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Friday, January 28, 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) – Looters broke into the Cairo museum housing the world's greatest collection of Pharaonic treasures, smashing several statues and damaging two mummies, while police battled anti-government protesters on the streets.

in Belgium journalist Rudi Vranckx said that allegedly protesters had overpowered some looting policemen along with criminals, which confessed being freed by the police. (Source - Dutch video)

Transcript: (translated from 0:48)

Interviewer: There are lootings happening, as we saw in the report. But it isn't very clear who these looters are, right?

Journalist: You hear many stories - also from my interpreter who had to go home because they were looting in his area - in various districts of Caïro. The recrimination you hear often is that this is about criminals who are released by the police, many citizens say this. This is also the case with the National Museum, where different antiquities have been looted. There I've seen people outside saying they saw and took up 25 marauders, which subsequently confessed being freed by the police. Amongst them were several policemen who had luxuriance of the museum with them.

Interviewer: So it aren't the protesters themselves then... [...]

I don't find much other information about it, but here is one source saying

There is a growing number of reports that when these thugs are caught, they have police/interior ministry identification on them.

this could be related to the destruction of Egyptian artifacts

President Hosni Mubarak has defended the role of Egypt's security forces in suppressing anti-government protests which have rocked the country.

“Mr Mubarak also dismissed his government and said a new cabinet would be announced on Saturday.

It was his first statement since the protests - in which at least 26 have died with hundreds injured - began.

Tens of thousands took part in protests in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other cities.

Protesters set fire to the headquarters of the governing NDP party and besieged state TV and the foreign ministry.

At least 13 people were killed in Suez on Friday, while in Cairo, five people died, according to medical sources.

That brings the death toll to at least 26 since the protests began on Tuesday. “

Great comment from a Slashdotter that covers a whole lot of what is going on:

Rather than moderating, I'd rather write what I know.

There is a lot of misinformation here, and mainstream media coverage in the USA seems not up to par. Europe's coverage is much better, and Canada somewhere in between. The church bombing on New Year's Eve got more coverage than this history in the making period.

First, I am Egyptian, born and raised there, but living outside of Egypt for the last 2 decades. I was personally affected by the regime there for decades, but that is a story for a future blog post. I have family there, and was in Egypt for all of December 2010.

The whole region is run by military dictators, after the post-World War II upheaval. The colonial rule by European powers, or local monarchies, were ousted in military coupe d'etats. Many of the dictators were idealistic at first, and took a socialist or communist slant initially, only to become totalitarian despots, fascists, or something else other than socialist. Now the trend is to make it a dynastic rule, with Syria the first to have a nominal republic convert into a dynastic one. Tunisia's ex-despot had a son in law (Sakher El-Materi, only 30 years old) who was into politics big time and poised to take over the reigns of the country. In Algiers, the president is set to install his brother to succeed him. In Libya, a son seems earmarked for that. In Egypt it is also a son as well. I think Yemen.

Look at the statistics and cringe in horror at how long these despots are in power:

  • Libya: Qaddafi - 41 years.
  • Yemen: Saleh - 32 years.
  • Egypt: Mubarak - 29 years.
  • Tunisia: Ben Ali - 23 years.

Let us ignore the monarchies in the region for a bit, since they are not a republic and can nominally remain in power for that long.

Mubarak has been in power FOR MORE THAN ANY EGYPTIAN RULER IN MODERN HISTORY. That is since 1847 or so, NO ONE has ruled as long as Mubarak did.

All of them have had a sham parliament amend the nominal constitution to make it possible for them to run for more than the maximum of 2 or 3 terms, and then make it a lifetime thing as well.

All of them have parliaments that consist exclusively of those from the ruling party which gets 90% or more of seats via intimidation and exclusion of the opposition.

Now, the Operation Egypt thing is relatively new. I saw it today in the morning only. So it remains to be seen if they are helpful or not.

What I can say is that on Jan 25, the Egyptian Presidency [] web site was showing "under development and construction". I was checking it for a page for the list of modern rulers of Egypt and their time in power. Today, the web site seems to be under a DoS attack.

However, the stars of the show are first Kolena Khaled Saeed [] (We are all Khaled Saeed). It is a Facebook group that is named after a 20-something youth tortured and killed by the police last year. Police brutality is one of the top demands of those who are protesting. Last I checked, they had 413,000 "likes".

The second star is the Rassd News Network []. This is a grassroots citizen news organization that is very mature, professional and objective. They verify sources and rate items as either "unconfirmed" or "confirmed". They have both Arabic and English updates from various sources, including eyewitnesses from action. You can "Like" them in Facebook, ignore the Arabic messages, and read the English ones to see updates.

