When the People Rise Up: Egypt's Massive Protests and Their Unpredictable Outcomes

Until last month, a typical protest in Egypt was really easy to portray. It usually featured a few hundred people standing in one of the known protest spots in Cairo downtown surrounded by a few thousand security officers. After an hour or two some people are arrested and both sides get tired and leave. The majority of Egyptians would never consider joining such a protest, knowing this scenario and the possible severe consequences. However, after the Tunisian uprising, it seems that things are changing in the Middle East. For the first time in decades, tens of thousands of Egyptians, inspired by the Tunisian revolution, have overcome their fear of security officers and responded to the call for the January 25 protest or “The Day of Anger.” And again, as we have seen in Tunisia, it is a protest led by today’s Arab regimes’ nightmares: Facebook and Twitter. No political figures, parties, or religious movements are leading the people. The protests are taking place everywhere in the country simultaneously, ignited by the same motives: poverty, unemployment, corruption, and social injustice.

The Tunisian experience makes the outcomes of today’s protests in Egypt hard to predict. A possible scenario could be further escalation resulting in more people joining the protests and gradually putting pressure on the regime to accept dramatic changes. This scenario cannot be excluded, considering the thousands of people who are spending the night in public squares and calling for a nationwide strike tomorrow. It is really hard to predict the scale of change in this case, though I expect it will not reach the president. Another possible scenario could be the use of excessive force by the police to end these protests which would definitely lead to casualties. As time goes on, and considering all the international media attention these protests are now attracting, using force is becoming difficult unless the state issues a nationwide curfew. A third possible scenario is for the government to leave things as they are, hoping that anger will gradually subside, and that people get bored and leave. This might take days, during which the government would make some conservative offerings and try to distract people by some other events. This scenario strongly suits the character of the Egyptian regime and I personally believe that they will lean towards it, although the outcomes might be unpredictable.

The next few hours will reveal the seriousness of these protests and whether they will be able to effect major change in the country. However, it is clear that, regardless of the outcomes, some change will take place in the country. It is just a matter of time.

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