by Florian Flade
Cairo – Police shooting at praying protesters with water cannon
“Ash-sha`ab yurid isqat an-nizam!” (the people want the overthrow of the system) – that was the slogan chanted by tens of thousands at Cairo´s Tahrir Square, the Square of Liberation, as Egyptians took to the streets yesterday in the biggest protest to topple the Mubarak regime in recent years. From Alexandria to Suez to capital Cairo – about a million angry protesters demanded President Husni Mubarak to step down from his decade-long dictatorship regime. Uncountable numbers of men and women, young and old, called for an end to oppression, one-party rule and police brutality. Encouraged by the events in Tunisia, a week-long protest that led to the collapse of the Ben Ali regime, Egyptians are now eager to bring change to the giant of the Arab world.
As events deteriorated and protest spread from neighborhood to neighborhood Egypt´s leader decided to fight the possibly most dangerous enemies of these riots – Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. All Internet service in Egypt was shut down yesterday in an historic cut-off by the government. In addition all mobile phone providers were informed to end service in the country.
Despite this unique procedure Arabic News was still covering events unfolding in Cairo. Especially Qatar-based Al-Jazeera did an remarkable job in reporting about the protests. While Egypt´s State TV was showing pictures of the sunset and talking about people on the streets in support of President Mubarak, Al-Jazeera aired live footage from the main squares of the city as well as from the fiercely disputed bridges where protesters and police clashed in heavy fights.
The pictures coming from Cairo yesterday were images of a revolution. Burning police cars, bleeding men on the ground, beaten by the regime-loyal security forces, the angry mob tearing shredding portraits of the Egyptian leader who rules his empire at the banks of the Nile since 1981. Eventhough the government imposed a curfew at 6 p.m., people were still on the streets, setting the National Democratic Party´s (NDP – Mubarak´s party) headquarter on fire.
When the army was sent into the major cities Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, the protesters welcomed the soldiers, chanting: “People and military – we are one!” Those believing in a regime change did not fear Mubarak´s soldiers or a possible violent crackdown of the riots – the people know the only force able to topple the regime within hours is the army. Winning the soldiers sympathies and convincing their leadership Mubarak´s last days have come is the ultimate goal.
More than 410 people were injured on “The Friday of Wrath”, up to 95 people lost their lives. Washington´s voice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gave a brief statement on Egypt yesterday, said the United States what´s partnership with the Egyptian people as well as with the government. The US, she said, was very concerned about the violence but called for Mubarak to listen to the people and restore the Internet and communication system.
The “rais”, the leader, himself spoke on State TV in the night hours of Friday. In a disappointing speech he promised democracy to the Egyptians and ordered the cabinet ministers to step down. He wants to create a new government to give more freedom to the Egyptian people.
First reactions on the streets of Cairo show: the cheap statement of the President is not enough to calm down the masses awaiting his resignation. “We don´t want him anymore” – is the message of the protesters. Mubarak, they say, has to step down.
An Egypt without the authoritarian, secular leader is a nightmare for most of the Western allies of Mubarak, including Israel and the United States. For decades Egypt´s leaders fought Islamist opposition with brutal force, torture and mass-imprisonment. Yet the poor of Egypt are still rallying for the Muslim Brotherhood and their social agenda. The “brothers” have given up their radical views and militant ideology and have entered the political stages – but they still want religion to dominate the state policy.
Interesting enough this idea didn´t play any role or influence yesterday´s uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood, it seems, is not able to channel the people´s anger and give it an Islamic face. If anything was very clear by watching the picture coming out of Cairo on Friday: it is not religion that is going to topple the Mubarak-regime, it is the call for basic human rights, for free speech and justice, and the end of decade-long oppression.
That of course does not mean Islamists did not take part in yesterday´s wave of protest, but they were in no way dominating the riots. It is the “Allahu akbar”-free revolution, as some called it on the Internet, a people´s uprising without an Islamist ideology in their mind, without the calls for the implementation of Shariah Law, without the calls for Jihad and “Death to Israel!” or “Death to America!”.
People were praying on the streets of Cairo while police was trying to crack down on the mob. However the religious moment was not a moment of Jihadi-like motivation to overthrow the secular leadership. “The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to burn Egypt. We will not let these thugs burn Egypt”, the Editor of regime-loyal Al-Ahram newspaper claimed yesterday. Did he really believe seeing what was going on in the streets?
A “Khomeini”-Revolution is not the future of Egypt´s protests. Too many Egyptians have realized what it means to live under an Islamist dictatorship. Most of them saw the picture coming from Tehran after the latest elections in Iran. Egyptians saw Iranian youth dying in the streets, trying to fight oppressive leaders who claim to have Allah on their side. At the banks of the Nile, the majority of Egyptians do not want an Islamisc revolution in 2011
And this is also due to the fact that Egypt´s religious parties lack a Khomeini-like leader. Apart from popular regime-enemy El-Baradei, the latest protest lack a real leadership figure. There is no charismatic person leading this revolution. And right there is where the weakness of this protest lays.
Muhammad Husni Mubarak is not willing to leave office. His reign is not coming to an end if he is able to calm down the people by granting them certain rights and liberties they are calling for. Question is: How much anger do the Egyptians hold? Will they accept the small gifts or rather continue to demand a real leadership change and way forward to a democratic, multiple-party system?