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Egypt following in Tunisia’s footsteps

February 3rd, 2011

An anti-government protester wears face paint in the colors of the Egyptian flag during the continuing demonstration in Tahrir square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 1. (AP)

Egypt President Hosni Mubarak is a man with an incredible knack for survival. In his 30-year rule of the country, Mubarak has faced five assassination attempts and lived through all of them. But this time, it is not an ambush of his motorcade or a sniper’s bullets that are coming at him. It is the pressure of demonstrators that threatens to curtail the longevity of his tenure.

Buoyed by Tunisians who ousted their president, and aided by the wonders of the Internet as a tool for mobilization, Egyptian youth took to the streets for the “day of revolt” on Jan. 25.

Paul Hanna, an Egyptian native who is the son of a retired Egyptian air force officer and a sophomore political science major at John Carroll University, cites unemployment, high food prices, humiliation and corruption as reasons behind the protests. His views correspond with scenes in Cairo’s Liberation Square, where a demonstrator held aloft his college degree and wore a T-shirt that read “jobless.”

At times, the protests have appeared as a struggle between the Egyptian minority upper class and the populous lower class, most of whom live on less than $2 a day. Demonstrators have looted shops and invaded the posh neighborhoods at times.

Mubarak responded earlier last week by sacking his entire government and then appointed General Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice president.  Nevertheless, Mubarak’s allies were reappointed and continue to occupy the foreign, defense and information ministries. The latter ministry has been largely responsible for the disruption of Internet and cell phone services that have characterized the protest period. Egypt’s most powerful opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was reluctant to join the protests at first but has since come around.

“The Muslim Brotherhood distanced itself from the protests at first because it is an outlawed group. If it had been involved from the onset, the government would have cracked down heavily on the demonstrators,” Hanna said.

The opposition groups have endorsed Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate with the government. ElBaradei is also believed to be in talks with the army in a bid to see through Mubarak’s departure from office. The army, which has been deployed in the region surrounding the Liberation Square, has pledged not to clash with protestors.

The effects of the Egyptian revolt are not confined to the state’s boundaries: oil prices have been rising all over the world as a result of the paralysis of the Egyptian economy and an anxious Israel, which counts Egypt as one of its only allies in the Middle East, is keeping a keen eye on developments in Cairo. Other nations, especially the United States, have been measured when addressing the Egypt situation. Their dilemma has been how to reconcile the Egyptians’ quest for change and the possibility of an anti-western regime assuming power.

“Change is good,” said Hanna. “But sudden change could result in chaos and instability.”

Hanna hopes that the government stays in place until September when elections are slated.

“In the intervening time, the masses should push the government to enact institutional reforms and prepare a leader who will be suitable for Egypt’s democratic future,” he said.

Only time will tell whether Egyptians wait for September to topple their government through the ballot box or settle for nothing less than Mubarak leaving office in the more immediate future.

If Tuesday’s mass protests and the declaration of tomorrow as the “Friday of Departure” for Mubarak are any indication, Egyptians will not wait until September.