The uprising in Egypt has caught most - if not all - of us by surprise.
The material provided below should give a glimpse into events on the ground; some analysis regarding who the participants are; the US role in the propping up of the Mubarak regime, and further resources and links for the reader to consult.
First, a deeply moving youtube piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hBV0ApIh_4&feature=player_embedded#
I thins it's important to get clued into the emotional significance of the unfolding events, and this piece does an especially good job at conveying this.
Next, links to two pieces by Joel Beinin. The first provides a short history of US-Egypt relations, and the second elaborates on Obama's position, so far, in regards to the the ongoing events in Egypt:
We received permission to post an email from Shana Minkin, a professor of Middle East history at Swarthmore College. Shana wrote the email to family and friends the day before yesterday. Since she wrote it, a number of things have changed, including: opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood have come together in support of Mohamed El Baradei as the leader of a transition government; protests have spread to the south of Egypt; there have been reports of prison breaks, some of which suggest that political prisoners are being released (members of the Muslim Brotherhood) and others that the regime is opening up the prisons to generate chaos, so that people think their only choice is between chaos or Mubarak's iron fist; there's been looting, and reports suggest that a lot (most?) of it has been done by the thugs (the baltagiah, literally "thugs" who are plainclothes police) - again, so that people think that their choice is either chaos (looting and lawlessness) or Mub
people have organized neighborhood patrols in response; the US continues to equivocate; and the protests are just getting stronger. Air force jets flew over Tahrir Square today, but Al Jazeera reports that hundreds of thousands of people are still out protesting.
In a situation that will undoubtedly continue to change, we think this email is very useful in providing historical and political context for the revolution we're witnessing.
Shana Minkin writes:
Many of you have asked me for some of my thoughts about Egypt. I am going to address a few things here – and would be happy to answer specific questions – and attach a few links. There is much more where this is coming from, but I didn't want to overwhelm with too many articles. For any of you on facebook, I have been purposefully filling my facebook page with articles and photos (and some videos) about Egypt. If you can't read everything I've piled on here, I would recommend you at least read some of the overviews of the situation from the newspaper of your choice – and that you read the Merip piece about the US administration. It is an incredibly important piece of journalism for understanding our role as American citizens (those of us who are).
So, a few of my thoughts: The Egyptian people have been under a state of emergency law for 30 years now, with increasing oppression and decreasing quality of life. The state is complete chaos and a completely unreliable and random bureaucracy. A good, if very old, movie about how Egypt functions is called "Terrorism and Kabab." The Mugamma, or government building, in this movie is on Midan Tahrir, or Liberation Square, which has been the focal point of so many of the protests.
Several factors have led up to these protests. The terrible conditions have been around – and deteriorating – for years, but this past year has marked some major events.
1. The killing of Khaled Said. The police killed Khaled Said in June 2010. (See http://www.arabist.net/blog/2010/6/14/the-murder-of-khaled-said.html for more information - the Arabist is also a good blog in general about what is going on). He was beaten to death in Alexandria when police tried to extort him and he refused (or had no money). The police then tried to paint him as a drug user/dealer at various moments.
2. The spectacularly corrupt elections in December. The regime didn't even try to pretend these weren't rigged. See http://www.merip.org/mero/mero122910.html.
3. The new years eve bombing in Alexandria. There has been increasing sectarian violence in Egypt in the last year, and the government refuses to recognize it as such. Instead the government claims its al-Qaeda working in Egypt. See http://www.merip.org/mero/mero011111.html. It is worth noting that following these bombings, many Muslims went to surround churches on Coptic Christmas a few days later. And unconfirmed reports had Coptic Christians surrounding Muslims at prayer yesterday in the same sign of solidarity. Who knows what will come of sectarian relations should the revolution succeed???
4. Tunisia. Tunisia is an inspiration, undoubtedly.
The protests began on January 25, or National Police Day. The Great Cairo Fire was Jan 26, 1952, but the National Police Day was set the day before. The fire is seen as one of the first steps leading to the ousting of the King and the British in 1952 and thus a worthy celebration. The protest of the police is particularly poignant because the police are the regime's internal army. There is a strict split between the police and the army, with the army focused on external only. The police, on the other hand, are known to be especially brutal and nasty towards Egyptian citizens. They are the ones who torture political dissidents and others, who are the general on-the-street repressors. No one in Egypt goes to a police for anything – I never even asked a police for directions; it was known the police would leer at you and wouldn't protect you. Also, a note: there is within the police the battalion of thugs – literally, their name means thugs in Arabic. They are the plai
police who travel with batons and spiked sticks and who are responsible for general mayhem in a way that the regular police don't want to be connected to – it was the Thugs who molested several women during the round of democracy protests in 2005. They would corner women protesters, rip off their clothes, fondle them, and then announce to everyone that these women were now "used sluts." A very close friend of mine was one of the women fondled and later interviewed on CNN. You can probably find it archived if you're interested. Point is, the Thugs have been around for years, doing the things that allow the regime to claim a need for emergency law.
But you don't need to go that far back to see what the thugs do. Many reports on the ground currently claim that the thugs are setting fires to cars, looting, and causing general mayhem, allowing the regime to blame it on the protesters. See this blog for some details: http://inanities.org/.
