Navigating the Arab street

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Dawna Friesen

Egypt can be a fascinating and frustrating place for someone like me to visit and to work. It must be even more frustrating a place to live for those tens of thousands of Egyptians who have taken to the streets in the past few days. This time – after nearly three decades of one-party rule – they don’t appear to be backing down.

I have been caught up in street demonstrations in Cairo before. They always ended when the security forces showed up with water cannons and tear gas, and nabbed the protest leaders, arresting them without charge and often torturing them or sometimes dropping them off in the middle of the desert.

This time it’s different. Not the way the protests are being handled – it’s the same old strategy of violent suppression and never giving an inch. But there seems to be a new, emboldened, defiant streak, fed and organized by the young and savvy who have used Twitter and Facebook to do an end-run around the security forces.

As Alaa Al Aswany writes in The Guardian newspaper: “They have the fiercest tools of repression in the world at their disposal, but we have something stronger: our courage and our belief in freedom.”

So fearful are the authorities, that there are reports the internet and mobile phone networks will be shut down in Egypt tomorrow (January 28) to try to deny the protesters high-tech means of organizing. Postings on Facebook today are calling for massive protests after Friday prayers, which draw millions out to mosques. This is from “We Are All Khaled Said”:

Tomorrow Friday will be our biggest day to date. We are aiming to achieve 1 million marchers. We will be peaceful and just calling for our rights. If we stay peaceful we will win over some of the police. It’s time they listen.”

Egyptian demonstrators demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak burn tires in Suez, east of the capital Cairo, on January 27. Photo by Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty Images.

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The world should listen too. Egypt is a vital U.S. ally in the region, and that friendship comes with a hefty price tag. Egypt gets $1.3 billion U.S. every year in American military aid, which is second only to what Israel receives. Knowing that funding could be used to suppress efforts at democracy will no doubt be uncomfortable for some in Washington.

So does U.S. President Barack Obama walk away from a 30-year friend and ally in Egypt? Or support him when the people are demanding he go? And if Egypt President Hosni Mubarak is toppled, what comes next? Who will fill the vacuum and govern a country of 80 million people? At least with President Mubarak they know who they’re dealing with. He’s a dictator, but one they kind of like and one who has brutally suppressed Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The contradiction is not lost on many Egyptians – how can the U.S., on the one hand, espouse democracy and peace in the Middle East while at the same time sponsoring regimes that actively undermine all paths to democratic reform?

And if you do push for democratic elections, it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for.” Look what happened when former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice promoted free and fair Palestinian elections. Hamas ended up in power.

Navigating the Arab street is going to be tricky in the months ahead, and what happens there will have implications across the Middle East.

Dawna is the anchor and executive editor of Global National. Follow her on Twitter: @DFriesenGlobal.

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