On Friday, February 12, Egyptians took their country back. After 18 days of revolt, it was the first in 30 years without Hosni Mubarak, one of the most powerful dictators in the region, and a man who just hours before resigning had defiantly declared he would see out the rest of his term. With his resignation, Mubarak met protesters’ demands to dissolve Parliament on February 13th, promising to return authority to civilian, democratically elected rule. As of this writing, The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces holds authority.
Hosni Mubarak turned Gamal Nasser’s “Arab-Socialist” state-capitalist policies of the previous 26 years (which included nationalizing various industries and redistributing agricultural land) into dictatorial-capitalist policies, undoing the gains Nasser’s administration afforded by amplifying inequality.
Since 1967 Mubarak has upheld and abused the national Emergency Law, which suspends vital constitutional rights and expands police powers, allowing officers to arrest individuals without explanation or accountability. The law is up for extension every three years, and just last May, Mubarak approved its continuation.
Corruption is pervasive in Egypt, where elections are typically unfair and undemocratic. Last year’s parliamentary elections were marred with allegations of fraud and illegitimacy.
Egypt was clearly inspired by Tunisia’s revolution. Watching Tunisians revolt until Ben Ali fled the country emboldened Egyptians to demonstrate and call for an end to their own dictatorship.
Who is protesting?
Initially driven by Egypt’s youth—primarily through social media such as Facebook or Twitter—millions of Egyptians from all economic, social, and religious backgrounds marched in the streets, demanding Mubarak’s resignation and free, fair elections.
No one political party or group guided these protests alone; it was a unity of the Egyptian people against their perceived long-term oppressor. Mubarak initially attributed the protests to exterior forces manipulating the Egyptian people.
Solidarity between Muslim and Christian Egyptians has been on full display. On multiple occasions, Christians guarded and protected Muslim protesters—who paused from their uprising to pray—from the assault and attacks of the pro-government police forces. This reciprocation came weeks after thousands of Muslims attended Coptic Christmas Eve mass and voluntarily served as human shields to protect Coptic Christians from militant Islamic forces, revealing a unity despite religious differences and further emphasizing that this revolution has been predominately a class revolution, not a religious one.
The Arab world has watched Egypt closely. Just as Tunisia inspired Egypt’s citizens to revolt, protesters in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, and Bahrain are now protesting for major reform after watching Mubarak fall.
Numerous surrounding leaders are being forced to concede to the will of the people. According to David Remnick, “In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared that he would neither run for reëlection nor install his son in office. In Jordan, King Abdullah fired his Cabinet and met with the opposition.” More recently, 7 members of Yemeni parliament resigned, protesting government violence.
Most notably, though, Libyan citizens are clashing with government forces in a nationwide uprising. As of Feb. 26, protesters claim control of 30% of the country, despite a violent crackdown. Leader Col. Gaddafi has hired mercenaries to join soldiers in firing on the people. [Link to Brandon’s Libya article.]
Even the Palestinian cabinet resigned in response to the Arab revolutions, leading an Al Jazeera analyst to note, “For the past 50 years, people have been living in fear of their leaders but now the leaders are living in fear of the people.”
The United States and Egypt
Obama’s endorsement of Egyptian protests was notably hesitant until it became evident Mubarak’s days were numbered. American demands for Mubarak’s resignation came late into the protests, revealing Washington’s unwillingness to divest from its longtime ally and a linchpin in the region. Mubarak has historically diffused and deflected Arabic resistance to American influence in the region, while supporting Israeli policies and intervention. US military aid to Egypt reflects this deep partnership, as Egypt receives the second highest total of US aid behind Israel – totaling just under $2 billion annually, with $1.3 billion directed to the Egyptian military.
With Mubarak out of office, the United States may have lost a strong ally in the Middle East, and depending on the policies of the regime that Egypt elects, American hegemony in the region could be severely weakened. America will find it much more difficult to diffuse Arabic anger towards Israeli aggression.