After 30 years of oppressive power, Hosni Mubarak was deposed and the political landscape of Egypt radically changed by a 17-day peacefully revolution. Many covering the revolution for US media outlets have, in their ignorance of Egypt and her people, speculated broadly and wildly about what led to the revolution and why it was occurring now.
What is important to keep in mind is that this is a revolution decades in the making, not months or weeks or days. It is not a revolution that was started by social media or could only happen in an age of social media or the internet. Nor is this revolution occurring only because protests and demonstrations in Tunisia successfully led to Ben Ali fleeing the country. Egypt’s oppressive regime, economic woes worsened the wake of the 2008 financial crash, and a state riddled with corruption led to this revolution. These are problems long existing in Egypt, made worse and more exemplified by the global economic crash of late-2008.
The primary reason, the prevailing reason for the revolution in Egypt is the regime and the Egyptian people’s thirst for democracy and legitimate elections. No one in Egypt (or outside of Egypt for that matter) is fooled by the “elections” that have taken place during Mubarak’s regime. These so-called-elections have resulted in what Noor Khan has called a “musical chairs” effect in Egyptian politics: rotating the same people through government over and over again. The primary reason millions of Egyptians took to the streets in defiance of curfew orders, braving the brutality of the police, is to have choices. Period. A true, genuine democracy. Honest elections whose results will be enforced. It is impossible to believe that Mubarak’s party maintained such complete control of the government for so long. Impossible. The only way so many of his party members remained in power for so long is through forged election results and pervasive corruption. Fighting for a democracy, democratic elections, is also a fight to end the endless corruption throughout the Egyptian government. Bribes, endless bribes, to accomplish anything, to get any government document, permit, licence, etc. Hell, paying a simple monthly bill can take hours. Even getting your child into a school they have the right to attend takes a bribe. Everything takes a bribe.
In addition to this tight-gripe on elected positions, the Mubarak regime has run a notoriously brutal police state. Tight internet controls, kidnappings, torture, police beatings, and bribery run rampant nationally under Mubarak. Phrases such as “sent behind the sun” (referring to pervasive kidnappings by the police and army as well the disappearance of citizens) and “walk near the wall” (meaning, keep your head down and stay out of trouble to avoid being interrogated by the police) have become commonplace in Egypt. The first, prominent domino to fall regarding the revolution in Egypt, was the brutal beating death of Khaleed Said on June 7, 2010. The beating of Khaleed Said began inside an Alexandria cyber cafe and culminated in the street outside. His passing galvanized an already worked up Egyptian youth sick of police interrogation and beatings. In this respect, social media has been helpful in unifying Egyptian voices and international activism over Egypt’s brutal police state.
The second factor leading to the Egyptian revolution concerns the economic policies of the Mubarak regime, increased cost of living, and growing visibility of wealth disparage amongst Egyptian classes. Egypt is a country of 80 million people, at least a quarter of which live in the greater Cairo area/vicinity. With this kind of population, poverty and wealth disparage is inevitable. But since about 2003, the disparage of wealth in Egypt has become increasingly more noticeable. Multi-million dollar homes are now next to neighborhoods of abject poverty. The rising cost of living coupled with sizable population has led to a housing shortage which in turn has led to young Egyptians being unable to marry and purchase a home of their own. Cost of staple food products (meat, sugar, tomatoes) have risen 20-30% in the last few months. Cost of goods generally have risen about 12% since the fall. Egyptians struggling to feed their families are looking at fat-cat government officials spending lavishly on themselves and billions on the military while the average citizen struggles desperately to get by.
Dovetailed with the rising cost of goods in Egypt, as in much of the developing world, was the economic crash of late-2008 and the culture of deregulation (especially in the US) prior to that. Deregulating commodities exchanges, in particular, has led to trading commodities on the margin and pushing the risk of commodity exchanges to the brink. Regulations were in place to keep commodities from being traded on the margin, to keep from having to sell goods for less than their worth. Over the last twenty years, regulations have disappeared, leaving a financial sector to its own devices. When markets crashed at the end of 2008, it was as much due to the lack of regulations as it was supremely risking banking practices. The developing world has taken the rise of commodities the hardest. Costs of chiles has skyrocketed in Indonesia, the cost of onions has jumped drastically in the last few months in India, and staple ingredients have seen marked increases in the last few months across North Africa.
Egyptians already fed up with bribery, corruption, a clenched-fist, government controlled army and police were driven into the streets out of unending frustrations over cost of living, economic and social stagnation, and a failure of hope in their own futures. The US media has done a bang-up job at sounding ignorant, cluelessly unaware of anything outside their own studios throughout this whole process. Often left scratching their heads and rambling incoherently about how this will affect the US, or Israel, or asking equally clueless politicians what their opinions and take on the situation is. Worse yet, the US media has birthed and stoked fears and misinformation about Egypt, her people, and the Muslim Brotherhood (more on them to come, stay tuned). Islam and her practitioners have long been held up as the universal boogeyman of many in this country. The all-purpose monster in the closet. This situation has highlighted this propensity in the ugliest ways.
For now, the Egyptian people have spoken to each other and to their government in ways they never had before. The brave, unified voice of Egypt has turned a critical and praise-worthy page in Egyptian history, in Arab history, in World history. Those unwilling or unable to recognize the significance of that are the only problem with the revolution.