Turmoil in Egypt

February 11, 2011

by Taylor Stephens & Mary Timmons, FEATURES?EDITOR & STAFF?REPORTER

Civil unrest and political turmoil has all eyes on Egypt as the world watches the country fight for its independence from the tyrannical rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

But before Egypt carried out their own successful protests, BBC News in Africa said that Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa just 700 miles from Egypt, broke their silence on unemployment and corruption by rioting and protesting in the streets.

The riots started when Mohammed Bouaziz, 26, sold fruit and vegetables illegally in Sidi Bouzid because he could not find a job. When police confiscated his stand and refused his right to sell, he doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in the center of the city.

This suicide protest caused Bouaziz’s brother to make a Facebook page, which showed his outrage of the government’s iron fist that pushed his brother to his self-violent protest.

After his brother rallied enough support for an outrageous group, the Tunisian government blocked all of the country’s access to social networking, which created a portal for the protests to seep from the Internet onto the government’s front door.

Though people were already aware of their government’s corruption and Bouaziz’s demonstration pushed people over the edge, WikiLeaks, a cable-hosting, whistle-blowing website, released a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia that read, “President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor.” They posted another shortly after that read, “persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the [government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia.” WikiLeaks was blocked shortly thereafter by the Tunisian government.

BBC reported that Bousziz’s death prompted union official Kamel Laabidid to declare: “Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today; we will make those who caused your death weep.”

Nazir Atassi, Tech assistant professor of history and native of Syria, said the back-down of the Tunisian government inspired more than just Egypt to act.

“This gave hope to all of the countries of the Middle East as well as leading to the Egyptian revolution,” Atassi said. “I agree with their revolution, but it is also scary at the same time because of the barriers that have been broken.”

Fast-forward to Jan. 25. Inspired by the success of the Tunisian revolution, thousands of people take to the streets of Egypt in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. They protest poverty, unemployment rates and the domineering governance of Mubarak.

As a response to the protests, the Egyptian government blocked Twitter and Facebook, which was being used to coordinate protests. However, this did not stop the riots, rather it inflamed the Egyptian citizens more and gave international attention to the uprising. The increase of uprisings caused the government to unleash the riot police who took to the streets arresting and injuring hundreds with batons, tear gas and water cannons.

According to CNN, Mubarak has since stated that he will not run for re-election in September, rather he will end his 30-year rule; he has yet to step down from office despite urging from his people and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Atassi said the revolutions have evoked a new idea, not just among the Egyptian people, but also for others who come from dictator-led countries.

“The question is now who will last longer in this political game?” he said. “If the government gives in, it could be forever severely damaged; if the people give in, all they’ve worked for may be a waste.”

According to FOX News, the Egyptian government promised Monday to look into official corruption and election fraud, but thousands of protestors swore not to move from the heart of downtown Cairo until Mubarak steps down.

Despite a range of government concessions, protesters remain dissatisfied, but the energy has changed from a warzone to a peaceful protest since the address.

The same article stated that the concessions include: the lifting of a 30-year-old set of emergency laws that gave police far-reaching abilities for detention and suppression of civil and human rights; the dissipation of government from the freedom of press or interferance with text messaging or the Internet; judiciary and political figures will meet to reform the constitution to allow more candidates to run for president as well as impose term limits on the president; the government will also make no recriminations against those participating in the anti-government protests.

Rami Ghoneim, an unemployed, Egyptian Internet activist, said the protestors are not in a hurry to leave until their biggest demand was met. He said the longer they stay, the more concessions the government will offer.

“It is like a wound, the more you press on it the more blood gushes out. We will press until we empty it,” he said.

Atassi said the Egyptian citizens will not be so quick to accept any concessions.

“It is a possibility that all of their promises could be kept, but their new vice president has no credibility on the Egyptian street,” he said. “The Egyptian people are so used to promises being broken that they’ve started to believe they will never actually happen.

Faris Dandeni, a freshman biomedical engineering major and native of Saudi Arabia, said he has been in the United States for less than a week, but he has still not been able to contact his Egyptian friends since the revolution.

He said it upsets him to see people he considers family hurt.

“I don’t like seeing fellow Muslims and Arabic people being affected by this,” Dandendi said. “Even though they are from a different country and speak a different language, we are still brothers.”

He said he holds a heavy heart for those in Egypt during this time.

“I’ve been to Egypt six times; I can’t imagine how they feel about this situation,” Dandeni said. “I stay in contact with my friends and family through Skype about once a week. It would sadden me if I was unable to contact my family like those in Egypt. My heart goes out to those in Egypt during this turmoil.”

E-mail comments to tds026@latech.edu and mnt005@latech.edu.