Skip to content

The Forces Behind the Revolution in Egypt

Who gets the most credit for toppling Mubarak? And who will be blamed if the revolution turns nasty in the next 12 months? Who inspired the events that could change history like the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the Islamic Revolution in 1979?

Facebook? Twitter? Rising food prices? The "liberation" of Iraq? George W. Bush? David Hasselhoff? The Egyptian Army? The youth groups of the opposition parties? The Tahrir square campers? Or the tragic narratives of the two individuals Khaled Said from Alexandria or Mohammed Bouazizi from Ben Arous?

1. The BBC has a great image of "the camp that toppled a president."

2. Interestingly, the Boston Globe, often described as very liberal, gives George W. Bush some credit. A program to fund and train election monitors in Egypt "played a key role in the movement to topple President Hosni Mubarak's regime":

The program, which provided millions in direct funding to prodemocracy groups, helped dispatch 13,000 volunteers to observe Egypt's parliamentary elections in December. Thousands of those monitors, angered by what they said was blatant election rigging, joined the protests. Some became outspoken leaders; others used the networking and communication skills they learned to help coordinate 18 days of rallies. (...)

When Obama took office, his administration halved the amount of money available for democracy funding in Egypt, to $20 million in 2008, and allowed Egypt to have a veto again over some funds. Donna Woolf, spokeswoman for the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative, blamed the difficult budget environment for the cut. But she said the Obama administration funneled more money to independent groups than Bush, with $2.6 million directly funding groups that don't have the Egyptian government's permission to operate.

It's a good article, but a bit short on specifics about how the elections monitors contributed exactly to the uprising.

Moreover, the elections ended on December 5, 2010, but the protests only started on January 25, 2011. While the monitoring training was hopefully useful, it was not the rigged elections that inspired the uprising in Egypt. Rather it was the revolution in Tunisia.
 

3. The trigger for both revolutions can be traced to two individuals, writes Vikash Yada very convincingly in the Duck of Minerva blog:

The outrage that started the January 25th revolution in Egypt was the brutal death of a 28 year old Alexandrian businessman, Khaled Said on the 6th of June last year; and the self-immolation of the 26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi in December started the Sidi Bouzid revolution in Tunisia.

The narratives of both men revolve around difficulties at the hands of arrogant and corrupt police officers. In the case of Khaled Said, he refused to show his identification to police in a cafe as they did not have the right to make such a demand and he knew it was only a ruse to get a bribe. (Anyone who has lived in Cairo long enough has encountered this scenario). The police responded to Said's defiance by hauling him out of the cafe, and as he pleaded for his life, the police beat him to death over the course of twenty minutes. The Egyptian government attempted to explain the death of Khaled Said by discrediting his reputation and claiming that he died of asphyxiation from trying to swallow a bag of marijuana. The circulation of graphic photos of Said's dead body made it plainly evident that he had died in the most horrible manner. It should not be surprising then that the protests which erupted under the banner "We are all Khaled Said" occurred on January 25th which was declared National Police Day in Egypt in 2009.

In Tunisia, Bouazizi had his only means of supporting a family of eight, an illegal fruit cart, seized by the police, who also apparently insulted him. Unable to bribe the police or gain an audience from a local magistrate and upset at the fine he had to pay to recover his fruit cart, the young man set himself on fire in protest on December 17th and died on January 4th.

While these events would not have garnered the same level of attention as quickly without social media and satellite television and the protests would not have been as successful without shrewd street-level organizing as well as serious miscalculations about the political economy of violence by riot police, what interests me is why these two particular deaths, among hundreds of citizens in both countries who had been killed/tortured by regime thugs over the years or who killed themselves, created such waves of sympathy and outrage which could be mobilized by protest organizers.

I would argue that what these two exemplified were educated individuals reduced to bare life or to the essence of humanity. They were both young men who could not be deemed a security threat or even politically active; they could only be seen as victims by their countrymen. In fact they came to stand in for the frustrated economic hopes of a new generation living under abusive, Western backed, authoritarian regimes. 

The death of these two young men had a larger impact on the Egyptians and Tunisians than the multi-billion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 
4.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article about "The Secret Rally That Sparked an Uprising: Cairo Protest Organizers Describe Ruses Used to Gain Foothold Against Police; the Candy-Store Meet That Wasn't on Facebook"

On Jan. 25, the first day of protests, the organizers from the youth wings of Egypt's opposition movements created what appeared to be a spontaneous massing of residents of the slum of Bulaq al-Dakrour, on Cairo's western edge. These demonstrators weren't, as the popular narrative has held, educated youth who learned about protests on the Internet. They were instead poor residents who filled a maze of muddy, narrow alleyways, massed in front of a neighborhood candy store and caught security forces flatfooted.

That protest was anything but spontaneous. How the organizers pulled it off, when so many past efforts had failed, has had people scratching their heads since.

The WSJ explains in detail how youth groups announced protests starting from 20 sites, but secretly planned another march from a 21st site at Hayiss Sweet shop:

On Jan. 25, security forces predictably deployed by the thousands at each of the announced demonstration sites. Meanwhile, four field commanders chosen from the organizers' committee began dispatching activists in cells of 10. To boost secrecy, only one person per cell knew their destination.

In these small groups, the protesters advanced toward the Hayiss Sweet Shop, massing into a crowd of 300 demonstrators free from police control. The lack of security prompted neighborhood residents to stream by the hundreds out of the neighborhood's cramped alleyways, swelling the crowd into the thousands, say sweet-shop employees who watched the scene unfold.

