Egypt Protests One Week In

Monday, January 31, 2011

 crowd of anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on the morning of January 31, 2011 in central Cairo, Egypt (Chris Hondros/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show,Mona Eltahawycolumnist and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, talked about the protests in Egypt and the government's response. Then, Amira Al HussainiGlobal Voices Online regional editor for the Middle East and North Africa, discussed how the online community is driving the on-the-street action.

Since the Egyptian revolution began on January 25th, President Hosni Mubarak's regime has tried a number of measures to quell dissent, sending armored police to confront protesters, calling out the army, and even shutting down the internet.

Mona Eltahawy says that Mubarak's government is grasping at straws; these extreme responses are the death rattle of a dictatorship. With public opinion so staunchly against the president, his only hope is to undermine the confidence of demonstrators.

They shut down the entire internet as part of this psychological warfare against the Egyptian uprising. What happened with the police force is, for the first four days of this uprising his security forces, which are known for their brutality, unleashed this force against the protesters: rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas, horrendous amounts of tear gas. And when that did not stem the tide, the police very mysteriously just disappeared and armed forces were called onto the streets...This is a deliberate attempt at scaring people into falling back into line and wanting the Mubarak regime, and it's failing.

If the Mubarak regime collapses, it will only be the beginning of a long transformational process in the country. Eltahawy called the Egyptian revolution a "grassroots uprising," one that lumped together a wide distribution of citizens and ideologies. Eventually, a politically-diverse crowd of protesters will have to decide who should lead. Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and long-time critic of Mubarak's government, has emerged as a consensus figure for the Egyptian opposition, but Eltahawy says he may not have enough public support to take the reins.

What I've heard is that he has some following from people out there in the protest, but he by no means began this protest and he's not a leader of this protest, so those who don't follow him want him to remember that. To his credit, he never said, "I am the reason this happened," or, "I am the leader." But what I'm hearing is that because no one wants Egypt to fall into chaos and we know many people are capable of leading, some people are talking about a coalition to bring many people together.

Among the few certainties of this revolution, according to Eltahawy, is its focus. Some demonstrators—both in Egypt and the United States—have gotten attention for signage and social media activity denouncing the US. These activists decry the United States government for propping up Hosni Mubarak, which they allege was done in the name of American interests in the Middle East, such as preserving peace with Israel. Eltahawy says that despite what some Egyptians say about the United States' responsibility, make no mistake: their revolution is all about Egypt.

I would also demolish this idea that this uprising in Egypt has anything to do with the US or Israel. This is Egypt focusing on Egypt. Yes, Mubarak has been one of the major allies of US administrations for decades now, and they knew very well that he was a dictator and ran a police state, but this revolution is about getting rid of his tyranny and his dictatorship of 30 years. It has nothing to do with the US and Israel. It has everything to do with Egypt saying this it the time for our freedom and dignity.

Amira Al Hussaini has been monitoring the social media discussion in and about the Middle East over the past few weeks. Though it's up for debate how large a role websites like Twitter and Facebook played in organizing Egyptian protests, she says she's already seeing Arabs in other countries using these tools to plan demonstrations in other countries.

It's like we have a calendar of events across the region over the next few weeks. We have Syria penciled in for February 5th, Bahrain for February 14th, so that's two in a row, and then we have events scheduled in places like Morocco and Algeria.

Social media certainly played some part in Egypt's revolt, and may be helpful in other countries. But Al Hussaini said that the real lesson for the rest of the Middle East will be that true courage is shown on the streets, not just the internet.

It did start on Facebook, but we cannot attribute what's happening in Egypt today just to social media. There are pent-up regions and emotions and anger, and other economic factors that make people reach the boiling point we see today. I've been to Egypt and I know Egypt; I've never seen this anger in my life before. People are not afraid. In this part of the world, people live in police states, so you're afraid of criticizing the government, of sitting next to army live in fear. But the courage of Egyptians, which we've been seeing over the last few days, has been amazing. And the solidarity from people across the region—everyone is cheering for Egypt.


Amira Al Hussaini and Mona Eltahawy


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Comments [14]

Rob Mezzanotte from Charlottesville VA

After three weeks of hard training, the Middle Eastern and North African muscles of nonviolence are in better shape than ever. Peaceful legs walking and waiting, hopeful fingers typing and organizing, and hoarse voices demanding fundamental change have rendered the use of arms an obsolete and unnecessarily barbaric way to attain goals. Gandhi and MLK are surely all smiles and high fives somewhere up in the sky.  

These events have inspired Trees on Fire to write, produce, and record "We Walk On", an energetic shout-out to anyone exercising nonviolence to make progress. The Internet also deserves props helping large groups of people organize. In honor of that profound technology, we are streaming "We Walk On" at

Feb. 18 2011 10:00 AM
Ms Joan from Manhattan

In connection with the question asked about Boutros Boutros Ghali, former UN Secretary General, and his possible role in the Egyptian transitional government, I would like to add that as an adherent of the Coptic faith he would not be acceptable to the majority of Egyptians. This is one of the reasons he was never made the Foreign Minister of Egypt.

Feb. 01 2011 03:04 AM

Elsie, you forgot to blame on Jews the Pharaoh, Hittite, Persian, Greek, Roman, Malmuk, Turkish, French, English, Egyption military dictatorships.

Feb. 01 2011 12:17 AM

It wouldn't be surprising if the major oil companies are instigating & manipulating the protests for their own benefit & profit.History probably repeats itself - In 1953 a British oil company with interests in Iran convinced the American & British governments to overthrow a Democratically elected government in Iran. Is it happening in Egypt - but this time to replace a dictatorship with what? Theocracy or just plain anarchy!

