‘Jasmine revolution’ rocks Egypt

Egypt protests.jpg

Unprecedented protests demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule took place in Egypt's capital Cairo yesterday (25 January). Demonstrators said they were inspired by the recent uprising in Tunisia.

Calm returned to the streets of Cairo today after police detained up to 200 protestors and authorities banned further demonstrations with stern warnings.

"No provocative moves, protest gatherings, marches or demonstrations will be allowed," the ministry said in a statement, quoted by AFP.

"Legal measures will be taken against anyone [in contravention] and they will be transferred to the prosecution," the statement continued.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon in the early hours of Wednesday to disperse protesters who occupied the Egyptian capital's central Tahrir Square into the night.

The streets were mostly back to normal by morning, with some shops shut but traffic flowing.

Two protesters and one policeman were killed in clashes and protests that erupted on Tuesday in several Egyptian cities, where demonstrators angry at poverty and repression have been inspired by this month's downfall of the leader of Tunisia.

Opposition group the Sixth of April Youth Movement called on its Facebook page for protests to continue on Wednesday "and after tomorrow, until Mubarak's departure".

Security forces said protesters would not be permitted to reassemble. A Reuters witness saw at least 10 riot trucks leave a Cairo army base mid-morning.

"Change must happen. It must," said a butcher in central Cairo who asked to be identified simply as "an Egyptian". "That's life – the old go and the young come with new ideas."

Police took back control of Tahrir Square by dawn after sporadic clashes through the night. Demonstrators had taken over major roads and blocked traffic across the capital.

"Down, Down Hosni Mubarak!" protesters chanted after fleeing from the square in the early hours of the morning. Some threw stones at police, who charged them with batons to prevent the protesters returning to the square after it was cleared by using tear gas.

"Bullies!" fleeing protesters shouted. Others cried: "You are not men!" Police sprayed protesters with water cannons and moved in rows into the square.

Twitter, the Internet messaging service that has been one of the main methods used by demonstrators to organise, said it had been blocked in Egypt. In a message, the company wrote: "We believe that the open exchange of info & views benefits societies & helps govts better connect w/ their people."

Demonstrators on Tuesday tore up pictures of the president and his son, Gamal, who many Egyptians say is being groomed for office. Both Gamal and his father deny any such plan.

As cleaners swept the last debris from central Cairo's streets, state newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm arrived at newsstands with a red, one-word headline: "Warning."

"The difference is great between freedom of expression and chaos," Safwat el-Sherif, secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party, told state newspaper al-Akhbar.

'Day of wrath'

"Tomorrow, don't go to work. Don't go to college. We will all go down to the streets and stand hand in hand for you our Egypt. We will be millions," wrote one activist on Facebook.

A government source said ministers had been told to ensure staff returned to work on Wednesday and did not join protests.

Web activists, who called for Tuesday's "Day of Wrath" against poverty and repression, have become some of the most vociferous critics of Mubarak and his three decades in office.

Their complaints echo those of fellow Arabs in Tunisia: soaring food prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rule that usually crushes protests swiftly and with a heavy hand.

Tuesday's demonstrations brought many thousands onto the streets of Cairo and several other cities in a coordinated wave of anti-government protests not witnessed since Mubarak came to office in 1981 after Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.

The population is growing at a rate of 2% a year and has a "youth bulge". 60% of Egyptians are under 30 years old, 90% of whom are jobless. About 40% of citizens live on less than $2 a day and a third are illiterate.

Demands by the protesters were posted on Facebook and passed around Tahrir Square on slips of paper before police moved in.

They included calling for Mubarak to step down, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to quit, parliament to be dissolved and the formation of a national government. A union activist repeated the demands to the crowd in the square by megaphone.

Protests on Tuesday also erupted in Alexandria, cities across the Nile Delta and in Suez and Ismailia, east of Cairo.

Two protesters in Suez were killed by rubber bullets, security and medical sources said. State media said 102 members of the security forces were injured and one policeman died in Cairo because of a blow to the head from a stone that was thrown. Lawyers said dozens of demonstrators were detained.

The ministry blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for rioting that took place, although the banned Islamist group has only played a small part in protests. The group has even drawn the anger of its own youth members, who say they have not been proactive enough.

Analysts say protests in Tunisia and developments across the region have made the claims of many Arab autocrats that they stand as bulwarks against Islamist radicals sweeping to power seem hollow.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Asked by EURACTIV for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton's view on the similarities with recent protests in Tunisia, her spokesperson Maja Kociancic said Ashton was closely following the demonstrations, which are ''a signal of the yearnings of many Egyptians in the wake of events in Tunisia''.

''We call on the Egyptian authorities to respect and protect the right of citizens to manifest their political aspirations by means of peaceful demonstrations and to take not of their legitimate wish for political action to deal with the problems that are affecting their daily lives,'' she added.

