egypt up in arms…

Posted on Tuesday 25 January 2011

This time last year, we were just back from Egypt. Riding around Cairo right before Christmas, we passed something interesting. A group of people standing along the road with placards, heavily contained by riot police. Our guide explained that they were protesting something – I think it had to do with rent control, electric bills, something like that – something that seemed benign. It actually looked benign, no yelling – just placards. The guide said, "We have just started having protests [he stumbled on the word, like it was something new to him]." Well looking at the news today, Egypt has come a long way in its protest learning in this last year.
I can’t understand the specifics of what set this off, but having been there recently, I know what it’s about. Cairo is a wreck. There are 20 million people in Cairo which would be crowded at a fourth that figure. The economy is in the pits. Traffic is always at a standstill. Smog is oppressive. The infrastructure is worse than anywhere we’ve been. Unemployment is high, and that’s obvious. The  Egyptians are great, but Cairo is a disaster. I’d riot too, just on general principles. Here’s what WaPO has to say:
Egypt’s unstable regime
Washington Post [editorial]

January 25, 2011

TENS OF thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo and other cities Tuesday in an unprecedented outburst of protest against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Inspired by Tunisia’s popular uprising, they demanded political concessions that Mr. Mubarak’s rotting government should have made long ago: an end to emergency laws, freedom for political activity and a limit on the president’s tenure in office. The United States has said that it favors such reforms. But when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked about the demonstrations, she foolishly threw the administration’s weight behind the 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak.

"Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people," Ms. Clinton said. The secretary’s words suggested that the administration remains dangerously behind the pace of events in the Middle East. It failed to anticipate Tunisia’s revolution; days before President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was driven from the country Ms. Clinton said the United States was "not taking sides" between the dictator and his protesting people…

Tuesday’s events suggested that the Cairo government is not at all stable. Three people were killed in the occasionally violent demonstrations, and thousands of protesters remained camped in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square overnight. They will not be easily satisfied – because Mr. Mubarak in fact is not trying to "respond to legitimate needs and interests." Instead the government is seeking to perpetuate itself in power by force, and pave the way for an eventual dynastic succession to power by Mr. Mubarak’s son.

Egypt has been a vital ally of the United States, and a potential change of regime there is frightening to many in Washington, especially given the strength of the country’s Islamist movement. Those concerns are legitimate. But blind U.S. backing for Mr. Mubarak makes a political disaster in Egypt more rather than less likely. Instead of stressing the government’s stability, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama need to begin talking about how it must change.

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