Another note about the protesters – these are NOT the Islamists. They are not the Brotherhood. They are representative of all the people of Egypt. Or, I should say, the people of Northern Egypt. For some reason – and I neither know why nor have I found anyone writing about it – the protests haven't spread south. It is a leaderless protest for the most part – meaning there are some natural leaders of the opposition, such as el-Baradei. But el-Baradei smartly said, when he returned Thursday, that he was there as an ordinary citizen and not to lead. Ayman Nour, the last prominent opponent of Mubarak's (see articles about the 2005 elections – www.merip.org is a good place to start) was smashed in the back of his head yesterday and is in the hospital in critical condition. No one knows his update. See also a really interesting article that just came out about why this is NOT an Islamic revolution:
Returning to the protesters, equating them with the regime's violence is wrong and dangerous. It allows for a continuation of the notion of Arabs as violent and irrational. The protests have been for the most part violence-free and the protesters are loudly chanting that they are there for peaceful purposes. Equating the regime and the protests is one of many mistakes – serious, dangerous mistakes in my opinion – of the American government. See the analysis I've attached below for more information. It is worth noting that during the burning of the National Democratic Party headquarters threatened the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities last night, throngs of Egyptians protected it, putting their bodies between the museum and fires and the museum and would-be looters.
Speaking of the Brotherhood, although they joined Friday, they are clearly NOT in charge. Their chants weren't heard, 350 of their leadership was arrested before the protests began. They are the best-organized opposition, but they aren't the only one. And they certainly are but a fraction of what we see going on in the streets. I don't believe that they will be able to simply take over Egypt in the event of a vacuum – for starters; they have no relationship with the military. But I also don't believe they are an ultimate evil. (Merip also has a series of wonderful articles on the Brotherhood by Samer Shahata and Joshua Stacher dating from a few years back – again, itswww.merip.org).
The latest news, by the way, as of 8am EST is that some of the police have entered the political prisons where the Brotherhood leaders are being held and have started to shoot randomly. Its thought that between 40-70 are dead, but this is unconfirmed.
And speaking of the US, I believe that our government is on the side of wrong here. Standing with the regime delegitimizes anything America may want from the Arab world in the future and further delegitimizes America in the eyes of many Arab citizens. Telling the protesters that they have a fundamental right to twitter – and that they have the fundamental right to twitter complaints about their dictator – is not an answer from our administration. We don't know what's going on behind the scenes, of course, but perception is a large part of any political battle – and the Obama administration has certainly lost the perception battle in this one. See the merip article attached below for more on this. However, it is worth noting that Marc Lynch, a preeminent analyst at Foreign Policy, thinks the administration is doing a great job on the policy/governance/government level. You can read his latest analysis, "Obama's handling Egypt Pretty Well," at
A note about Israel, as well - the assumption that keeping 80 million people under a "state of emergency" with no civil or political rights for 30 years will keep Israel safer suggests that some people are less equal, or less human. It may be rationalized as a harsh realist stance, but it is a counterproductive one. Not only do I politically disagree, but also I think it's an untenable solution. Those who approach the Middle East from the point of view of what's good for Israel should be focused on democracy and freedom for all peoples. And this is not a revolt about Israel. It's about Egypt alone.
As of now, reports have at least 50,000 people in Midan Tahrir. There are still protests in Alexandria, Suez and several other cities despite a 4pm curfew (9am EST) throughout the country. The business leadership (whatever that means) has left the country on private jets. Gamal Mubarak's closest confidante has quit the National Democratic Party. Mubarak's shallow, arrogant, irrelevant offer to force a puppet government to resign and replace it with a new puppet government has been rejected by all but the US administration (publicly – again, who knows what is happening privately). People apparently literally laughed at it – well, Egyptians have always been known for their sense of humor! (Joke that went around yesterday: Why was the speech by Mubarak so delayed? He sent an aide out for more black hair dye and the aide joined the protests). Omar Suleiman is the new Vice President but is thought of as a regime man. Ahmed Shafiq is the new Prime Minister. We haven't see
of this one; that was just the end of the beginning of this revolution in my estimation.
So I hope this helps. I have written this quickly and apologize for any ambiguity or unanswered questions – please let me know if you have any more questions or what your thoughts/reactions to Egypt are. Unfortunately I can't spend another day watching only al-Jazeera and twitter as I have to get some other work done (lectures about the Ottoman Empire unfortunately don't write themselves), but I will try to get back to you asap.
I want to leave by saying that I am so incredibly proud of the courageous people of Egypt. I don't think it's easy for us as Americans to understand protests like this – our lives have simply been too cushy and lucky from the get-go. I am exhilarated and scared, wanting to cry with joy and throw up with fear. I have been calling and emailing my representative, senators, the President and Secretary Clinton repeatedly. I hope you will, too.
White House: 202-456-1111 (whitehouse.gov – click "contact us")
Secretary of State: 202-647-4000
Overviews of Jan 28th:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (The Guardian has been amazing. See the audio from their correspondent, Jack Shenker, from Jan 25th. Shenker was arrested and beaten and managed to get most of the long ride in the police van and subsequent escape on his Dictaphone.)
And of course www.nytimes.com - (the NYTimes has been very good as well, considering. Look for articles with either a byline or reporting by Liam Stack). I happen to especially like this one:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/world/middleeast/29alexandria.html (I appreciate the father's explanation of why he is protesting).
Very important piece about the administration:
Another good commentary on Biden:
And speaking of Foreign Policy, I would watch for commentaries from Blake Hounshell and Marc Lynch. Both are very good.
Videos of Jan 25th and 28th:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHBzdLSneDc (the boy is yelling a very popular chant – one that I have heard countless times – which rhymes in Arabic and translates to: Freedom, Freedom, Where are you? Where are you? Hosni Mubarak is between you and me)
http://www.euronews.net/2011/01/25/from-tiananmen-square-to-cairo/ This has been called the Tiananmen Square moment – men taking the water cannon for themselves to try to stop the truck. It's from Jan 25th.
Finally, for the best continual coverage, try Al Jazeera English live on line. No one can touch them on this one – this is their moment in news-speak.
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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