Egypt – Changing the face of the middle east?

Words: Philip Müller  Photos: All pictures by Al Jazeera English

Tunisia opened the doors, but Egypt might lead the way for political change in the Middle East. In order to find out more about Egypt’s future, I asked an influential egyptian blogger, an islamic scholar from Berlin and a young engineer from Cairo about their views of the future.

Monday, February 7th, 2011

“Things in Tahrir are electrifying, it’s like a new Egypt being born there”, says egyptian  blogger “Zeinobia” about the atmosphere on Cairo’s fittingly-named Liberation Square, which has been the main stage for Egypt’s protests against the dreaded Mubarak regime.  “The atmosphere in Tahrir is very enthusiastic and very civilized at the same time.” adds Ahmed, a 25-year old Sales Engineer from Cairo: “There are people from all backgrounds; you can find poor, rich, employed, unemployed, young and old people. The protests are very peaceful, at least on the side that’s Anti-Mubarak. People cheer and yield together in one voice. Muslims do the prayers together while Christians protect them. There are musicians with Arabic musical instruments for some groups to sing together. Many public figures like politicians, footballers and actors share in the protests.”

On the 6th of February, the thirteenth day of the protests, “life has returned back to the street today, as banks and companies have opened. Life has returned gradually”, says Zeinobia, who  started blogging in 2005 and is now an influential voice covering political and social events in her home country. Which can be a risky business in Egypt. Another well-known egyptian blogger, former law student Kareem Amer, spent almost four years in prison for his critical views on the Islam and President Mubarak. Zeinobia says she had not been harassed, “maybe because I blog anonymously”, but adds: “Still one was very careful for what he or she writes in the Mubarak era. There were red lines we should not cross, neither online nor offline”. But judging from the use of past tense in her sentence, she does not seem to believe that Mubarak’s almost 30-year long reign of corruption and oppression will go on much longer. Neither does Ahmed: “I believe he will leave in a matter of two weeks if the protests continue - which is highly expected.” Regarding Mubarak and his time to leave, he adds, “He is a very stubborn man. He comes from a military background (Mubarak served as commander in the in the Egyptian Air Force from 1972-1975 -Ed.). For people like him resigning is like quitting a battle - It’s not acceptable at all.” 

Ahmed describes the last ten years under Mubarak’s rule as “the worst concerning corruption, unemployment, education, poverty and health. It was like all sectors were deteriorating. The rich were getting richer while the poor were getting poorer. The gap kept increasing.” Zeinobia agrees: “Things went from bad to worse in the past couple of years. Yes, there was a growth in our economy, but poverty was spreading and the wealth was not distributed equally. The middle class was on the verge of collapse. The corruption of the regime cannot be tolerated anymore.” Although the Mubarak administration reformed many parts of the highly centralized economy it inherited from President Nasser, many of the  common people could not benefit from the economic rise. 14 % of the Egyptian Population live below the poverty line (which means living off $ 1.25 per day), and the unemployment rate hovers at around 20 %. These figures, combined with an inflation of 13 %, meaning steadily increasing prices even for the most basic needs, cause a horrible living situation for wide parts of the egyptian society. Zeinobia says, “I can summarize how we suffered in the words of a very old man on Al Tahrir: ‘In Mubarak’s time, I sold my kidney to live’”.  In stark contrast to the people of Egypt’s economic situation, the British Guardian reported last Friday that Mubarak’s family’s wealth could be as much as $ 70 billion - Money that he and his clan amassed through corruption and access to every major business deal in Egypt. (continued in full article)