The path to where we are today with protests was a long one.

The parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005 and 2006 show a lot of courage from a very small number of people. They were mainly middle class or intellectuals. The rest of the public did not catch on. Those who opposed the president got the heavy hand of the regime on them. For example, Saad El Din Ibrahim (an academic, and a bit eccentric) got imprisoned on false charges, Ayman Nour (another opposition figure) was imprisoned for other false charges and only freed when Obama came to power.

The Muslim Brotherhood, who have wide support specially in poorer classes, have been systematically excluded and intimidated from politics. The regime rounds them up before elections, and keeps them behind bars and then frees them after the elections are over.

Smaller political parties were allowed to operate since they have very little following and hence not a threat on the regime (Communists, Nasserists, Ancient Egyptianists, Wafd, ...etc.)

In the 2005 parliament the Muslim Brotherhood were allowed some seats, to show the West that Egypt is democratic. In 2010, it was the Wafd party who was selected by the ruling party to be the token opposition, and the brotherhood got no seats.

Elections are not free at all, and have never been so since 60 years. From intimidation, exclusion of candidates, ballot stuffing, ...etc you name it. They use all the tricks in every book.

The current president plans on running for yet another term (after completing 30 years in power) in October 2011. This was to be the next big time for protests, but what happened in Tunisia no doubt accelerated things. People suddenly saw that a dictator is not permanent and can be deposed by just the people asking for what is theirs. That is why January 25 happened. Again, it is grassroots, with no centralized leadership. Think crowd-sourcing. Thing open source. This is it in real life.

The grievances are many: no jobs to earn a decent living. No chance to get a place to live in for a youth. Hence no way to get married. Corruption in the form of bribes, nepotism and others. The ruling elite and their cronies living lavish lives, having cars that cost a million Egyptian pounds, and residence that cost many millions. Amounts that a regular Egyptian would never see in many life times. Political standstill: no way to get rid peacefully of the current president, the ruling party, the ruling elite. Police brutality (around 26 people died in police custody in recent years). The security forces are there to protect the regime, not serve the public. Prices going up on basic food stuff, and with salaries staying the same, people are suffering.

Now to the protests themselves:

No centralized leadership: this is not the Muslim Brotherhood, or El Baradei (ex-Internationl Atomic Energy Agency president and Nobel Peace Prize winner). This is true grassroots when you see it in action. People coordinating via Twitter and Facebook. No one giving marching orders.

Regular people: people from all walks of life are there. Rich actors, poor youth, lawyers, journalists, movie director, women, girls, ...etc. This is not exclusively for religious or poor people. It is everyone.

Different people: see above.

Fear barrier has been broken: Egyptians finally got over the fear they have been living with for 60 years, and starting to confront the regime. My father was afraid. I was afraid. The new generation

New media: in the 1960s to 1980s, the government could control the media, because it was all state owned, or they can ban it (newspapers). Starting in the 90s, things changed. There was satellite TV that broke borders, and the internet of course. Today, there are ways for people to communicate that the government can't control (completely at least).

Now today, Blackberry BBM (secure instant messaging) was down for a few hours today, on all three mobile network. Then it was restored.

Facebook stopped working mid-day too. Twitter was down on the first day of protests (Jan 25).

Tomorrow is set to be a big day with people heading to the streets after the Friday mid day prayer (Friday is the weekend there). The United Copts site has urged Christians to join in, so this is again an Egyptian thing, not Muslims only or whatever.

Here is another grassroots effort to document this historic event: 2011 Egyptian protests [] on Wikipedia.

If you want more, join that Facebook group above. Or email me at my username here at Google's thing. Things are happening too fast, but I will try my best.


The Catalyst: Tunisia a country in Northern Africa was ruled by a repressive and dictatorial regime led by President Ben Ali. At the end of 2010, a series of riots broke out throughout Tunisia, collectively termed the "Jasmine Revolution." The root causes are considered to be mass unemployment, widespread corruption, appalling living conditions and the governments propensity to squash free speech. This resulted in President Ben Ali dissolving the government, a victory for the revolutionaries.

Regional results: In the region, the success of the Tunisian revolution led to widespread instability. It had previously been considered axiomatic that regional dictatorships were too stable to fall. The Tunisian revolution proved otherwise and soon protests began all over the region, most strongly in Algeria, Yemen and Egypt.

