Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Egypt to express their opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and the nation’s current economic situation. The situation in Egypt comes as many countries in North Africa and the Middle East, including Tunisia and Yemen, are also facing uprisings.
The unrest in Egypt has manifested for several key reasons. At the center of the protest is opposition to President Mubarak, who has led the country since 1981 after President Anwar El-Sadat was assassinated. Egyptians have grown increasingly frustrated with Mubarak’s regime, which has been marked by corruption and rights violations.
Egypt’s economic situation has also fueled the flames of discontent. As are many nations, Egypt is struggling with widespread unemployment and economic hardship. The country’s economic troubles, paired with dissatisfaction toward Mubarak’s presidency have roused the masses to take to the streets.
The outbreak of protests in Egypt has been marked by a uniquely 21st century characteristic. Much of the organization took place over social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. A Facebook group called “We are All Khaled Said,” named after an activist who was killed in Alexandria following an incident of police brutality last year, has amassed over 80,000 members. Many are crediting the group’s activity to the initial onset of protests. The group, run by the April 6 Movement, has advertised plans for another protest set to take place following Friday’s weekly prayers.
The use of social media in the protests bears some similarities to the protests that followed the contested elections in Iran last summer. As the protests grew, many used social media as a way to spread information. Egypt’s opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, has used Twitter to send messages of encouragement to his supporters.
The situation in Egypt bears another resemblance to Iran’s protest, as the government has allegedly attempted to block citizens from some social media platforms. As of Thursday, government blocks of Blackberry Internet Service, Facebook and Twitter have been reported.
On the eve of the planned Friday protests, ElBaradei has returned to the country and announced that he will join in the demonstration, stating that the time has come for Mubarak’s regime to listen to its citizens. ElBaradei has made clear his commitment to non-violent means of protest. The Muslim Brotherhood , a banned opposition group, has also called for its supporters to join the protest on Friday.
In an interview on Thursday, President Obama voiced his support for Mubarak as an ally, but noted that the president should consider reforms. Obama also urged for the freedom of Egyptians to protest in a peaceful manner.
Whether or not Egypt will enter into a state of political upheaval is not yet clear. Although opposition leader ElBaradei has publicly communicated his support of the protesters, he is not considered the figurehead of the multi-faceted movement. Without a clear leader, the demonstrations may not be strong enough to unseat Mubarak from his 30-year reign. It is also unlikely that the Egyptian army would become involved in the protests, as they have historically played an apolitical role in times of national unrest.
No matter the outcome of the demonstrations, the eyes of the Arab world are on Egypt. Geopolitically, Egypt serves as a bridge between the predominately Muslim areas of North Africa and the Middle East. As such, much of what happens in Egypt has repercussions on the Arab world.
The protests are also indicative of what the future holds for political dissent. In Egypt, the internet and social media have once again proven themselves as highly effective tools in the organization of political protest.
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