“Egyptians aren’t demonstrating for an Islamic government any more than the Tunisians were; they’re demonstrating for an honest government – one that will improve education and infrastructure, reduce poverty and inflation, end the Emergency Law, stop torturing people in police stations, stop doing the bidding of the US and Israel in Palestine, stop rigging elections, and, above all, stop lying to them.”
For thirty years Egypt has been a stable country, a reliable ally, with steady economic growth. Why, then, are the people of Egypt rising up against the government of Hosni Mubarak? The reasons are many, and the grievances are longstanding. here is a brief survey of some of the deep causes of the people’s anger against the regime.
When I first moved to Egypt in 1997 to begin what became a five year residence, Egypt’s mean gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was only $4,000 according to official figures, and some economists estimated it to be considerably lower. The unemployment rate was 14 percent, and 23 percent of the country lived in poverty—pegged at about $1,200 for a family of four. Since then, it’s gotten worse.
For most Egyptians, the only hope for social mobility is through education. Unfortunately, the current educational system doesn’t work for the vast majority of people.
After independence, Gamal Abdel Nasser built roads, schools and universities, and the Aswan dam, which supplies much of Egypt’s electrical power. Today, the people of Egypt see much of that infrastructure crumbling, and much of the new construction is designed to exclude large segments of Egyptians.
The Egyptian citizenry is young, hungry, and unemployed, and has been suffocating for more than a decade from rising inflation—from 4.3% in 2003 to 12% in 2010. People experience this as constantly rising prices for food, clothing, and other necessities. The masses of poor and middle class Egyptians have long felt that their government has done nothing to protect them from slowly sinking into ever greater economic woes in the face of ever-rising prices in the things that matter most–bread, oil, rice–and stagnant wages for most of those lucky enough to have jobs at all.
The Emergency Law
Under the Egyptian constitution, citizens are guaranteed freedom of association, the right to create civil organizations, the right of free expression, and the right to form new political parties. These rights can only be taken from them when a crisis forces the president to declare a “state of emergency”. Unfortunately, this emergency law has been in effect in Egypt since 1967.
Search on YouTube and you will find videos showing men and women beaten and tortured by Egyptian police as a punishment for speaking out against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But this is not a new phenomenon, Extortion, false arrest, torture and kidnapping have been normal forms of police procedure in Cairo for decades.
Corruption has long been a part of everyday life in Egypt. From police extortion to the petty bribes one pays bureaucrats to do their jobs to fees that help clear away red tape. But the rise to power of powerful business men in the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the People’s Assembly–men who popular discourses say bought their rights to run for election with suitcases full of cash–took corruption to an entirely new level.
It is against the law to criticize Hosni Mubarak or any other member of the ruling family. It is against the law to speak against Egypt in any way while traveling abroad. The fact that these laws are inconsistently enforced makes it scarier. No journalist, blogger or social scientist knows when the police may show up because they’ve crossed an invisible line.
Most Egyptians, Muslim and Christian alike, have strong feelings of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Their government, however, sets foreign policy in consultation with foreign allies, not with regard for public sentiment. And public protests in support of the Palestinians are met with harsh reprisals.
Since the revolution, Egypt has essentially been a one-party system in which the electoral results are a foregone conclusion. Most Egyptians regard elections as a foregone conclusion, a meaningless ritual rather than a real opportunity for political change.
For more information:
Khan, Amil. 2011. With Eyes Red From Rage. Foreign Policy
What we are demonstrating for. Translated by Amira Hanafi from the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook site.