Tag Archives: Protests

#Jan25

I wasn’t in Egypt yesterday because I’m in Turkey, but I have been glued to Twitter, Facebook, my Gmail contacts list, and the media reports, trying to get a grasp on the situation and getting inspired by everything I’ve seen and read.

The most exciting aspect of yesterday’s demonstrations is the sheer scale. Accurate crowd estimates are difficult to ascertain, but even the Ministry of the Interior put the number of protesters in Cairo at 10,000, which makes me suspect that the real number is much higher. Some activists suggested that there were over 100,000 people there, which seems a bit dubious. No matter what, though, the number is clearly the biggest in a long while, perhaps since the bread riots of 1977, though maybe comparable to the demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But there are important differences between the 2003 protests and yesterday’s: First, in 2003, Egyptians were demonstrating against an external issue, even if it is one tangentially related to their US-backed dictator. Second, those protests were almost exclusively in Cairo, whereas yesterday demonstrations took place throughout the country.

Related to the size and geographic diversity of the protests is that they were a decentralized movement. Much of the organization and mobilization may have taken place on Facebook via the We Are All Khaled Said group (through which 90,000 people said they planned to attend demonstrations), but the turnout seems like it was much more diverse than the usual web-savvy crowd. I’ve been to a number of pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and it’s typical to see the same handful of activists at each. Yesterday seemed to attract a different crowd.

A friend in Cairo who was in Tahrir Square yesterday, the site of the main protest, put it this way in a Gchat conversation: “you can find cooperation between youth with beard and girls wearing foreign clothes.” Check out the video below from Al Jazeera English at around 2:05, where a older, middle-class-looking woman goes on a rant about the government. She’s not the typical Cairo protestor.

The question now is what will happen next. Can Egyptians, inspired by Tunisia, sustain a month-long rebellion and bring down their dictator? Everyone I have talked to is taking a very wait-and-see approach. An activist friend in Cairo wrote to me:

I think this is a ripe moment to call for a nation-wide strike so that no one goes to work and more people empty into the streets – but I somehow doubt that will happen. It is much easier for people to go to a mass protest/rally than to miss a day of work – a nation-wide strike really assumes certain privileges that most people (including most of the people that were out yesterday!) do not have. That’s why 6th April and 5th May and all those movements never really got anywhere.

It is still early in the day in Egypt as I write this. Demonstrations may pick up again after school and work get out. On the other hand, I’ve heard people say they fear that Egyptians will now sit back, satisfied that they made their point yesterday and unwilling to continue. Moreover, I think that after yesterday the regime will want to clamp down quickly. Mubarak, I fear, has learned from Ben Ali’s mistakes. (Good thing the New York Times was willing to give him advice!)

Yesterday’s protests were, without a doubt, violent. See this video of the police evacuating Tahrir Square with tear gas and rubber bullets for evidence. But they weren’t nearly as violent as they could have been or, for that matter, as violent as I would have expected. But the Ministry of the Interior has already stated that they will not allow more protests and if the day of anger turns into a week of anger or a month of anger, I think the government will be more heavy handed as they try to prevent a Tunisia situation. I’m afraid the future could hold lot more beatings, arrests and maybe even live fire than we saw yesterday, when three people died.

For now we have to wait and see. I’ll be sitting at my perch in Istanbul, aching to be in downtown Cairo as I watch videos of the much-hated Central Security Forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds that include my friends.

Photo by Sarah Carr from Flickr

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Filed under Democracy, Egypt, Human Rights

Mouthpieces?

According to the BBC, “A spokesman [for the Iranian government]  said foreign media were ‘mouthpieces’ of enemy governments seeking Iran’s disintegration.” I have no love for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the regime in Iran, but I think they might be on to something here.

American media has abandoned any pretense of objectivity when it comes to protests in Iran. I was watching CNN for a while last night and each and every pundit, expert, and correspondent took a hard line against the regime and in favor of the protesters. Don Lemon called Neda a martyr about a dozen times. Every Iranian they talked to was a dissident.  There wasn’t a single attempt to represent the regime’s side of the story.

Where I think that the Iranian spokesman was wrong is in his characterization of the media as mouthpieces for “enemy governments.” What they look like to me are mouthpieces for the Iranian opposition. It’s natural that Americans and their media are sympathetic to the pro-Moussavi movement.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone from Fox News to NPR should act as though they are the voice of the Moussavi government in exile.

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Filed under Iran, Media

Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood

Al Jazeera is reporting that my old friends the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood are leading large pro-Hamas demonstrations in Amman.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political movement in Jordan happens to be one of the few topics about which I really know anything.  (In fact, I’ve interviewed two of people in the above Al Jazeera video.)  Despite that, I don’t think that I really have much to offer beyond what Al Jazeera’s correspondent said.  This is the kind of clever politicking that the Jordanian monarchy has mastered.  Last week a Jordanian MP burned an Israeli flag inside the parliament building.  King Abdullah cannot seem like he’s soft on the Israelis in response to Gaza.

So he lets the Brotherhood stage protests.  He gives them just enough power that Brotherhood supporters can’t get too furious and Jordanians can express their outrage at Israel.  But it doesn’t mean that the Islamic Action Front (the Brotherhood’s political wing in Jordan) will be able to participate freely in elections and it doesn’t mean that the Kingdom is about to revoke its peace treaty with Israel.

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Filed under Israel-Palestine

Shout out!

To my boys and girls in the Dirty Jerz. I’m stuck out here in the Midwest, but it’s good to see you are representing on the homefront.

Aviva Kushner, who is coincidentally, my rabbi’s daughter, writes to Baristanet:

My name’s Aviva Kushner, I am actually a student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and I just took part in an AMAZING, unbelievable, and inspiring walk-out/rally against the war. Thousands of students and faculty walked out of class at 1:23 PM and gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial to listen to speeches from Iraq veterans, Vietnam veterans, students who grew up in Iraq amidst warfare, mothers of killed soldiers, and more while news helicopters hovered over the scene.From there, we marched down George Street and stopped at the intersection of George Street and Albany Street (one of the busiest intersections in New Brunswick) and sat down for five minutes in silence for the five years in Iraq. This caused a great deal of traffic, but most of the people who were stopped at the traffic lights didn’t honk, but instead got out of the cars, sat on their roofs and took pictures with their camera phones.

Word. Well done, guys.

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