Egypt: Tweets From the Ground as Unrest Escalates, U.S. Shifts Policy
Editor's note, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011: Conflicting reports are coming from Egypt this morning as to whether President Hosni Mubarak has resigned; CNN has reported that key members of Mubarak's cabinet have resigned, but not the president.
Egyptians demanding the dismantling of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak continued their tireless efforts throughout Egypt today, capping an entire week of protests. Two days ago, in response to the uprising, Mubarak asked everyone in his government to resign except for himself. In true dictator fashion, he claimed last night in a televised address on state television that he had no choice but to stay in power because his country would descent into chaos in his absence (he repeated that heartfelt concern to ABC's Christiane Amanpour today).
Demonstrations, which have up till now been remarkably peaceful, turned ugly Wednesday when protesters and journalists alike were attacked by large groups of thugs and criminals, many on camel or horseback. It was by all accounts a well-orchestrated attempt by the Mubarak regime to undermine the popular uprising and punish the media who has been covering it. Dozens of journalists from all backgrounds were beaten, detained, and their equipment destroyed or confiscated. Many of the thugs involved later admitted to having been paid off by the government to wreak chaos and havoc in the streets, to make the protesters re-think their demands and come back begging for Mubarak to restore stability and security once again.
I've been keeping up to date with the latest development on the ground via Twitter, which has served as a remarkable mobilizing tool for activists in and outside of Egypt, despite the Egyptian government's turning off the internet (those with access on the outside instructed those without access on methods to bypass the ban, by a phone-based "speak to tweet app" launched jointly by Google and Twitter).
Many journalists and protesters alike gave each other tips for the best escape routes to avoid looters and government thugs on the attack. Others tweeted requests -- like the need for medics at specific locations, or announcements, such as arrests, beatings, or the disappearance of colleagues who had gone missing.
-- @BloggerSeif from Tahrir Square; he later reported the child had been reunited with his family.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government -- which, like all players in the region, has been watching the developments with a careful eye -- expressed its concern for stability in the region; to hell with democracy. As an unidentified Israeli minister quoted inTime Magazine put it: "I’m not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process.” (The U.S. administration had a more gradual approach, starting off by saying Mubarak was no dictator, but eventually seeing their long-time friend as the problem).
But this equation of stability at the expense of democracy that has long defined U.S. policy toward the region is getting set to change, as the New York Times is reporting today that the U.S. is discussing plans for Mubarak's exit. The United States can no longer claim to promote and support democracy while actively working to undermine it in countries like Egypt (and even the Occupied Palestinian Territories).
The Mubarak regime wasted no time in blaming "foreign operatives" for its sorry record -- only hours after my father joked "wait and see; they will blame this on the Palestinians too!" and two days after sealing Gaza's only outlet to the world, the Rafah Crossing into Egypt. They claimed Hamas was being trained by Israel to overthrow Egypt, going so far as to extract confessions from one beleaguered woman on state TV to prove their claim. They also blamed the media and the United States in instigating the chaos. Why Israel would train Hamas to overtake a key ally, who is jointly blockading Gaza since democratic elections there in 2006, is another story.
But why let facts get in the way? "Next they'll blame Algerian football" joked QHendAbuenein (whose tweets are now protected).
After following tweets from and on Egypt for the past week, I've seen a lot of dark humor, and a lot of outrage. Here are some I found incisive:
Laila El-Haddad is a freelance Palestinian journalist and blogger based in Maryland, and author of the book Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between. She blogs at www.gazamom.com.