Learn more about Egypt, their righteous grievances, their push for democracy.
From Denny: What is happening in Egypt and why? There are two political movements in Egypt vying for power to overthrow the current Mubarek government: the Youth Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood.
What sparked first the protests in the street and now, days later, violent rioting? Tunisia successfully chased out of town a corrupt leader. Now other countries in the Middle East are inspired to do the same. To take measures to avoid that happening to them, countries like Kuwait decided to quickly hand over thousands of dollars to each citizen to satisfy the anger about high unemployment.
What are the list of grievances for the Egyptians?
* personal dignity
Egyptians are protective of their personal dignity and deeply offended by Mubarek's 30 year monopoly on power, refusing to transition to a democracy. Mubarek's iron-fisted approach has enabled corruption to grow.
From human rights activist Ghada Shabandar: "Egyptians are sick and tired of being corrupted and when you live on 300 pounds a month. You have one of two options: you either become a beggar or a thief." (Three hundred Egyptian pounds is about $51.) "The people sent a message: 'We are not beggars and we do not want to become thieves.'"
Egyptians believe this is their time to end the Mubarek reign of power. Why now? Turns out the aging Mubarek has positioned his son, Gamal, to inherit his father's rule. Gamal is a businessman and a political leader.
From Steven Cook, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington: "They hate Mubarak. It has become this clogged police state. I think what has happened is that Tunisia has created this hope and possibility in people’s minds, that with enough determination you can unseat an Arab dictator."
Egypt is a country overdue for reform. The multiple issues upsetting Egyptians:
The government has maintained what it calls an Emergency Law, passed first in 1981 to combat terrorism after former President Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated. The law allows police to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court. Last year the government promised that it would only use the law to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, but terrorism was defined so broadly as to render that promise largely meaningless, according to human rights activists and political prisoners.
The Egyptian police have a long and notorious track record of torture and cruelty to average citizens. One case that drew widespread international condemnation involved a cellphone video of the police sodomizing a driver with a broomstick. In June 2010, Alexandria erupted in protests over the fatal beating by police of beating Khaled Said, 28. The authorities said he died choking on a clump of marijuana, until a photograph emerged of his bloodied face. Just last month, a suspect being questioned in connection with a bombing was beaten to death while in police custody.
Talk about a country on the edge of complete revolt just last year. Workers from every part of society staged protests, chanting demands outside of Parliament. They protested all day long and into the night when they staged a massive sleepover, rolling out bedrolls on the pavement. They protested almost every day of the year last year. Clearly, something is wrong in a country when the citizens go to this extreme to protest regularly.
Workers are angry about suppressed wages and low salaries. Over a four year period, from 2004 to 2008, 1.7 million workers stages 1,900 strikes and protests. They demanded wage increases and job security in state-owned industries that were privatized.
The biggest bone of contention for Egyptians is the political monopoly Mubarek's National Democratic Party has kept for three decades. Mubarek has only allowed small opposition parties and their blocs in parliament. But the real rub with the people of Egypt is that last November's parliamentary elections were widely viewed as fixed so Mubarek's party would remain in control. The NDP claimed to win 500 of the 518 seats, virtually a statistical anomaly. Of course, the NDP and its allies declared the contested election was "free and fair." To the Egyptian people it was most curious how there was a complete loss of all opposition seats, including independents aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. The strategy was obvious: closing off any institutional outlet for challenging Mubarek's government.
The next insult from the NDP came in local council elections. Back in 2008 there were 52,000 open seats. The government went about disqualifying so many candidates that it ended up 43,600 seats were uncontested and went to the NDP. Gerrymandering Egyptian dictator style. Talk about not subtle: the NDP won 99.13 percent of the 51,546 seats.
Democracy continued to be stifled back in 2007 for the first elections held after the constitutional amendments removed judges from supervising the electoral process. There were 88 seats open. You guessed it. The NDP won 84 of those seats. But at least Mubarek was feeling generous. He gave 1 seat to Tagammu which is a very small opposition party and 3 seats for NDP members who ran as independents.
