected as independents (in small numbers due to Mubarak crackdowns) and learned to speak to broader societal desires and beyond its own narrow interests. Egyptian and broader Arab society also don’t give these guys a blank check. A few decades now of Islamist experiments across the region have shown people that Islamists are both not a panacea and that they can be as repressive as the secular dictators, so popular forces are more than willing to tell them they’re not allowed to cross a certain line (this has been very visible in these protests where they were warned not to raise partisan or sectarian slogans that could screw things up, and the MB promised not to and have stayed good to their word, increasing the sense that this is a protest of all categories of Egyptians). Then there’s the fact that Egyptian society itself – like pretty much every Middle Eastern society – has a broad collection of entrenched powerful interests that each will fight for its piece of the pie and will not give the MB a free pass. Old NDP guards, secular leftists and marxists, labor organizations (very prominent and increasingly powerful in recent years), Coptic Christians, a judiciary that has fought for decades to try to get genuine independence, a relatively small but growing middle class, large business conglomerates, and many others. The MB don’t represent a majority of the population and I’d doubt they even represent a plurality, though they’ll certainly have reasonable success at the polls if they position themselves right. And finally, there are the internal splits in the Muslim Brotherhood between the older and younger generation in particular, with the younger generation really sharing many of the precise feelings of the youth protesters (indeed, they are among them) of aborted opportunities in life and willingness to express that in open ways as opposed to the more closed process of the old generation of MB leadership.

    That said, make no mistake, whether the MB or any other party or coalition of parties rises to power that genuinely represents broad public opinion, support for the Palestinians and resistance to Apartheid Israel are going to be prominent policies. For very good reason, virtually no one, religious or secular, likes Apartheid Israel.

  34. I recognize that the uprising is popular among students and gives oppressed people hope of change, but who is ultimately behind the uprising and seeking to gain power? Years ago we got similar warm fuzzies about the uprising in Iran, leading to totalitarian danger that still threatens the world. Before that we were greeted with the hope and charm of a people’s uprising by the definitely-not-a-communist “agrarian reformer” Fidel Castro who turned an island of plenty into an impoverished penal colony that spreads its message of totalitarian power to other nations. Are you sure that this is a spontaneous quest for liberty, or Iran reloaded? One clue: the Iranian media is ecstatic over the uprising. See Why would that be if they are not somehow behind it or ready to have their puppets and allies take charge?

    As for the Muslim Brotherhood, aren’t they rather tight with Hamas? Haven’t they sanctioned Jihad (e.g., the 2004 fatwa issued by Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi encouraging Muslims to abduct and kill U.S. citizens in Iraq, per I think there is room for suspicion and concern with that group. Even if they have called for elections, what is their long-term goal? What is their connection to Iran?

  35. But if this does actually lead to some form of freedom with a limited democratic government and increased religious freedom, then wonderful. If it is an uprising that, like that of Iraq, that establishes Islam as the state religion and makes life even harder on the Christian than it was before (so much for the liberating we did at such great expense!), then it will be a step in the wrong direction, in my opinion.

  36. Jeff, I won’t go into a long response as there are many assumptions you make in your comments that are essays in themselves. I would just drop this little anecdote as food for thought. I’m watching Al-Jazeera Arabic right now. One of the leading Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders – Abdul Munim Abu Alfattouh – just called in for a short interview. First thing he did was warmly greet another guest in the studio: the Christian Palestinian Israeli citizen ex-Knesset member and leading secular Arab nationalist Azmi Bishara. And after that greeting went on to call for fair free elections in Egypt. This isn’t about sectarianism and that anecdote tells a lot about that. In fact, Azmi Bishara as part of the wave of renewed pan-Arab secular nationalism demanding democracy and human rights is far more in the vanguard of the Arab world than any Brotherhood member. But Bishara would certainly agree that Islamists have every right to play in the democratic game, while the Brotherhood has come to realize both that that is the game they want to play (and have with several parliament members who ran as independents when Mubarak permitted it), and that this requires reaching out to cover broader voter demands than a narrow sectarian agenda. As for notions of resistance to American or Israeli occupation in the region, you’ll find that is a position almost every single genuinely popular party or leader in the region agrees on as being right until those occupations fully end.

