How bad are things in Egypt? Some of the pictures look frightening; others look like life is carrying on. The headlines talk about tens of thousands of protestors in the streets and anarchy prevailing but on the other hand, out of a population of nearly 80 million, how many are actually participating in these days of protests? Egypt is a third world country and the majority of the people are poor. According to the International Monetary Fund, specifically their statistics for 2009, Canada has a per capita income of $38,920 US while Egypt has a per capita income of $6,147 US. Has this translated into a movement where the people may say to themselves that there is nowhere to go but up? So why not protest; it can’t get any worse.
At just after midnight, Saturday, January 29, 2011 local time, Hosni Mubarak addressed the nation. Reuters summed up the president’s message as one involving a big stick and a small carrot. The carrot was his acknowledgement of the economic frustrations many Egyptians have with the promise of steps to help the poorest in particular and vague pledges about political reform.
However his emphasis on maintaining national security returned to the big stick. Protesters who venture out now will find themselves looking down the barrel of the gun of a tank, rather than facing down a riot truck’s water cannon. The Washington Post reflected back on three decades of rule and noted that Mubarak has relied heavily on a robust, repressive security force to ensure his rule. There can be little doubt he will not veer from such a course.
Hosni Mubarak’s speech to the nation – 28.01.2011 (English translation)
What about Tunisia?
The parallels between the two countries are telling. The Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali sacked his government and promised early elections. However, he was not able to get the army’s backing in order to control the protesters and had to leave the country. But it is at that point the parallel stops.
Mubarak, a former air force commander, has shown he still controls the army, the most powerful force in the country. Therein lies the big differences in the two countries and why the outcome for Egypt will be dramatically different. If the protesters have to challenge the army itself, the possibility of overthrowing the government is slim.
The Egyptian government cut access to the Internet late Thursday night. This pre-emptive measure was in anticipation of the fourth and most intense day of protests. It was well known that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter had been used by protest groups to organise gatherings and it was natural the government would want to do what it could to disrupt the organisational capabilities of these people.
This does represent a blow to the protestors and the people in general. According to the Washington Post, two thirds of the population are under the age of 30 and an estimated 3.4 million are on Facebook. While the country is considered a third world country, it is still a country which is very much plugged in. When I visited the country in February 2010, I had the impression that just about everyone had a cell phone, sometimes more than one.
But how long can the government keep the Internet off-line? AOL News feels the number one reason for turning it back on is going to be economic. Keeping it down over the weekend is one thing, but come Monday morning, businesses are going to have need of communication and if the government denies business its business, there will be hell to pay. On top of it, the U.S. has stated its support for the regime will be dependent on what the government does next. Obviously if Mubarak gets heavy handed in his response to the protests, there is a huge risk the American government may reduce or cut aid. The Egyptian military is quite tied to the United States for support and Mubarak’s power comes from the military. Without it, Mubarak could very well find himself in the same precarious position of the Tunisian president.
American Tourists Stranded in Cairo
The following article from CNN contains a video shot and narrated by an American couple on vacation in Cairo. For me, this was quite interesting because I was there in February 2010. The lady in the video mentions there being a lot of security. Let me comment by saying security is always there. At every hotel there are guards with metal detectors and coming back from a tour into the hotel is like going through airport security. Every museum, every historical site involved guards and metal detectors and believe me; this had nothing to do with the current protests.
After several high profile terrorists’ attacks during the 90’s, Egypt ramped its internal security to unprecedented levels. You have to remember that tourism in Egypt is one of its most important businesses if not the most important. It represents $11 billion in revenue and employs 12% of the workforce. After the Luxor terrorist attack in 1997, tourism dropped dramatically; the country lost billions and the government said they would never allow such a thing to happen again. Today – and I’m saying this from experience – you can’t walk a half a block in Cairo without seeing a member of the police force or military. They are literally everywhere.
Everything depends on the military. If they continue to support Mubarak, Egypt gets more Mubarak. If they somehow withdraw their support, Egypt could find itself looking for a new leader and a new government. At some point, if the protests get ugly, the call may come down the line to fire on protesters and that will be the real litmus test of the military’s resolve to stick with the status quo or not.
Whatever the outcome, let’s not forget Mubarak is now 80 years old and his days are numbered no matter what.
Russia Today: January 28/2011
Cairo Chaos: Night curfew ends day of street battles in Egypt
Russia Today: January 28/2011
Dramatic video as thousands clash with Egypt riot police in Cairo
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