“Flowers and chocolates” is what the state sponsored “Al Ahram” newspaper reported on the 25th of January 2011. Headlines discussing the jubilant patriotic sentiments of the ordinary Egyptian citizens regarding “Police Day”, a national holiday annually celebrated by the Egyptian “Republic”. This was yet another manifestation of the government desire to ignore the people publicly, hoping they would go away, but when more than quarter of a million Egyptians took their grievances to the street denial was no longer possible. There was something different about the protests in Egypt on the 25th; they were no longer calling for reform or chanting against Mubarak’s subordinates. The protesters now were asking for revolution, not the resignation of the Prime Minister, but for Mubarak to leave.
It comes as a shock to foreign eyes how a corrupt and unanimously despised regime could last for thirty years. To understand this one must examine intimately the psyche of the Egyptian masses and how Hosni Mubarak was able to almost control it. After the death of Anwar El Sadat, a state of emergency controlled the country. Hosni Mubarak, Sadat’s vice president, took control as a transitional leader promising elections once the state of emergency was over. Of course, in the name of emergency, his reign began with a violent clamp down and arrests of the general undesirables, on whom he first used his infamous and sadistic torture techniques. Unlike his predecessors, however, he did not make long tedious speeches. He spoke in the parliament from time to time but never directly to the people. Elections in Egypt from then were in referendum form, yes to Mubarak or no to Mubarak (of course no one knew what would happen if a “no” was voted).
Torture in Egyptian prisons is almost a tradition. What Mubarak’s government was able to do by random arrests was to spread a phobia. People don’t talk because “the walls have ears” (an old Arab saying). Mubarak was able to create a legendary image of himself as a brute that strikes terror. So by successfully implanting a faulty image into the minds of the older generation, the older generation passed it on to their children and so on… The image of the non-ageing leader, whose image overlooks everything, created a cult of terror (for some people more than others). The crucial mistake Mubarak made was that he did not understand the significance of a change in generation and that the cult of fear can only remain for so long. The excesses of the party members have been beyond belief and all too obvious for everyone to see. The businessman in the NDP, who had two ferries and overloaded them with people to make quick profit, was acquitted when his ferries sank killing over 2000 people. Another businessman in the NDP who monopolies the steel industry caused the massive housing shortage in Egypt today. Party businessmen who buy privatized factories and lay the workers off. All this created unorganized discontent among the masses which manifested itself in protests strong enough to land many in Mubarak’s dungeons, but not to reform his regime.
The Tunisian Revolution was the most unexpected thing to happen in the Arab World for a very long time. The outcome was demolishing the fear barrier. In Egypt, the fear barrier was almost broken but there was no hope. Even I, I can honestly say, did not believe in the power of the Egyptian people. Revolutionary activists in Egypt before the Tunisian Revolution believed that they were sowing the seeds of a revolution that their children will reap. The general feeling of pessimism was very strong. When Ben Ali boarded the plane to find no country would take him, the Arabs saw their leaders for what they really were. The Arab leaders hide behind an army of guns but when that’s gone, they are absolute cowards. That’s when the fear barrier was shattered and the people became hopeful again.
On the 26th of January there were more than 5,000 protesters, males and females, occupying the streets of Cairo overnight. Tremendous gestures of solidarity were displayed by the weakest segments of society. A housewife in Mansoora on the 25th of January threw boiling water from out her window on the police. Villagers congregate in nearby towns protesting, asking not for their lands that the government has repossessed then sold to NDP businessmen, but for a complete termination of the Mubarak government and all its institutions.
What next? Even if these unprecedented protests fail, the Mubarak regime will not survive until 2012. The presidential elections are planned to take place in 2011. If Mubarak cancels these elections, this will incite so much anger that the government will not be able to contain it. If Mubarak doesn’t cancel the elections and does the usual drill, he will yet again incite anger. I believe that if the protests of the 25th of January continue with the same intensity, the police will give up. If the army is called upon very few soldiers will do what the generals say. This is mainly because they are grotesquely underpaid like the rest of the population and they foster the same hatred towards their NDP superiors as ordinary Egyptians, but they are still afraid. Then Mubarak and his family will exist only as a bloody stain in Egyptian history
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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