Thursday, January 27, 2011

Friday: Possible D-Day for Egypt and Mubarak

Tomorrow is predicted to be a sort of D-Day for Egypt. Protesters are expected to come out in record numbers, even putting Tuesday’s show to shame.

Demonstrations have spread and yet, there’s still no word from President Hosni Mubarak or anyone in the Mubarak family. Although there are a lot of words from Egyptians, but what does it mean?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not going to win any points with this blog – at least not Egyptian points.  However, this is something that isn’t on CNN, BBC, the New York Times, etc. What are Egyptians really protesting? Do they even know?

They say they want term limits. Understandable since transparency in the Mubarak regime is absent and although elections have been held, please revert to my previous post on those so-called elections (Letters from Egypt: Don't Forget to Vote).

They say they want to combat corruption. I get it, but please look at the very end of yesterday’s blog. Those exact people wanting to stop corruption have also become part of the problem (Day 2 of Egyptian Protests). You can’t change a country without changing the people first.

They say they want a better quality of life. Who doesn’t? However, did the average protester think, “What next?” I have a very well educated and connected Egyptian friend who told me many months ago that he was going to get registered to vote and he didn’t care who else was on the ballot, he would still vote for the opposition just for change. The problem is that Egypt doesn’t have a viable option. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

You can’t imagine how the average Egyptian lives and it’s sad. There’s no reason for this country to be classified as third world, but yet amid all its natural resources and abundant financial aid (mainly from the US), the average Egyptian lives below the poverty level. An Egyptian friend called me yesterday and said how hurt she was that the BBC said Tunisians were more educated than Egyptians. I explained to the friend that it wasn’t the BBC that came up with that conclusion – it’s a fact.

I’ve lived here going on three years and I’ve admitted all throughout this blog how special a place Egypt is to me despite many frustrations. In addition, I’m all for people having a voice and it’s about time that Egyptians spoke up. The problem is that many protesting have no idea as to why they’re speaking out – actions based on empty words will not solve the ensuing problem. Many people are planning to go to the demonstrations tomorrow, but it’s the same as I’ve always said: it’s just to be seen and know what’s going on.

So now the Muslim Brotherhood has said that it will join protests tomorrow and El Baradei is even expected to appear (although he seems to have problems mingling with the average Egyptian, so I wonder how he remotely feels about protesting with them). Wanting a democracy is one thing, but do Egyptians understand what a democracy really is?

Why did it take Tunisia to show Egypt that it could be done? Are Egyptians really sheep and just waiting to follow the lead of another? If so, that’s sad considering that Egypt should be the one showing others that it can be done.

The impact of instability in Egypt is far greater than that of Tunisia, and it’s no secret. I won’t remotely touch those topics since many of you are already well aware. Expect to see the US and other Western allies paying more attention to Egypt, and also expect to see more governmental crackdowns and harsher beatings.

I’m excited that Egyptians are passionate about something other than an Ahly vs Zamalak football match, and any human being deserves the right to ask for a better life. That doesn’t make me nervous and sad anticipating the lives that will undoubtedly be lost tomorrow.

Mubarak sits silent and I have to wonder if he’s resting so comfortably thinking that the West has his back? The government has officially blocked Facebook and is rumored to be blocking mobile phone access tomorrow. The protests are already planned, restricting access now will more than likely have little to no impact. Like El Baradei, Mubarak should instead be using social networking to his advantage.

Another point is that the government knew about the planned demonstrations on Tuesday nearly 1.5 weeks in advance and they allowed them to happen in order to show that they give Egyptians the right to voice their concerns. That was possibly Mubarak’s most fatal move.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 2 of Egyptian Protests

Social networking has been the way for Egyptians to organize protests and the Egyptian government is reacting. Copyright: LeAnne Graves
Egypt is making international headlines, but for how long?

In the wake of yesterday’s explosive demonstrations where tens of thousands gathered in Cairo’s downtown area with other protests being held throughout Egypt, what will today bring? The government has said that it will not tolerate any rallies and have already stationed several police in key areas throughout the city.

Twitter was shut down yesterday while mobile phone towers in Tahrir Square were cut. Others have experienced the blocking of Facebook, although that is yet to be officially confirmed and I currently have access to mine.

