It’s been over two weeks since January 25th. Egypt’s streets have been filled with protesters. All of these thousands of people calling one thing; ‘Mubarak must go’. But for everyone outside Egypt, it’s hard to understand all that’s taking place and, most importantly, why.
Egypt, like most Arab countries, have faced decades of unrest. The events unfolding on our TV screens today can be traced back to 1914. At this time, Britain seized control of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire. Endless political unrest followed as rallies and protests against the British resulted in approximately 800 deaths. By 1922, Egypt became the Kingdom of Egypt, supposedly independent from Britain. An untruth illustrated by Britain using Egypt as a base for troops during the Second World War.
It was during this time that the Muslim Brotherhood (1928) appeared in Egypt. The party fought against the Wafd (or liberal) party, King Fuad, the communist party of Egypt and the British for power. It was after the War that the Muslim Brotherhood gained their reputation for violence.
In 1952, the Egyptian military rose up as ‘free officers’ seizing control of Egypt. After a brief experiment with civilian rule, it was from here that the Egyptian military took permanent control of Egypt. President Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Arab socialist, formed the United Arab Republic with Syria. Until Syria’s secession in 1961, but Egypt remained the UAR until 1971.
Though Nasser ruled as an autocrat, he was popular amongst the Egyptian people for standing up against the West. Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood was believed to have tried to assassinate Nasser in 1954. This resulted in the party being made illegal, and many of their members being hunted down and tortured.
Nasser’s successor, President Anwar el-Sadat was also a ‘free officer’ of the 1952 coup. In 1973, Sadat regained some Egyptian pride by returning to war with Israel. Regaining for Egypt the Sinai Peninsula even though the result was of a draw, the people still saw it as a victory.
During his rule, Sadat attempted economic and political reform. Though the political reform wasn’t massively successful, the economic changes resulted in less government control of the private and public sectors. Ultimately, this resulted in more wealth for the Upper and Middle classes but nothing for the Lower class. Something they would have to deal with up until present-day Mubarak-Egypt. Protests and rallies made by the lower class began to take place here.
Ironically, it was Anwar el-Sadat who signed the peace-treaty between Israel and Egypt. This won American favour and a large aid budget, which Egypt still receives today. £1.3 billion to this day is given to the Egyptian military every year. However, by the end of his rule, Sadat’s Egypt was wracked with violence over the discontentment of policies. Then, the lower class filled out the streets, much like we are witnessing now.
Assassinated in 1981, Hosni Mubarak took on the president-ship under a national state of emergency. A state that Mubarak’s government under the National Democratic Party (NDP) have maintained ever since.
This state of emergency meant the following for Egypt: police power extended, constitutional rights suspended, censorship legalised and that people could be arrested without charge or trail.
Human Rights organisations have estimated somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people have been detained in 2010 without charge or trail. The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights documented 567 cases of torture, including 167 deaths, made by the police between 1993 and 2007. It is of little wonder that the Egyptian people despise their police force.
The vast majority of Egyptians also live in poverty, especially around the river Nile. Barely able to feed their families, the 2011 protesters are calling for: more and improved housing; more jobs to fix unemployment; for the minimum wage to be raised; food inflation to lessen; freedom of speech to be regained; the state of emergency laws to end and for police brutality to also end.
Since being given power in 1981, Mubarak has been re-elected three times. Only the 2005 election, however, featured alternative candidates to Mubarak. Though he won with an 87% majority, the Muslim Brotherhood, now illegal, won 20% of seats as independent candidates. A strong following was shown also for the Ghad Party lead by Ayman Nour. Nour was subsequently arrested in 2005 and wasn’t released until 2009.
The people also have little signs to favour either of Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal. Both sons have expressed themselves to favour the private sector of Egyptian economics. Such preference would cripple the average Egyptian even further.
Yet, an alternative is not clear. Mohammed ElBaradei does not hold much support. The Muslim Brotherhood, though Mubarak cabinet and the West fear them, are still an illegal party. Current laws prevent any party being formed and maintained with a religious agenda.
Not only this, but the protesters have no set majority. Could another military man emerge from the National Democratic Party? Or someone new? As of yet, it all remains unclear.
One thing, however, is for certain: the Egyptian people have had enough of their poor treatment. They are out in the streets demanding political reform from autocracy to democracy. They are demanding their human rights to be re-instated and respected. They are demanding their freedom. It is therefore easy to see why they are out in the streets. But also, now they are there, they cannot stand down to Mubarak. For, if they do, they all know they will be arrested and most likely tortured as many have been before them.