  37. StillConfused says:

    This may seem like a dumb question but what precipitated these riots? I understand that the dictator is a bad guy, but he has been there for like 30 years. I know that there are many who are extremely poor, but again, that has been the case for quite some time. So why NOW is there this much rioting? What was the proximate cause? As I watch the news, I don’t get a good feel for what set this off.

  38. StillConfused: Forgetting the long-term issues that are the real meat and just focusing on the initial sparks, I think there’s 2 things. The first was the murder by police back in June of Khaled Said, a young man whose death became a symbol of police brutality and the corrupt legal/security system (some details on his murder here, but warning that there’s a graphic picture of his corpse further down the article: Justice for him became a cause celebre around which people began to coalesce including major online organization seeking justice. The second and more immediately important one as far as sparks go was Tunisia. You simply can’t understate what an amazing, electrifying spark that was to the Arab world. A mass, people-power, grassroots revolution that ejected a western-backed dictator in a few short weeks and quickly began the process of genuinely democratizing an Arab nation where people had long since given up. The example this set was huge. When that happened, the “we are all Khaled Said” campaign turned into a key organizing factor for protests against Mubarak. People felt brave seeing Tunisia, they had a local issue that had already gathered a lot of people around which they could organize, and they set the Jan 25 protests. Frankly, I saw it and assumed it wouldn’t go anywhere, that it would be another typical protest the type of which I’d seen many times in Cairo. Some loud chants, more police than protesters, cops beat the snot out of them and round them up, the end. I was wrong, the numbers that came out were huge, and the rest is history in progress.

    Those were the sparks, but the deeper roots are of course much bigger.

  39. StillConfused says:

    Thanks for explaining the sparks. I am always nervous that these types of riots are being orchestrated by people behind the scenes with nefarious intents.

  40. Technology has always strongly influenced what forms of society are stable at a given time in history. For example, during the middle ages castles and knight’s armor represented technology that favored defensive over offensive weaponry. That led to the feudal way of life wherein the yeomanry attached to a powerful lord for protection. Then the longbow was invented allowing any skilled peasant to topple an armored knight, and then gunpowder came and made castles obsolete, and feudalism became obsolete as well. Vast simplification but a critical idea that makes sense of broad political changes through time.

    Social media and the internet are the new technology that makes information free and therefore oppressive governments obsolete. You can’t oppress populations that you can’t keep in ignorance and darkness. The truth actually does set us free. I’m so happy about this turn of events. We collectively on this planet need to NOT ALLOW governments to control the internet and SMS communications. That’s extremely important.

  41. I heard from a student’s family member that the BYU Jerusalem Center group is trapped in Cairo. The security statement on the Jerusalem Center’s website hasn’t been updated since the 26th. Anybody know their status?

  42. Great comments, everyone. It really is amazing what watch this unfold. After Clinton’s comments a few moments ago, I think it’s just a matter of time now before Mubarak flees.

    I’m getting spotty reports from friends there, both branch members and fellow AUC’ers in our old apartment building. Our neighborhood, Maadi, where most expats live and the branch is located, was pretty scary last night. A nearby prison was emptied and armed thugs were roaming the streets looting. As with everywhere else in Cairo, neighbors have formed community protection groups and spent the night protecting their buildings with whatever weapons they could get their hands on.

    No word on the BYU group but if I hear anything, I’ll pass it on.

  43. Latter-day Guy says:

    The Maadi mall was looted and burned down, last I heard.

  44. Yeah, Maadi Grand Mall, Carrefour, and the shops along Road 9 were all looted and burned (but not to the ground).

  45. ElBaradei just now on CNN: “The Muslim Brotherhood agree that the state in no way will be a state based on religion.”

  46. doesn;t it say on the JC site that thhe BYU group made it to Luxor, which should put them out of the way?

  47. Out of the way of the Cairo protests, but there are still hundreds of thousands protesting in the Delta, Suez, Sinai, and the Upper Egyptian villages.

  48. good point Andrew. I haven’t heard much about other protesting..protesting in general is hard to conceptualize as I sit in my cozy rocking chair snuggling with my baby and kitty.

