The basics: Egypt is a large, mostly Arab, mostly Muslim country. At around 80 million people, it has the largest population in the Middle East and the third-largest in Africa. Most of Egypt is in North Africa, although the part of the country that borders Israel, the Sinai peninsula, is in Asia. Its other neighbors are Sudan (to the South), Libya (to the West), and Saudi Arabia (across the Gulf of Aqaba to the East). It has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak since 1981.
What’s happening? Inspired by the recent protests that led to the fall of the Tunisian government and the ousting of longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptians have joined other protesters across the Arab world (in Algeria, notably) in protesting their autocratic governments, high levels of corruption, and grinding poverty. In Egypt, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets. Here’s a photo of one of the protests in Cairo, the capital (via Twitter):
Why are Egyptians unhappy? They have basically no more freedom than Tunisians. Egypt is ranked 138th of 167 countries on The Economist’s Democracy index, a widely accepted measure of political freedom. That ranking puts Egypt just seven spots ahead of Tunisia. And Egyptians are significantly poorer than their cousins to the west.
How did this all start? This particular round of protests started with the protests in Tunisia. But like their Tunisian counterparts, Egyptian protesters have pointed to a specific incident as inspiration for the unrest. Many have cited the June 2010 beating death of Khaled Said (warning: graphic photos), allegedly at the hands of police, as motivation for their rage. But it’s also clear that the issues here are larger.
Why is this more complicated for the US than Tunisia was? The Tunisian regime was a key ally for the US in the fight against Al Qaeda. But the US government’s ties to Tunisia’s Ben Ali pale in comparison to American ties to Egypt. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank, explains:
Predictions that a Tunisia-like uprising will soon topple Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are premature—the Egyptian regime, with its well-paid military, is likely to be more unified and more ruthless than its Tunisian counterparts were… The U.S. is the primary benefactor of the Egyptian regime, which, in turn, has reliably supported American regional priorities. After Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, Egypt is the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, including $1.3 billion in annual military aid. In other words, if the army ever decides to shoot into a crowd of unarmed protestors, it will be shooting with hardware provided by the United States. As Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the Egyptian military is “not there to project power, but to protect the regime.” [Emphasis added.]
What’s the latest?
UPDATE: This video of a “Tiananmen Square moment” is being widely circulated on Twitter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtTUsqra-
UPDATE 10, 11:45 a.m. EST Thursday: Lots of news to round up from today. The big takeaway, though, is that the protests continue. Tomorrow may be a major day of reckoning: protest organizers have called for huge demonstrations (expected to be the largest since Tuesday), and if protests happen as people leave Friday prayers at Egypt’s 90,000+ mosques, the regime could be in real trouble. Anyway, here’s some of what you should know about:
- In Yemen, thousands of protesters called for the ruler there to step down.
- With regards to Egypt, the BBC asks the question on everyone’s mind: Can Mubarak be toppled? (Sultan Al Qassemi says “#Yes.”)
- Protesters in Suez reportedly threw Molotov cocktails (improvised incendiary grenades) at police.
- The BBC reports that ex-IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he is “ready to lead the transition” in Egypt if Mubarak falls. (He made the comment as he was preparing to leave Vienna for Cairo.)
- Shadi Hamid notes that the US State Department is now using the #Jan25 hashtag embraced by Egypt’s protesters, and Bloomberg reports that President Barack Obama is “poised to intensify US criticism” of Mubarak, especially if the Egyptian regime’s crackdown on protesters becomes more violent. (Meanwhile, Al Jazeera is reporting that Egyptian authorities are trying to bury deceased protesters quietly so as to not turn their funerals into rallies.)
- The Egyptian Football Association has postponed all games until further notice.
- More than 1,000 people have been arrested so far.
- The Awl notes that “even the Cairo papers” are showing front-page photos of the protests.
- Egypt’s stock market has fallen dramatically and trading has been suspended.
- Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, argues in Foreign Policy that WikiLeaks really was crucial to the Tunisian revolution. Here on our site, Evgeny Morozov argues that the internet does not weaken authoritarian power, and claims that Twitter and Facebook and WikiLeaks helped trigger protests across the Arab world are overblown. The Guardian and our own Kevin Drum also have good takes.
UPDATE 11, Thursday 6:15 p.m. EST: Arabist just posted a claim that Egypt has “shut off the internet” entirely. I don’t know how seriously to take this, but Arabist is a generally reliable site and a full shutdown is something that is theoretically possible. Arabist also notes the alleged shutdown happened “just after AP TV posted a video of a man being shot.” If the shutdown is real, it’s a huge sign that the regime is very, very worried about the protests scheduled for tomorrow (well, today Egyptian time). As Sultan Al Qassemi says, “the Egyptian regime seems willing to do anything to stay in power, including plunging Egypt back into the dark ages if necessary.” UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Arabist notes that “it’s not everywhere,” and that a foreign journalist working at a hotel in Cairo has reported to them that he still has internet access.
UPDATE 12, Thursday 6:45 p.m. EST: The Arabist report that the internet is down throughout Egypt (see previous update) is looking increasingly well-founded. Alec Ross, a State Department spokesman, has tweeted in Arabic that the US “call[s] upon the Egyptian gov to allow unrestricted access to the internet & peaceful protests.” In addition, Arabist’s Issandr El Amrani (follow him! @arabist) has “confirmation from a person in a position to know at one Egypt’s mobile phone operators that the phone companies have been ordered by the authorities to shut down SMS services (which has been the case for at least an hour) and Blackberry Messenging in Cairo (and perhaps elsewhere in Egypt).”
UPDATE 13, Thursday 7:15 p.m. EST: Associated Press: “A major service provider for Egypt, Italy-based Seabone, reported early Friday that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time.” 12:30 a.m. in Egypt is 5:30 p.m. the day before EST, so that fits with our timeline and the Arabist report.
Original post by Tumblr user promotingpeace and can be found here.