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."