At 1:15 p.m., they began marching toward downtown Cairo. By the time police redeployed a small contingent to block their path, the protesters' ranks had grown enough to easily overpower them. The other marches organized at mosques around the city failed to reach Tahrir Square, their efforts foiled by riot-police cordons. The Bulaq al-Dakrour marchers, the only group to reach their objective, occupied Tahrir Square for several hours until after midnight, when police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.It was the first time Egyptians had seen such a demonstration in their streets, and it provided a spark credited with emboldening tens of thousands of people to come out to protest the following Friday.

 
5. Television was important as well
, especially considering how few Egyptians have internet access. I agree with Nick Kristof writing in the NYT that Al Jazeera "played a greater role in promoting democracy in the Arab world than anything the United States did." And more importantly, the  good news is: "Egyptians have demonstrated the power of nonviolence in a way that undermines the entire extremist narrative."

 
6.
NATO videos about rising food prices, which is one of the underlying socio-economic reasons for the uprising.


7. Considering that David Hasselhoff is on tour again, he might get the credit as well. As he did in
Berlin in 1989. ;-) Actually, I like this music video from Tahrir Square
much better: "We're dreaming our dreams and tomorrow is coming and it's ahead of us. In every street in my country, freedom, we lift our heads to the sky, and the most important thing is our rights."

 
8.
Oh, but the true force behind the revolution is Sarah Palin, because the date of the revolution is a
palindrome in the European writing: 11022011 (11 February 2011). That can't be a coincidence. ;-) A friend on Facebook added the Free Masons to this conspiracy theory: "On the 30th day after the Fall of Ben Ali, the last Pharao of Egypt ends his 30-year old rule in the land of the first masonic Masters. This happens 5,000 years after Egyptian unification! (...) The Revolution came exactly 32 years after the Fall of the Shah of Persia...Phe palindrom results in 33 counting the digits...33 is the highest Order in Masonry."

Trackbacks

No Trackbacks

Comments

Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Marie Claude on :

and the results? still the army rules Egypt, in the meanwhile expecting new elections when Muslim Brotherhood will get its part, and still food prices are the main worry !

David on :

One hero in the revolution who stands out is the Google employee Wael Ghonim, He created the Facebook page "We Are All Khaled Said" which became a rallying point.

John in Michigan, US on :

Also, after he was released, he put himself at significant personal risk going back to Tahrir Square. Credit is due. The speculation has already begun regarding if he'll be admitted back into Dubai (probably) and, if so, what kind of official reception he and Google will find waiting...Dubai's monarchy is supposed to be progressive (relatively speaking), but I imagine this will be a test. Will anything be said about Dubai's wage-slave labor system? I hope so. Apparently, he'd prefer that we avoid any conclusions about Google's evilness or lack thereof :-) [quote="Wael Ghonim re Google"]"They did not know anything about this and actually when I took the time off and I went to Cairo, they did not know I was going to the protest," he said. "But when everything became public, I talked with the company and they suggested that I take a leave of absence and I also suggested that to them and I think it was a good decision for that. Google has nothing to do with this." Asked whether he planned to return to the office, Ghonim said that he'd be honored to return to Google "if I'm not fired."[/quote] [url=http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20031664-38.html]Source[/url]

John in Michigan, US on :

Nice catch on the palindrome!

Marie Claude on :

get inspecteur Clouseau to investigate where he hided his banks accounts "EGYPT: Pharaoh Fixes his Fortune" http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=54538

John in Michigan, US on :

Where were these stories when Saddam was looting the Treasury on his way to his spider hole hide-out? Supposedly, at one point he (or Qusay, or Uday, before we killed them) drove an 18-wheel semi truck to the loading bay of the Ministry of Finance, used a fork life to fill it with about $ 1 billion USD, and drove away. Endless articles on US corruption in Iraq (which did exist) but hardly one (outside conservative media outlets) on Saddam's massive, decades-long corruption. A [url=http://www.google.com/search?q=Saddam+site%3Aipsnews.net&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a]brief search[/url] of your IPS New source suggests they gave Saddam an easy time. But maybe that's just what their audience demands. I can't figure out who IPS news is, anyways. Perhaps I would look more kindly upon them, if their address were posted as a link, instead of just text. I guess we can thank Mubarak for making it possible to talk about the massive Middle Eastern/Arab/"Muslim" culture of corruption, without being called racists.

Marie Claude on :

IPS about: IPS is an international news agency that produces news features and analyses about development, the environment and rights. The news agency has a strong focus on developing countries, emerging economies and South-South co-operation. and the US rank 20 http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2010,1034.html not talking of France's, that's why I surf on the net

Marie Claude on :

Mubarak moves vast assets from Europe to Saudi Arabia http://www.debka.com/article/20666/

Marie Claude on :

'Mubarak is the richest person in world' "London: Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, reportedly ailing with cancer may be the richest man in the world, with his wealth estimated to be a staggering USD 70 billion." http://www.zeenews.com/news691392.html

Pat Patterson on :

All those links claim their source is The Guardian but do not provide a link to the newspaper. Problem solved in that The Guardian did not print such an article.

Marie Claude on :

"Mubarak's wealth comes from offshore accounts deposited in secret bank accounts or invested in luxury homes and hotels, according to 'The Guardian'. " is it that is worrying you? easy to find out http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/04/hosni-mubarak-family-fortune problem solved in that Patterson tried to demonstrate how much more intelligent he is

Pat Patterson on :

Would it have been that hard to link to the original anonymously sourced article in the first place?

Marie Claude on :

I'm not the journalist that made the article, but you could have made the verif yourself if you hadn't the intention to default me before

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.
CAPTCHA

Form options