Tomorrow, February 1st, Egyptian protesters have scheduled a “Million Man March” to begin in Tahrir Square and then proceed to the residence of President Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians throughout the country have demonstrated since last Tuesday, January 25th, with one central goal – the departure of Mubarak, who has led Egypt since 1981. Over 150 protesters have been killed as of Monday afternoon. For the fourth day, protesters have defied the government curfew.
Despite President Obama calling for Mubarak to restore internet and cell phone services Friday evening, these services remain disconnected for a majority of the country, which were shut off Thursday night. Today, six reporters from the leading news network and information provider in Egypt, Al Jazeera, were arrested and their equipment was seized.
Yesterday, the Egyptian government closed the offices of Al Jazeera, who was providing live coverage of the demonstration. With the disconnection of information services, the latest developments within Egypt have become more difficult to receive, but a select group of individuals continue to transmit the latest information – most likely through internet services via satellite. For live updates, check the Twitter page of Democracy Now reporter Sharif Kouddous, who flew into Egypt over the weekend.
Since Friday morning, the fourth day of the demonstration, the Egyptian military has been deployed. This is the first time since the 1973 Israeli War that the military has been on Egyptian streets, which signals a monumental event in Egyptian history. Former President Jimmy Carter similarly said “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office.” Carter went on to predict Mubarak “will have to leave.”
A major concern of the Egyptian demonstration involves who would lead the Egyptian government if Mubarak steps down. This conundrum refers to a basic state of developing countries – freedom v. stability. Stability refers to how centralized leaders, regardless of societal conditions, are able to maintain relative order, whereas freedom refers to less control over societal conditions, such as the economy or individual rights.
The goal of the demonstration, though, is for Egyptians to attain a democratic system that not only provides freedom, but also stability. Demonstrators are not solely members of the opposition party, but include a broad range of Egyptians who are calling for a fundamental shift in the Egyptian democratic process, not the institution of a particular leader. The leader of the opposition party Mohamed ElBaradei, who also won the Nobel Prize in 2005, was not the organizer of the demonstration, he is merely a part of it.
Still, a recent democratic process in the Middle East with poor results occurred in the Palestinian legislative election of 2006, when a majority of legislative seats went to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization. However, Palestine’s previous presidential election in 2005 did not result with a controversial party winning. As a result, new democracies in the Middle East are not necessarily going to result with the election of an abusive party, but Pakistan does show an example of this occurring, which is a concern for Egypt.
Considering the geopolitical concerns of Egypt, including the use of the Suez Canal for oil transports, as well as the peace treaty with Israel, many US politicians have been reluctant to directly voice support for the resignation of Mubarak. Egypt receives more US aid than any other country, except for Israel. In fact, as the graph below shows, Egypt has received tens of billions of US aid in the past ten years.
Though, a sizable portion of this aid goes to US contractors within the country. For instance, Lockheed Martin has received $3.8 billion in the past ten years, Boeing has received $1.7 billion, and General Dynamics has received $2.5 billion. Regardless of a sizable portion of US aid going to US companies, the US still provides billions to Egypt that grants influence to the US in the country. On Friday, the White House Press Secretary announced the aid to Egypt was under review.
While the future leader of Egypt is uncertain, protesters have clearly expressed that leader will no longer be Mubarak. Despite the current instability of Egypt, the violations of rights within Egypt illustrate a regime of authoritarian proportions that may provide stability, but does so in a suppressive manner. With millions expected to march to Mubarak’s residence tomorrow, another historic day is on the Egyptian horizon.
UPDATE February 1st: Mubarak has announced he will not seek another term in the upcoming elections.