News is spreading that protests were to begin again at 1 pm in Tahrir, the site of yesterday’s largest gathering. Then other reports have these places as meeting spots:
  • ·         Cairo - 6th of October City Al Hussari Sq
  • ·         Cairo - Nasr City midan el sa3a
  • ·         Cairo - Ramsis leading to Tahrir
  • ·         Al Mansoura - Al Jala2 Gate
  • ·         Assuit - Sawiras Building - Majzoob Square
  • ·         Alexandria - After Dhuhr at Al Qaed Ibrahim
  • ·         Alexandria - At 2 PM at Al Manshi
  • ·         Tanta - In front of the Muhafza Building
  • ·         Shebeen Al Kom - Omar Afandi Square

And for the biggest one (reportedly): “Egyptians calling for a ONE MILLION PROTESTER MARCH right after Friday prayers.”

I was in a cab earlier and while police were set up in riot gear throughout certain areas, it was business as usual in Cairo. However, Egyptians panicked and began leaving work early because of supposed “demonstrations.” This doesn’t surprise me at all; any excuse to get out of work and they’ll find it. My cab actually went from the Zamalak bridge to the Corniche (the same bridge that was blocked yesterday) and all was easy breezy.

My cab driver said that he personally didn’t expect much to happen today – which has been the general consensus.  Farouq, a cab driver for 35 years with seven of those years spent in Saudi Arabia, said: “The Egyptian people are tired of Mubarak. Food is getting too expensive. [Term limits] should be made. Everyone is poor.” The Egyptian government wants the international community to believe that this uprising is based upon food subsidies, which government officials have assured the people that it would pick up the rising costs. However, that’s not entirely true. This fight isn’t one of economic disparity, but of political will.

I asked Farouq the same question I asked demonstrators yesterday: if not Mubarak, who? He said, “We want El Baradei. He has a great deal of money and is looking to help poor people.” I followed, “But he’s been away from Egypt for awhile, does he even know the needs of today’s Egyptian?” Farouq just kept explaining how El Baradei fought for the poor man.

Mohamed El Baradei in Brief:
  • ·         Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency
  • ·         2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work to curb nuclear proliferation
  • ·         No real political experience and the only real opposition Mubarak faces

Take a look at this December interview from Al Masry Al Youm from December 23, the only plan El Baradei has is to unite the opposition. If I were given the opportunity to interview him, my questions instead would have included:
  • ·         How do you plan to unite the opposition groups?
  • ·         While change can’t occur overnight, what steps will you take in an effort to promote gradual change?
  • ·         If elected as leader of Egypt, what will be your first order of business and how do you plan to approach it?

I hear all this rhetoric about his dissatisfaction with the current rule, but what I fail to ever hear are the steps he plans to take. The same is true for the protesters and Farouq.

Farouq talked to me about corruption, and no sooner than he spoke those words, I looked down at his meter that had instantly jumped from LE21.50 to LE36.10 (meters are supposed to go in increments of LE0.25). You can’t fight corruption if you are just as corrupt.

Protests Rock Egypt

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

View from the Heart of the Tahrir Protests

Injured Egyptian after protesters began hurling rocks at police barricades.Copyright: LeAnne Graves
It began with Tunisia, a country under a 23-year rule of Ben Ali. With that brought hope to Egyptians that just perhaps Mubarak’s 30-year rule could be tested.

Protests began today for National Police Day (a national holiday that became effective only a year ago), but the voices were all the same: “Gamal, go back to your father (Hosni) and leave Egypt.”

People are restless and have been inspired to lead a revolution, calling for change with demonstrations throughout the North African country. And I wanted to witness it, thus I set off on my journey to Tahrir Square around 1:15 pm. Roads were blocked off and I walked for about 25 minutes before reaching Tahrir.

Taking many detours, I found myself lost. That’s when I stumbled upon Tarek who was desperately trying to find his friends protesting at the 26th of July Street near Tahrir. We talked briefly and I said, “Please, whatever you do, don’t set yourself on fire – no cause is worth that.” He said, “The only one that needs to be on fire is Mubarak.” And with that we separated and I stumbled upon a small demonstration and was thinking to myself, “If only they could all come together.”

No sooner than I thought that, I reached back to Tahrir Square and found two or three small groups meeting one another with excited and explosive cheers. Then joined the larger protest from the 26th of July Street, but you have to wonder, does anyone know what they’re protesting? They discuss poverty and the Mubarak regime, but as protests continue to rock throughout Egypt – not just Cairo – does anyone have the faintest idea as to what will be next? I asked those around me, “If you don’t want Mubarak, who do you want?” They responded, “We want to be equal.”

That answer still doesn’t quite cut it. Do the Egyptian people want El Baradei? And most importantly, does Egypt have any other candidate that is remotely qualified to run the country?

Here are some photos I took while in the belly of the giant. Take care and be safe Egypt!

A man got caught with the teargas as he tried to throw it back toward the armed guards.
Another Egyptian protester injured during clashes