Jan. 31 2011 11:47 PM
D.Torres from Nathan Straus Projects

We have been playing this game,
of supporting dictators for a long time,
all over the world.
Then ditching them, when their people
grow sick and tired of the abuse.

We complain about Khamenei & Ahmadinejad, but we kicked out
the democratically elected
Mossadegh, and installed the Peacock
Throne guy with his brutal CIA trained
Savak Police.

We attack Iraq, on a pack of lies,
we are after Iran, because they
might have a nuclear weapon,
when Israel is a nuclear power
in the Middle East.

Just look at how many dictators
we've imposed on Latin America,
Chile had "Free & Fair Elections,
Nixon didn't like the result, so
Allende was installed and thousands

The Palestine papers show that
we never an honest broker in
the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.

We cannot lie like we use to,
because the internet, video,
facebook, u tube, anyone with a lap
top can download an image on one
side of the world to the other in a
matter of seconds.

Jan. 31 2011 02:37 PM
Patrick from Hoboken

Shadi Hamid is a great guest - hope to hear from him again !

Jan. 31 2011 11:45 AM
gary from queens

Mohamed ElBaradei is an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. This goes unreported in NPR and other mainstream news agencies.

A few days ago, ElBaradei gave an interview to Der Spiegel — Aaron Klein reported on it at WND yesterday. As Klein noted, ElBaradei is widely seen as a staunch ally of the Brotherhood (surprise!) and gave a spirited defense of them that was about as honest as his disclosures about the Iranian nuclear program used to be: “We should stop demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood,” he insisted. According to ElBaradei, the Brothers “have not committed any acts of violence in five decades.” [ACM note: the Brotherhood killed Sadat in 1981; Hamas kills people everyday.] ElBaradei, who also admires President Obama ardently, said that the Brothers just “want change.” Thus, he concludes, “If we want democracy and freedom, we have to include them instead of marginalizing them.” [ACM: Yeah, just like we did with Hamas -- and how's that workin' out?]

For its part, the Obama administration — which has made outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood and its American affiliates a policy priority — reciprocates ElBaradei’s admiration. Robert Gibbs said Friday that the president knows ElBaradei well and has worked closely with him.

By the way, ElBaradei also says “Israel is the number one threat to the Middle East,” and has expressed strong support for the Palestinian “resistance,” particularly in Hamas-controlled Gaza (whic


Jan. 31 2011 11:15 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Matt from Great Neck

Your ignorance is breathtaking and has earned my admiration, a perfect time capsule of American self delusion at the beginning of the end. First of all, have understood my question?

Why are we supporting him publicly when it is obvious he will be deposed or dead soon?

Who will come after, shouldn't we have a hand in helping to shape that? Durrrrr.

Also, you clearly don't understand very much about Islam, nor specifically the difference between the Sunni and Shia mentality, the threat is not of a "Iranian" style regime but of a regime that may be more hostile to Israel and naturally the implications that would bring for the Gaza border. There is no "mullah" waiting in the wings to take power in Egypt, you're just a hot gasser conservative with a typical lack of BASIC background knowledge of the issues involved.

Jan. 31 2011 11:08 AM
Calls'em from Here, there & everywhere

El-Baradei sounds reasonable, westernized and moderate. This is garbage. He's a liar; the media are helping him. He's currently a front man for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the parent organization of al Qaeda & Hamas, and has officially declared war on the US - not a party that would "not be a threat to the West" as he claims!

A lot of Egyptians are pretty savvy politically, but not enough of them, and most not in the right political direction.

Al Baradei has been demanding the Muslim Brotherhood legalization, and now this organization is supporting him.

Jan. 31 2011 11:07 AM

I was surprised to hear Amira bring up Ahmed Zewail as a potential leader for Egypt. He hasn't just "studied abroad" for awhile, he is a tenured professor at Caltech (my alma mater). It would be surprising to me if he left that dream of a life...

Jan. 31 2011 11:03 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

As a Jew I want to express my total support for Egypt and all of the Arab countries that have suffered under U.S. backed dictators in an effort to appease Israel (and more importantly, to maintain control of the oil in the region). I am disgusted by America's hypocrisy. Furthermore, the fact that Jews have allowed Arabs to suffer under dictators (under the idea that this is good for the state of Israel) is an absolute insult to our Jewish ancestors who suffered so much oppression; this is also completely unethical by any Jewish standards of ethics. How can we allow others to live under such horrific circumstances? In the end, America and Israel will come out of this looking like the tyrants that they are. I only hope that the Arab people are more generous towards us than we have been towards them.

Jan. 31 2011 11:01 AM
Matt from Great Neck

To Mr. Bad,

Which would you rather have, an 82-year-old dictator who rules with a greater semblance of human rights than most Islamic nations, or another radical Islamic state that stones women who speak their minds, preach martyrdom against Judiasm, Christianity and all Western values, and foment street-roaming thugs a la Iran? The world is not so simple a place as "good" and "evil."

Jan. 31 2011 10:57 AM

Malcolm Gladwell, when are you going to have him on?

Jan. 31 2011 10:50 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

I could go on for hours about how inevitable this was, how hypocritical US foreign policy is, etc. but I have a different question for the hard-line, Realpolitik crowd:

Why are we (the US political establishment, both Dem/Republican) supporting an 82 year old dictator whose chosen successor, a son who has already fled the country, against the express and passionately expressed wishes of almost the whole of the Egyptian people? I mean really, WTF? Can we even do RUTHLESS empire building right? Not only are we backing a despicable, brutal dictator but also one who is destined to be deposed ... JUST UNBEARABLY STUPID! Every second that goes by that we do not denounce Mubarak we increase the chance that hard core Islamic extremists gain more power and influence for their anti-USA stance when they become part of the new regime.

Jan. 31 2011 10:36 AM

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