Egypt: The Egyptian youth were mobilized by the example set by the Tunisian revolution. Many suggested that the upcoming 25th of January 'National Police Day' be instead used as a massive nation wide protest against corruption. Other causes for the unrest have been the widespread brutality of the Egyptian police and military (Egypt is basically a dictatorship because the country is under 'Emergency law' and has been since 1967), the crippling poverty in the country and President Mubarak himself.

The Egyptian Response: The Egyptian police and military have been very heavy handed in responding to the protests. A huge number of protestors have been beaten by police and plain clothes secret police officers. Three have been confirmed killed at the time of this writing. In an effort to stop the protestors utilizing Facebook and Twitter to organize and get their message out, Egypt shut down access to those two sites and now, basically unplugged the country from the internet entirely.

Friday: This Friday will see a pivotal moment in the Egyptian revolution as a mass protest has been called after traditional Friday prayers. The Egyptians have called for a "Million Man March" but the chaos in the country and the unpredictability of what's going on makes it difficult to even guess at what will actually transpire.

Predictions: Analysts are split as to what will happen in Egypt. There seems to be a concensus that unlike Tunisia, whose military was underpaid, had terrible morale and had little stake in the Police State, the Egyptian army is far more likely to support the Mubarak regime. If the support of the armed forces wavers (as the police support already has, on occasion) then a very real revolution is on the cards.

The U.S in the Region: If you're American and wondering, the U.S has a lot of skin in the game. Mubarak has received a huge amount of aid from the United States. Egypt is one of the only Middle Eastern countries to have something approaching a lasting peace treaty with Israel, and Mubarak is generally considered to be a 'friend of the West' by the standards of his fellow leaders in the region. Many of the protesters see the U.S as propping up Mubarak's regime. If the revolution succeeds, any popular democracy in Egypt is almost certainly going produce leaders with anti-American platforms.

Hope that helps and I really hope I didn't get too much wrong.

[Edit:] Fixed some errors kindly pointed out to me by comb_over down below. Show him some upvote love for vigilance and knowingness!

[Edit 2:] There's been a lot of good discussion down below about the Muslim Brotherhood, the nature of their role in the revolution, whether they're a terrorist group, have terrorist offshoots or are non-violent. I think it's a complex issue to which I have no easy answers so I've removed any mention of them from the above summation. I encourage everyone to read up on their own and form their own conclusions (many great links are below). I apologize to anyone who feels they've been misinformed by my earlier statements in regard to MB.

[Edit 3:] I'm going to be adding summaries of events as they happen and I read about them. Hope that doesn't break Reddiquette.

Events as of 29th of January Australian Time

Death toll: The current official death toll for the protests is 26. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

The Egyptian Government Pulls the Communication Plug: Concerned that the protesters were using Twitter and Facebook to organize themselves and get their message out both inside and outside Egypt, the government there blocked access to those services. When this proved insufficient they ordered telecommunications companies to disable SMS services and Blackberry Communications. Finally, the Egyptian Government essentially unplugged the entire country from the Internet.

Mubarak disbands cabinet: The Egyptian government is vaguely similar in structure at the top to that of the U.S in that it consists of a President and a Cabinet responsible for various portfolios. Refusing to step down himself, President Mubarak has ordered his entire Cabinet to resign, effectively firing them, and announced plans to appoint a new government. Mubarak delivered a speech in which he pledged a more open democracy going forward. Analysts seem to think this won't be nearly enough to satisfy the protesters.

Opposition Leader Mohammed ElBaradei: Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Egypt on January 27th. Dr ElBaradei has previously served as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the people responsible for monitoring nuclear proliferation and inspecting nuclear power plants all over the world) and holds a Noble Peace Prize. As early as 2009 he was considered a potential candidate to lead an opposition against President Mubarak in Egypt but made no truly definite moves to do so until these uprisings began. He is considered a democratic reformer and is viewed as a potent symbol for the revolution. Since arriving in Egypt, he has been placed under house arrest by the Egyptian government.

Wikileaks, Anonymous and Operation Egypt:Wikileaks has stated their intention to soon release thousands of documents relating to the Egyptian regime (this may have already happened, haven't had a chance to look). The international hacker coalition known as 'Anonymous' and mostly recently famous for their organization of cyber protests in support of Wikileaks have begun "Operation Egypt." The goal is to prevent the Egyptian government from isolating the protesters within the country and to get the word out as much as possible. How successful this will be with Egypt almost disconnected from the web is still in doubt.

The White House Weighs in: President Obama has given a short statement on the Egyptian situation. Essentially he said that these protests require an agenda of reform from the Mubarak government as a response. The language used is significant because President Obama essentially backed the Mubarak government in the short term, while pressing for reform.


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