Recently, Egypt has been all over the news because of the large-scale protests breaking out in the streets of cities, mainly Cairo. Demonstrators were protesting the current presidency of Hosni Mubarak, now in his 30th year in office, as well as demanding changes to the political system. Emil Nagengast, professor of politics, discusses the situation:
The protests seemed to be in the newspapers quite suddenly. What are some of the origins of the current violence and unrest in Egypt?
To those who follow Middle East politics closely, this was not a surprise. These protests were in the making for about 10 years, since the invasion of Iraq. The situation in Egypt has been delicate for a long time: there is a pro-American leader sitting atop a citizenry that largely doesn’t support its government. There are high levels of corruption within that government, with sham elections for the last 30 years. The U.S.’s greatest fear is that Egypt will become a 1970s Iran: a corrupt government that gets replaced by an Islamic anti-American one.
It seems that the Egyptian people have been dissatisfied with Hosni Mubarak for a long time. How has he managed to stay in power for 30 years?
He has been using all the classic techniques dictators use to stay in power: government control of the media, torture, secret police that nabbed possible dissenters. In fact, the protests originally targeted the police. And of course he rigged elections.
How did those rigged elections work? Were the opponents actually working with Mubarak?
No, they were actual political opponents, but the elections themselves were fixed so that Mubarak would get about 60- 70 percent of the vote. Just enough to maintain the façade of democracy while keeping him in power.
What do you think the future of U.S.-Egypt relations is?
The U.S. government has made it clear that it wants Mubarak out, but we also want the pro-Israel government policy to continue. Mubarak took office in the first place because his predecessor (Anwar Sadat) was assassinated after signing the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty, and has since been pro-Israel. Egypt is a volcano if Islamic fundamentalists that would love to seize power.
What are some of your predictions as to Egypt’s immediate future?
The military is supporting the government, but they have said they will not shoot protesters. In my opinion, this will most likely turn out to be a lot of excitement with no actual revolution. Mubarak has already signed a 15 percent pay increase for all government workers, which there are a lot of in Egypt. He has been increasing food and gas subsidies—essentially trying to buy off the masses. Tourism, a major industry, has ground to a halt because no one wants to visit a country in civil unrest.
Interestingly, social media has played an important part in these protests- they were actually first organized on a Facebook page. The government shut down the Internet and cellphone service to try to slow the organizers and trying to spin news to their advantage. But a satellite news company based in Qatar, Al Jezeera, has been providing coverage critical of the government and most importantly, this criticism is non-American. If it had not been for satellite TV and social networking, these protests never would’ve happened.
-Joe Aultman-Moore ’12, Online Journalist