  49. Andrew, Pat, and Mellissa… I appreciate all your blogs. Harri is in Cairo and I am still in the US – I was suppose to fly back on Monday. He said that the airport is full of people – mostly tourist and wealthy Egyptians – having to camp out and trying to get out. There is looting of houses even in Rehab with vigilantes trying to protect their homes and belongings. That’s not very far from my home, and it makes me concerned for Harri and our home. Everyone in the branch is okay and on standby, ready for evacuation when the word is given. There is still no internet access (unless you know how to do the high-tech rigging) and the mobile phones are on for the moment. The supplies in the grocery stores are dwindling. I have heard that the BYU Jerusalem group is still trying to get out – possibly by bus. There has been a need for change and the small cry has become a roar, but it is so sad to see the chaos and destruction that is occurring. Egypt is my home right now and I feel so frustrated to be here in the US, apart from my husband, having to watch and wait to see what will happen, and when I can go home. Putting aside any political analysis of the situation, our everyday life in Cairo will not be the same for a while – church, work, school all canceled until further notice. I mean, Maadi Grand mall burned! Carrefour – where I grocery shop – looted and burned! I will go back to a different place than I left in December. My prayer is that Mubarak will end his tyrannical rein and the people’s voice will be heard, so that the anger, death and destruction will cease, and a change for the good will begin. On a much lighter note … this all really needs to be resolved before the end of the month when we are having the 3rd annual Cairo Branch Chili Cook-off. Harri has kangaroo meat for his entry this year!

  50. Sharon! I was thinking about you this morning and wondering if you were over there or back in the states with your cuddly grandkids. We’ll be praying for Harri.

  51. Just heard from an ex-Jerusalem Center director:

    Just heard they got back to the Jerusalem Center on Sunday night. They had no problems while in Cairo and were never in danger.

  52. My brother in law and five year old nephew live in Maadi. It’s a terrifying situation. They are barricaded in their apartment listening to sniper fire and looters and waiting for their evacuation tomorrow morning.

  53. @ECS We’re good friends with them too! We’re hoping they get out without any problems tomorrow…

  54. Andrew – I’m hoping they get out tomorrow without problems, but I just read the NY Times article about the congestion at the airport and that all flights are delayed or canceled. They just need to get out of the city, though. Poor JSS at home in Utah with the little ones. I can’t imagine the stress!

    How do you know them? From Church?

  55. Yeah, they were some of our really good friends at church. We actually just hung out with J, T, and S last week…

    I’ve gotten reports from some AUC professors (who the embassy is taking out as well) that if the congestion at the airport gets too bad, the embassy will start using chartered and/or military flights. So even if no commercial flights leave, I’m pretty sure embassy staff will get out of there.

  56. That’s great news, thanks. If you see them again, give them all hugs for me.

  57. My wife just collected the stories of a whole bunch of LDS members currently evacuating Cairo:

  58. Steve Evans says:

    Looks like we’re headed towards some sort of negotiated peace agreement… could be interesting. Shared power with ElBaradei?

  59. I just saw that the army has pledged not to fire on protesters. Does that almost guarantee the success of the protests? (I don’t know, so I’m asking.)

  60. Melissa, or anyone in the know, when Jordan is now being affected, does that open the doors for a more oppressive government? Are people angry about their cooperation with the US?

  61. Ray, that was a huge signal that Mubarak may not have the legs to stand on that he thought. If the army publicly splits from him, his fall will be pretty swift. He still has the support of the air force, who were buzzing protesters on Tahrir several days ago as an intimidation tactic. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Today is crucial, there’s no longer any way Egypt could return to normal under Mubarak. This isn’t going to go away and the empty reforms that Mubarak is willing to offer won’t appease people. I just can’t imagine that he could stay in power much longer.

    As far as Jordan, from my limited understanding, the tensions there have been simmering over the past year due to a poor economy and high food and gas prices. US support for Mubarak and concern for the affect of the revolution on Israel probably doesn’t help matters (esp being that about half of Jordanians are of Palestian descent) but I don’t think US foreign policy is what’s driving these recent Jordanian protests. I could be wrong though, I don’t know Jordanian politics in any depth.

  62. My wife and I just got back from Egypt, after spending a night on the floor at the airport, etc. My impression is that most ordinary Egyptians have not derived much benefit from Western aid, and were deeply unhappy with Mubarak. I agree that the uprising appears to have been nearly completely spontaneous. Even our rather staid tour guide told us that, were he not working with our group, he would be in Midan Tarihr with the demonstrators. It’s time for the US to forcefully tell Mubarak it’s time to go – and back that up with the threat of sanctions. It’s also fairly clear that the worst of the violence was stimulated by government forces, not by the demonstrators.

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