Egypt Uprising "As Serious as a Heart Attack"

Egypt Uprising "As Serious as a Heart Attack"

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NAM Contributor Jalal Ghazi spoke with Dina Ibrahim, an Egyptian-born assistant professor of journalism at San Francisco State University whose area of expertise is Middle Eastern politics and media.

How serious the demonstrations are? Have they spread beyond Cairo?

They are serious as a heart attack. The Egyptian people have been inspired by Tunisia and are not going to stop until President Mubarak steps down. The demonstrations are happening in every city in Egypt and are most active in Alexandria, Ismaileyya and Suez.

What is the possibility that the army will take a position against Mubarak? Why haven't we heard anything about that?

It is not likely that the army will defy Mubarak, given his strong military background and stronghold on the army, who are loyal to him and serve at his discretion. Having said that, most Egyptians did not believe that the central security forces would concede to the military and that martial law would be declared, so at this point anything is possible. We haven't heard much about the military stance because, since no military spokesperson has made any statements, it is difficult to determine how the military will handle the situation.

What is the role of Egyptian women in the demonstrations? I have seen women in YouTube, saying and doing things many men would not dare say or do.

Women have been participating in demonstrations in Egypt since the 1952 revolution, when we gained independence from British rule. Today we are seeing women in the streets calling for reform alongside their male citizens. Naturally, women are more vulnerable to physical harm during public unrest, so they are less likely to be on the streets after dark or participating in violent acts such as burning government buildings or direct clashes with the army and police. This wave of empowerment definitely includes women, many of whom face the same economic hardships as men and their voices are certainly among those calling for change.

What is the possibility that El Bradei will take over Mubarak? How popular is he in Egypt? Why was he allowed to come back? Is he backed by the US?

El Baradei is quite popular in Egypt, and there is a lot of anger at the fact that he is currently under house arrest. But there are also mixed feelings about him. Some people I spoke to today are disappointed that he "suddenly returned" to Egypt and has not been there all along to endorse and participate in the revolt. I can only speculate regarding the reasons why he was allowed to return to Egypt. Perhaps the government felt it would be worse off if they banned him, or maybe they allowed him back precisely so that they could detain him. If we indeed witness free and fair elections as a result of these protests, El Baradei has a decent chance of winning a role in the future government, but whether that will be a leadership role will remain to be seen. I don't know if he is officially backed by the U.S,, but he does enjoy the support of the vast majority of the Egyptian diaspora, including Egyptian-Americans.

Who else might take over if the Mubarak regime collapses?

The Egyptian Constitution decrees that the speaker of the house, Fathi Sorour, will serve as the interim president. Beyond that, the question of political succession is unclear. Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, might get a surprising number of votes as a transitional president. Aymen Nour, who ran against Mubarak in the last presidential election, could also revive his currently stagnant political career. It is unlikely, I hope, that a Muslim Brotherhood candidate will win majority support, but there is no doubt that they will play a pivotal role in the future of Egyptian politics.

Al Jazeera says that tens of thousands are demonstrating in the streets. Why aren't we seeing hundreds of thousands or even millions?

Because the army is shooting people dead on the spot after curfew. Most Egyptians are trying their best to make a living and keep their families safe. But every Egyptian is proud of all the demonstrators risking their lives to change the future of the country in a brighter direction.

Egypt has witnessed demonstrations before, but nothing has happened. Are these demonstrations any different?

We have never seen anything this huge. These riots are often compared to the bread riots of 1977, which were dealt with swiftly by readjusting bread prices to affordable levels. What sets these demonstrations apart is the sheer number of people and their persistence. I never imagined that I would see scenes of demonstrators overwhelming security forces in the streets of Cairo. I also believe that people have genuinely had enough, including the Egyptians employed by the security forces, which is why the army was called in.

The Muslim brotherhood has refrained from participating in the demonstrations. Why?

To my knowledge, they are participating now, after an initial period of laying low. They have long been targeted by security forces operating under the Emergency Law, which enables police to arrest anyone for whatever reason they deem necessary. But the Muslim Brotherhood will participate in future demonstrations and will undoubtedly use the anti-government sentiment to their political advantage.

Will they take over if the Mubarak regime is brought down?

I highly doubt it. I just got back from Cairo last week, having spent a month there, and I discussed the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood with quite a few people of different socio-economic classes. They are definitely popular, but not quite enough to rule the country. They will have a pivotal role in any new government, but I do not believe that the people are ready to be ruled by them. My personal feeling about this is that if the Egyptian people elect them fair and square, they should be given an opportunity to prove themselves as an effective political, economic and social force. I do not believe they will succeed. Then and only then will Egyptians realize that the Muslim Brotherhood do not have a concrete plan. Sometimes the only way to fix something is to break it.

How do you feel about what is going on, as an Egyptian American? How has the Egyptian community in San Francisco responded?

It feels absolutely awful to be thousands of miles away and watch it all on television. I've been glued to the TV and calling my parents' land line every few hours. It is incredibly painful not to be able to reach mobile phones in Egypt. I don't have landline numbers for most of my friends and colleagues. The Internet shutdown is equally frustrating. Egyptians in San Francisco will be gathering tomorrow at noon at Market and Montgomery Streets to express solidarity with the demonstrators. It's all they can do.

How is the situation in Egypt in general? is it better or worst than Tunisia or other Arab countries?

It's difficult for me to answer that question, as I do not know what the situation in Tunisia is like right now, but I highly empathize with the Tunisian people in their hour of uncertainty. My fear regards the next step—so the demonstrators topple the government, and then what? That is what Tunisia is trying to figure out right now, and that's what I hope also becomes clear in Egypt.

Has Wikileaks reports affected Egyptian view of Mubarak?

Not really. These sentiments have been simmering since 2005 when he decided to run for the presidency yet again.

If Mubarak steps down, is it possible to have real democracy in Egypt?

Yes, I believe so. It is what people want and have been waiting for a very, very long time.