Crumbling Cairo; Crumbling Egypt

It all started in December when a street fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire, killing himself to protest government corruption. This resulted a Tunisian revolution, which galvanized young people in other Middle Eastern countries to take to the streets to protest rampant unemployment, police brutality, high food prices and repressive governments. In Egypt, the presence of a large number of college-educated youth combined with a lack of opportunity and a repressive police state was like a keg of dynamite. All it needed was a match.

I think the message from the Egyptian streets was loud and clear, like last week itself, I was watching a news report on the same and while I was watching the report, my eyes got stuck to one poster which said: “Mubarak, your plane is waiting.” But whether Egypt’s suave strongman, Hosni Mubarak, gets the same one-way ticket handed to Tunisia’s dictatorial President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali is still up in the air, as thousands of demonstrators throng the streets of Cairo and even smaller cities are clouded with tear gas.

The story of how Mr. Mubarak, an Arab autocrat who suddenly founds himself pushed toward the exit is first and foremost a tale of the Arab street. Egyptians have lived under this 82-year-old Mubarak’s rule for 30 years. But in spite of his moderate international tone, he has been a domestic dictator, suppressing political parties, banning the main Islamic opposition group, and using police state tactics against suspected foes, including the media.

Sporadic protests rose for years, and were brutally put down. But the Tunisian uprising inspired a new trend of social media call-out, and an explosion of activism from people who had lost hope of change. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, from students and doctors to the jobless poor, swamped Cairo on Last week in the biggest demonstration so far in an uprising against an increasingly isolated President Hosni Mubarak, it this time it seems that they are pretty serious about a revolution, a change. Egypt has responded to this and has therefore shut down internet access and restricting cell phone use. They also wanted to head off skewed elections that would keep Mubarak’s supporters in power longer, and allow the presidency to be passed to his son.

Over the years, Mubarak has been a close ally of countries like United States and United kingdom. It was only Egypt and Jordan who showed support for the Israel. Probably this might have ignited the spark in a country where Muslim religion parties are banned from contesting the elections.  It shouldn’t surprise any one if the disintegration of Mubarak’s power structure would usher in a new era in modern Egyptian history and reconfigure the geopolitical map of the Middle East, with huge ramifications for Washington and allies from Israel to oil giant Saudi Arabia.

Even the army, a powerful and respected force in Egypt, dealt a possibly fatal blow to Mubarak, when it said, that the troops would not open fire on protesters and that they had legitimate grievances and a right to peaceful protest. Soldiers in Tahrir Square, that has become a rallying point for the protests, erected barbed wire barricades but didn’t make any attempt to interfere with people. Tanks daubed with anti-Mubarak graffiti stood by.

Effigies of Mubarak were hung from traffic lights and some protesters carried a mock coffin.

As mentioned earlier, the crowd included people from all walks of life, from lawyers to doctors and other professionals as well as workers and students, showing the breadth of opposition to Mubarak. Even women and men stood together holding hands.

But on Thursday, army rolled out their tanks and positioned soldiers to separate warring pro-and anti-Hosni Mubarak demonstrators. Soon the situation went out of the hands and the army finally struck their first hit on the demonstrators. Shortly after the automatic gunfire hit the anti-government protesters at the historic Tahrir Square killing seven people, including three on the spot, tanks and armoured cars ferried rifle-wielding soldiers to line up between the clashing groups.

The pre-dawn firing apparently by Mubarak’s supporters appeared to be orchestrated to evict thousands of opposition supporters from the Square ahead of a massive rally on Friday, also the day when the opposition deadline to the embattled President, who has been in power since 1981, to quit expires.

As opposing groups battled exchanging gunfire and pelted rocks and stones which also left scores of international media persons injured triggering strong condemnation from the international communities, even the new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the events.

But the scenes at the Tahiri Square were disappointing, a country that was known for its rich cultural and historical heritage was now going in vein. The world witnessed the famous commercial hub of Cairo, Tahiri Square, turning its colors and becoming a war zone.

Egypt holds an important place in the Arab world and its geopolitical situation will have a great impact in the world politics. Even in the past, world has witnessed the same, if you turn the pages of your history books you will see, when Egypt was a pro-Soviet Nasserite state, the world was a very different place than it had been before Nasser. When Sadat changed his foreign policy the world changed with it. If the ‘Sadat foreign policy’ changes, the world changes again. Egypt is one of those countries whose internal politics matter to more than its own citizens.

Most of the outcomes I envision leave Egypt pretty much where it is. But not all. The situation is, as they say, in doubt, and the outcome is not trivial.

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