Washington, a close ally and major donor, called for restraint. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak's government was stable and seeking ways to meet Egyptians' needs.

"The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper," a White House statement said.

The below reactions come from ordinary people, activists and analysts from across the Arab world and were compiled by Reuters news agency. Some asked not to be named or for just their first names be used for fear of official reprisals.

Nidhal Chemengui, 24, a Tunisian blogger and activist, said: "We still hear helicopters prowling. There is still gunfire in all the regions of Tunisia. We hope our freedom of expression will be respected and that the dignity of each citizen will be guaranteed [...] Our voice begins to be heard [...] But this is only the start. I therefore appeal to all Tunisians, choose your new president well."

Saad Djebbar, an Algerian lawyer and political analyst, said "the problem with Ben Ali was that he was so arrogant that he undermined his own power base, alienating supporters in the party and in the business community. All his power and wealth became concentrated in the family".

Abdelrahman Mansour, 23, an Egyptian political activist, said "Egypt is a good candidate for a similar revolt. Conditions here are far worse than in Tunisia. Egyptians cannot continue living like this."

Hamdy Hassan, a spokesman for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, said: 

"We warn and continue to warn of an explosion taking place that would impact all (Arab) countries as is happening today in Tunisia. But when will it happen? No-one knows. No one knew when the explosion would happen in Tunisia [...] [It is] a bad omen for other leaders. I think each one now is either preparing his plane or his accounts, and is preparing also a tighter security grip than what is present to try and protect his position."

A prominent Jordanian politician who wished to remain unnamed said: "The old methods of oppressing people are ending. The writing is on the wall, either you open up or you implode."

Abu Mohamed, 60, an Egyptian fruit vendor, said: "The Tunisians are brave but what they did would never happen here. Egyptians are poor and don't like to make trouble. Yes, I wish things would change."

Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowments's Middle East Centre in Beirut said:

"This is going to be quite inspiring for people who live in similar conditions. It really is an indication of how weak authoritarian regimes really are. It just took Tunisians three weeks from December to today to get rid of him, and they got rid of him. This really does away with the aura of strong autocratic rulers [...] Objectively we are looking at the same ingredients in Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan. Whether it will happen is another issue."

Mohamed, 31, an Egyptian taxi driver, said: "Perhaps it could be repeated here because of the pressure people are under. There's overcrowding, life is more expensive and what people earn is not enough. Egyptians tend to say 'Thanks be to God' for whatever they get, but maybe they will say it is enough. If you go outside parliament, you see people demonstrating for better pay. It's like a small revolution."

Hossam Hamalawy, an Egyptian blogger and activist, said: 

"It is enough just to log online to see all the Twitter, Facebook users here in Egypt to see or feel the jubilance or joy, but again those on the Internet are not necessarily those on the streets [...] I am sure this will inspire ordinary people, as well as activists of course, into action. What happened in Tunisia [...] I am dead sure that it will replicate itself throughout the region here."

Ahmed Mansoor, an activist in the United Arab Emirates, said: "The legend of the dictatorships and the time it takes to remove them is not the same any more. It doesn't require armed forces. It took people to go and demonstrate on the streets. It shows how people can throw out those governments ... The potential countries for something like this to happen are Algeria and Egypt.

Hayam, 29, an Egyptian accountant, said: 

"The revolution of the people there is similar to things happening here so people are scared that what's happening there will happen here [...] I think that here the government has more control over people's freedoms [...] When a protest happens here, you find them [police] at the place and surrounding them, people don't just walk anywhere and protest."

Events in Cairo appear to emulate Tunisia's 'jasmine revolution'. On 14 January, angry Tunisians ousted authoritarian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after more than 23 years in power. A week later, Algerian opposition supporters clashed with police in the country's capital. Several people were injured.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has ruled his country with a iron fist for three decades.

Mubarak, 82, has no designated successor. This has fuelled speculation that he is grooming his son, who was the target of criticism by many of Tuesday's protesters.

Here are some facts about Mubarak:

  • He was thrust into office when Islamists gunned down his predecessor Anwar Sadat at a military parade in 1981. The burly former air force commander has proved a far more durable leader than anyone imagined at the time.
  • Mubarak has long promoted peace abroad and more recently backed economic reforms at home led by his cabinet under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. But he has always kept a tight lid on political opposition.
  • He has resisted any significant political change even under pressure from the United States, which has poured billions of dollars of military and other aid into Egypt since it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, signing a treaty in 1979.
  • Mubarak won the first multi-candidate presidential election in 2005 although the outcome was never in doubt and his main rival came a distant second. Rights groups and observers said the election was marred by irregularities.
  • He has not said whether he will run for a sixth six-year term in 2011. Officials have indicated he probably will if he can, although questions about his health after surgery in Germany in March make this a constant subject of debate.

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