In Egypt, the richer have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. Mubarek's economic policies have expanded the economy, attracting foreign investment. There is more money flowing into Cairo, unfortunately, there is a small trickle down effect to the poor.
Can you imagine living on only $2 a day - or less - like most Egyptians do? In spite of economic growth the United Nations' Children's Fund reported in 2009 that "the number of poor households with children exceeded 1996 levels." The report also cited that 23 percent of children under the age of 15 years were living in poverty. In Upper Egypt, the children fare far worse: 45.3 percent are living in poverty. I'd say that's something for the country to riot about.
Poor response to disasters in recent years was the result of negligence, indifference or outright incompetence. An horrific example was in 2002 in Luxor when hundreds of people on a train that caught fire were abandoned to die, trapped in a third-class car that was decoupled with the engine. Why? It was so the rest of the lead cars could continue on to their destination. I'd call that depraved indifference.
Another crass reaction from officials was in 2005 when an entire class of college student lay dead from a fire in Beni Suef. When grieving relatives tried to retrieve the bodies from the morgue they were beaten savagely by riot police.
For 30 years now Egypt has accepted a tenuous peace with Israel, their enemy. Egyptians were promised they would share in economic growth from "the peace dividend." The mass of Egyptians are still waiting for those benefits after living for a generation in poverty while the rich get richer.
Egyptians were also informed this peace treaty would give Palestinians a seat at the negotiating table to help promote their interests. Well, that hasn't come to fruition either. Egyptians feel betrayed.
Desperate people do desperate things
Desperate people do desperate things. It's the same thing I've warned the Obama administration. Anywhere you have high unemployment for years, coupled with home foreclosures and small businesses in ruin, you will get people angry enough to overthrow a government or worse.
Currently, in Egypt, their unemployment is quite high. They also suffer under a corrupt police force. The last thing you want as a leader is a corrupt police force as the ones enforcing the country's laws; it leads to abuse.
Mubarek's offers to the protesters
Mubarek has issued the offer of firing his whole cabinet and installing a new government to see if that pleases the protesters. They aren't buying it and are disinterested. They want Mubarek gone entirely. No half-steps for them. Egyptians are known for their high literacy rate of 77 percent, one of the highest in the world. These people are not stupid sheep, willing to accept lies and promises.
Mubarek says he is also willing to expand freedoms toward a more flexible democracy. Until now, it was acceptable to question the Mubarek government in the media and personal opinion. What was not acceptable was to take to the streets in protest. Perhaps Mubarek will have to reconsider that position and allow the people their angry voice.
Mubarek has shut down cell phone and computer service outside of the country, especially to fun places like Twitter. The protesters have been quite effective at organizing on Twitter and Facebook. Thousands of prisoners have been let go from the prisons and are armed and roaming the country. Apparently, as dictators go, this is Mubarek's idea of saying "I told you so" and "You need me" to the Egyptian people. Not to be outdone locals are arming themselves, and organizing protection groups in each of their neighborhoods, in absence of police protection.
Among Egyptians there is a profound respect for the Army. The question that has international observers wondering is whether the Army will continue to support the Mubarek administration or side with the protesters. Mubarek has been the country's leader - dictator - since 1981. A whole generation has grown up under this man's presence. Is Egypt ready to take the next step forward toward a more open democracy? Or will the relgious conservatives win and send the country backward like they did in Iran?
The Obama response
Currently, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are choosing their words carefully. Many Middle East experts want Obama to grab a soapbox and make demands openly on the international stage. Get real. Obama and Clinton are accurate that this is not America's moment. It's Egypt's moment. The Egyptian people know what they want and what they don't want. They want democracy now. And it looks like they are on the journey to finally get it.
*** Photo by Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press
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