29 January 2011

Egypt awakes (updated)

Unsurprisingly, Mubarak's speech trying to fob off the protesters with promises of a cabinet reshuffle was a total flop. The regime has now called in the army to try to quell the uprising, and the death toll has increased considerably, now standing above 70. The protesters do not seem to be intimidated, however, and the crowds are still growing. So far the military seems to be using rubber bullets; it's unclear what would happen if it were ordered to use lethal force on a large scale. There have been many anecdotal accounts of individual soldiers and police officers expressing sympathy with the crowds.

Sadly, looting has erupted in Cairo. When this became known, hundreds of Egyptians formed a human chain to protect -- the National Museum, home to the world's largest collection of Egyptian antiquities. History is a treasured part of any nation's identity, and this must be especially true in such an ancient country as Egypt.

Some of the slogans used during the protests have emphasized Muslim-Christian solidarity against the regime, and the general absence of a militant-Islamist tone is striking and encouraging. Could it be that Egyptian society, at least, has matured beyond religious fanaticism and toward modernity? In this dramatic video, the man at the 0:45 mark even embraces atheists among those who must demand their rights:

Incidentally, reports usually state that 10% of Egypt's population is Christian; this is the regime's own official figure. In reality, the proportion is probably much larger. In academia I saw estimates as high as 25%. Egypt may be more properly described as a land of two religions than as a Muslim country with a Christian minority.

Al-Jazeera, the premier Arabic-language news organization, has a page in English dedicated to reports on these dramatic events in the world's largest Arabic-speaking nation. They also have a live news stream.

You can sign an online statement of solidarity with the Egyptian people here.

Update: The rebellion is the culmination of long-simmering anger in all elements of society.

Update 2 (Sunday morning): Al-Jazeera's crawl reports military helicopters and jets in operation over Cairo; military analyst Marwan Bishara looks at the army's possible role. Interestingly, the Egyptian chief of staff was in Washington when the rebellion began. Unrest has also broken out in Sudan, Egypt's neighbor to the south.

Update 3 (Sunday evening): More on Egypt's antiquities here.

Update 4 (Monday morning): Much of the rebellion's leadership is younger than the regime they seek to topple. The recent looting and chaos may have been a Mubarak ploy. The biggest protest yet is planned for Tuesday. And could Syria be next?

Update 5 (Monday evening): The army says it won't use force against protesters.

(See here for a round-up on the Egyptian internet shut-off).


Blogger Beach Bum said...

Signed the statement and hope Mubarak decides to leave soon.

29 January, 2011 16:46  
Blogger Cyc said...

Thank you for providing the link to the statement and the continuing coverage of the situation. I had previously thought having this occur was just being overly optomistic but it seems the people really have had enough, quite good to hear that they are working to change things. And I do hope the goverment or military does not do anything stupid like use live rounds or other such tactics as I feel that will only make things bloodier, not stop what is already in motion

29 January, 2011 20:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

BB: Thanks.

Cyc: That's the nightmare scenario, isn't it. Mass shootings just might keep Mubarak in power, but let's hope he realizes it could also make the difference between him ending up like Ben Ali (in exile) and ending up like Ceau┼čescu.

29 January, 2011 23:32  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

I want to second your recommendation of Al Jazeera. They have had some really good coverage of the situation in Egypt, particularly analysis of the likely role of the military in what happens.

I'd like to say that what scares me is not who is in the majority in Egypt, but who will end up on top when the smoke clears. I'm afraid that Islamist groups, who have prepared for decades to take advantage of chaos, and who have considerable support from groups in other countries, could end up in control of the country, even if they do not represent the will of the Egyptian people.

30 January, 2011 00:01  
Blogger magpie said...

I realize it might sound secondary to some but one of the biggest concerns I have about all this is the potential theft of, and damage to, antiquities.

I'm haunted by video of the museum keeper in National Museum of Iraq weeping as desperadoes looted the place. About 50% of that has not been recovered.

30 January, 2011 00:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

GE: That danger certainly exists. It happened in Iran in 1979. Israel is understandably nervous about the possibility of an Islamist regime. I hope the Egyptians are sophisticated enough to prevent that, but we will have to wait and see.

Magpie: Looters have already destroyed two mummies in the National Museum while ransacking it for money, but the people have rallied to protect it, and worse damage seems to have been averted so far.

30 January, 2011 02:52  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I dont know much about Egypt beside's the neighbor I talk to from there, and we mostly talk about the football game's. But this thing about Mudflap (Mubarak) ... I cant believe this Guy is actually staying on ... you fire the gvmnt, but stay? My only questioning of this is ... why would this man want to stay in power at over 80 year's old, with a population that reject's his leadership even ... when he has plenty of wealth (he sure as Hell isnt poor), he can go anywhere's and live the good life and not have a thing to worry about, I mean ... it just seem's almost masochistic. But ... that's just my opinion.

30 January, 2011 05:47  
Blogger tnlib said...

Thanks, Infidel. I signed and shared on FB.

I deplore the number of deaths but I suppose this is a necessary evil with uprisings. The destruction of antiquities is unnecessary and senseless. Thank goodness there are those calmer heads trying to protect them.

How much better it would be for the country if Mubarak would just resign.

30 January, 2011 06:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It always seems strange to me that dictators in these situations cling to power so doggedly. But I suppose only a person obsessed with power would dedicate himself to becoming a dictator in the first place.

30 January, 2011 08:03  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

"The protesters are angry over the country's crushing poverty, unemployment and corruption."

I tried searching Google to find out WHY these riots have happened at this time. Beyond the small snippet above, I find overwhelming instead links about how the Egyptian riots are predicted to effect US Investments.

Egypt was receiving US foreign aid second only to our most expensive aid recipient, Israel. In a country where most live on $2 a day, where's the money going?

