By Christopher J. McCoy
A revolution is taking place in Egypt. The long-standing discontent towards a government perceived by its people as corrupt and ineffective has finally boiled over and spilled out onto the streets. Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook were being used to organize citizens en masse and spread news, prompting President’s Hosni Mubarak’s regime—which has consolidated power in Egypt for three decades—to shut down all internet and cell phone communication, the first such Internet blackout in history.
All throughout Egypt, police forces are using rubber bullets, live ammunition, water cannons and tear gas against demonstrators who are walking the streets in record numbers demanding their rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to vote democratically in fair elections.
Revolutions are nothing new to Egyptians—their country was founded from the ashes of one. In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser and a team of mid-level military members staged a coup that birthed what is today the National Republic of Egypt. Nasser became the second President of Egypt in 1956 and rose as a leader in the Arab world, working to created the Non-Aligned Movement and fostering a pan-Arab identity across the region. After Nasser’s death, Anwar el-Sadat led Egypt through the age of capitalism by implementing an “infitah policy,” which raised prices and opened Egypt to free markets. Assassinated by Islamist factions because of his Camp David peace agreement with Israel, al-Sadat was replaced in 1981 by current President Hosni Mubarak, who has been ruling ever since from a distant but dictatorial perch over the land.
The recent democratic upheaval in Tunisia is believed to have spurred the raucous bursts of passion and protest in both Egypt and Yemen. For 23 years, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali held down a down a regime that many citizens viewed as repressive and backwards. After botched elections, Ben Ali was forced to flee the country, and previously jailed bloggers are now becoming heads of state. The turn in Tunisia is viewed to as a victory for democracy in the Arab world.
Egyptians quickly followed suit with their North African counterparts. Tens of thousands marched the streets, burning posters of Mubarak, who is now seeking his sixth six-year term in the country’s most powerful post. Marchers are taking to the streets in record numbers, and tanks are quick to greet them.
What may result in Egypt is either a regime change or the slamming of the regime’s iron fist upon dissenters. Even if Mubarak is overthrown, as many Egyptians hope and expect, the question remains—who will succeed him? Many expect that his son and current head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Gamal Mubarak, will take the reins from his father. Due to his lack of military ties, his ascension to the presidency may cause a fallout with military leaders and result in a military coup. Another possible successor is Omar Suleiman, the national director of intelligence who Mubarak appointed Vice President on Friday, January 28, 2011. If Suleiman takes the reigns of power, military might is likely to prevail.
President Barack Obama and his administration are walking a diplomatic tight rope with Egypt. If he dares to call Mubarak a dictator or denounce the regime harshly in public, there may be major repercussions should Mubarak hold on to power and still be needed as a strong ally in the region. In light of the current social and political circumstances, President Obama is under pressure to promote social stability and human rights in Egypt. While his speech in Cairo last June and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s statements regarding the importance of human rights on her recent trip to Egypt was significant, the common sentiment is that more needs to be done.
It would be a grave loss to American interests and to the progress of peace in the Middle East if the situation in Egypt should deteriorate further. By investing in human rights and social stability in Egypt, the U.S. would be investing in the peace and stability of the region, because no other country holds such geo-political power there.
Photos courtesy of Sarah Carr and Steve Rhode.
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