Egypt protesters want freedom, but can they organize to get it?
Egypt's protests have managed to energize a broad swath of Egyptians, but it's unclear if protesters can harness that energy for political change. Security was tight in Cairo Wednesday.
The demands of the tens of thousands of protesters who poured into Egyptian streets across the nation Tuesday were clear: freedom, democracy, and an end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Egyptian protests
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Protesters also called for the prime minister to quit, for parliament to be dissolved after elections in November, widely regarded as rigged, and for a new national unity government to be created.
But while their demands were political, their organization was not. The demonstrations were organized on Facebook by grass-roots civil society movements, not political opposition parties. And they mobilized a broad swath of Egyptians from across the demographic spectrum – a feat Egypt’s political opposition has failed to pull off.
“I don’t think they can do anything,” said Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is currently in Egypt, of Egypt’s opposition parties. “The dynamism is in the people who are out in the streets.… It’s leaderless as far as I can tell; it’s this amalgamation of groups.”
Activists have called for more protests Wednesday, and whether the calls are met by action will be a crucial test of how much momentum the movement has and how much pressure it will be able to bring to bear on the Egyptian regime. It is apparent that the government is already feeling the pinch: Tuesday it shut down access to the social networking site Twitter, which had been used by protesters to organize the demonstrations. One member of the security forces was reportedly killed during the clashes in Cairo, and two protesters were killed in Suez.
Egypt’s protests follow a wave of unrest that has spread across the region in the wake of the Tunisian revolution. That uprising began with protests over skyrocketing unemployment and government corruption that came to include opposition to harsh government oppression and, eventually, calls for the ouster of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia Jan. 14.
Protests in other nations, including Algeria and Jordan, were spurred by rising prices, unemployment, and other economic woes. Despite government attempts to portray them as related to the economic situation, Egypt’s demonstrations were notable for their focus on the political.