I have tried to find the links but one of the reasons I heard for the riots is that the cost of food has skyrocketed there.

A Sociologist once told me that when 20% of a population has nothing left to lose, there is revolution.

I see our neighbor on our southern border is falling increasingly into lawlessness in a country where the disparity between the few rich and the multitude of poor has steadily increased. This in a country which does not enjoy a similar "2nd amendment" as we do here.

I hope our richest 2% are keeping a eye on what is happening in Egypt - particularly at this time when Rand Paul and company are making noises about privatizing social security and handing us vouchers to shop for medicare replacement from private insurance companies.

30 January, 2011 12:11  
Blogger mommapolitico said...

It's been fascinating to see the wave of revolution spread - the Tunisian Tsunami, of sorts. Reminiscent of Iran's situation recently...it's going to be a matter of time before the people of these nations prevail. What that means to stability of the region at large will remain to be seen. The people Jordan, for example, might not want to continue with their peace treaty with Israel (though they're not asking for the King to step down yet)...
History before our very eyes. The revolution will be tweeted.
Great post, and thanks for the updates, Infidel.

30 January, 2011 14:58  
Blogger Ahab said...

Events in Egypt continue to stun me. Last I heard, the Egyptian government had shut down Al-Jazeera's Cairo office and ordered its staff out of the country. What is Mubarak thinking? Does he honestly think this move won't inflame the protesters even more?

With regard to Egypt's antiquities, I heard that vandals decapitated mummies in an Egyptian museum.


30 January, 2011 18:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RtS: It's fairly obvious that the timing is due to the successful rebellion in Tunisia. Clearly Egypt has been "ready to blow" for a long time -- seeing the Tunisians revolt and drive out Ben Ali suddenly showed them that they, too might be able to succeed if they took to the streets.

As for aid -- according to the chart, US aid to Egypt was $1,550 million last year, of which $1,300 was military aid. So only $250 million was non-military aid. Egypt has 80 million people, so the non-military aid comes to only about three dollars per person per year. Obviously that's not going to have any noticeable effect on overall poverty.

MP: There has been unrest in other countries including Yemen, Lebanon, and Algeria, and I saw a report that people in Syria are following events in Egypt with great interest. All those countries are ruled by sclerotic old dictatorships (well, the situation in Lebanon is more complicated), whose subjects would dearly love to be rid of them. I've seen Arabs online joking that Saudi Arabia (where Tunisia's dictator Ben Ali fled) will soon have to open a new village for all the deposed dictators.

Israel is understandably nervous about what's going on. If Islamists managed to hijack the Egyptian rebellion and impose a theocratic regime, that would be very bad for Israel. So far, I see no sign that that's likely, although it's certainly a risk to keep in mind.

30 January, 2011 18:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'd particularly love to see the rebellion spread to Libya.

30 January, 2011 18:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: I suspect Mubarak is rather out of touch with reality. Being a dictator for thirty years would tend to have that effect on a person.

I heard about the mummies. Unfortunate that the people's efforts to protect the museum weren't totally successful.

There are so many ancient sites all over Egypt that it's almost impossible to protect everything.

30 January, 2011 19:06  
Blogger Murr Brewster said...

Of the many interesting things in this post, I was struck by the various estimates of Christian populations. I've long suspected that many things get repeated until they harden into truth--percentages of gays in the population, for instance--when there might have been one citation once that then becomes the standard. People on all sides of an issue parrot these things, but I particularly worry when we liberals do, because in theory we at least try not to lie.

I guess I wish people were more skeptical, and yet still fun at parties.

30 January, 2011 23:26  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

MB: There's also the fact that most news stories are written by people with little background knowledge of the subject or region. They look up a few facts and figures to give background for a news story, but can't judge how accurate those items are likely to be. This is rather obvious to me when I read these news stories, because the Middle East was my field of specialization in academia. Picture captions sometimes mis-translate the Arabic on signs people are holding, things like that.

You're right about the gay example. The 10% figure derived from a misunderstanding of the old (and flawed) Kinsey survey still crops up a lot, even though modern studies consistently give figures like 1% to 2%.

31 January, 2011 05:25  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

Robert wrote: A Sociologist once told me that when 20% of a population has nothing left to lose, there is revolution.

I heard that as well and it should be food for thought concerning the United States as well. While the Tea Baggers parade around with assualt rifles and three-corner hats the demographics of this country is changing fast and if decent paying jobs are not available things could get just as weird here.

31 January, 2011 22:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I really don't think analogies between the US and Egyptian situations are valid. Egypt is so poor -- far poorer than Mexico, for example -- that what we call poverty in the US isn't comparable to being poor by Egyptian standards.

If Egyptians could vote Mubarak out of office the way we voted Bush out of office, the protests wouldn't be happening. What the Egyptians are fighting for, we already have -- and far more.

What's going on in the Arab world has to be understood on its own terms, in its own context.

01 February, 2011 05:10  
Blogger Prash said...

History is happening in the arab world !!! i am still wondering what the Algerians doing with their Boutefleka ...

01 February, 2011 16:33  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

"I really don't think analogies between the US and Egyptian situations are valid... what we call poverty in the US isn't comparable to being poor by Egyptian standards."

I think you make a valid point here; Americans in poverty still live by much higher standards than the poor in third-world and underdeveloped countries. Basic needs are generally met in this country.

One of the things that sparked the unrest in Egypt was the disparity between the rising cost of food and the people's ability to pay for it. Though I can't recall the American politician who said it, one of them said that most civilizations are only 11 missed meals away from revolution. Food is (currently) cheap and abundant in the US. I guess that is where the term "fat and happy" might have arisen from.

02 February, 2011 10:43  

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