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Jasmine: The Scent of Tahrir [A Round-up and Dateline]

Posted on February 10, 2011 in GlobeScope

By Dennis James:

The Jasmine revolution is the name given to set of protests that have shook the Arab world to its core, in such a manner, that one president was bound to leave the nation along with his family members and another faces the same fate.

The revolution started after an incident, Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate set himself alight in front of the municipal building in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia on 17th December, 2010. He was protesting the corruption in police ranks and his ill treatment at their hands. They had confiscated the fruits and vegetables he had been hawking. Protestors were dealt with in a very heavy handed manner by the police, videos of which sparked outrage across the world when posted on YouTube and Facebook. Bouazizi succumbed to his injuries on the 4th January, 2011, but the spark had been lit, the scent of the jasmine was now in the air.

It is notable that President of Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ruling the state in autocratic manner from past 23 years. Like other countries of Arab world, Ben Ali was also working with support of The United States. Riots in Tunisia were very rare before Bouazizi’s immolation bid, due to the fact that the country is considered wealthy in comparison with the other countries in the area. Many other Tunisians, however in the aftermath of the event came onto the streets, protesting the widespread corruption in the Tunisian government which had turned Tunisia into a nightmare for the common man, especially the educated youth who started using social networking sites to mobilize support.

Ben Ali tried to counter the rising and increasingly violent protests by announcing the creation of over 300,000 jobs – though he did not clarify how it was going to happen. This did not appeal to the youth in revolt and police brutalities increased day by day. By this time international pressure started to increase on Ben Ali to resign, which he resolutely refused. The internet was abuzz with messages of support for the Tunisian revolutionaries and whispers of liberation started spreading across. After 28 days of resistance, Ben Ali’s government fell and he fled the country after declaring a state of emergency on  14th January 2010. Protests are still going on and the official death toll is said to be over 100 and around the same number injured.

According to Al Jazeera Op-Ed article of the action taking place on the streets were the “Suicidal Protests Of Despair by Tunisia’s Youth.” — it stated that the protests were due to The National Solidarity Fund and The National Employment Fund, which provided goods and services at subsidized rates but had shifted the burden of supporting themselves from the Tunisian elite to the oppressed public who mostly lived in shantytowns in the cities and their suburbs. This lethal combination of political oppression, poverty and unemployment is a staple feature of most of the Arab world.

The action had by now shifted to Egypt, which has been under the rule of the modern day Pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak for around 30 years — all under emergency powers after the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat. Mubarak, another staunch American supporter, was widely believed to be getting ready to hand over power to his son Gamal.

The various organizers, which included the We Are Aall Khaled Said movement and the 6 April youth movement, decided to  hold a protest march on 25th January 2011, coinciding with national police day dubbing it as ‘the day of anger’. Around 15,000 people occupied Tahrir square which became the hub of protests. Clashes broke out with the police, leading to casualties on both sides. Rioting continued over the following days. On 28th January, ‘Friday Of Anger’ The government stopped all mobile and internet services to try and dissuade protestors who were now joined by former I.A.E.A. Chief Mohamed El Baradai, who came to Cairo after leading protests in nearby Giza.

He was arrested soon after arriving at Tahrir, which lead to the United States taking a review of a $1.5billion aid package. Pitched battles took place between cops and the protestors who had similar demands to their counterparts in Tunisia. Some Members Of the banned Muslim Brotherhood (more on this coming soon) were also arrested. The domino effect as with the Velvet Revolution of 1989 in Czechoslovakia which had lead to the fall of the Soviet Union had started to take place.

By this time, the flames of the revolution had spread over to Jordan and Yemen, where drastic measures were taken. The Jordanian King dismissed his unpopular P.M. and appointed a new cabinet headed by a more popular leader. Yemen also witnessed intensive tension during this period. The crisis also had a profound impact on India as well, due to the increase in oil prices and the loss of quite a lot of trade which came through the Egyptian Suez Canal, and now had to take a longer route across the Cape of Good Hope. The United States already reeling under the impact of the loss of an ally in Tunisia was now in two minds whether to support or denounce Mubarak.

On the 30th army tanks rolled into major Egyptian cities as Mubarak tried to impose his full might on the protestors. Egyptian F-16, fighter jets flew low overhead at Tahrir. Mohamed El Baradai was given license to be the negotiator in talks to form a temporary Unity Government. On the 31st the armed forces refused to fire on protestors.

On the 1st of February, opposition leaders gave the call for the march of millions, called for 1 million people to march from Tahrir to the presidential palace in Heliopolis. Over 2 million protestors had gathered in Cairo by the late evening. That night after increasing U.S. Pressure, Mubarak stated he would not run for another term. The following day saw Mubarak supporters taking to the streets, which lead to rioting and stone throwing between the factions. Molotov cocktails were thrown into Tahrir Sporadic fighting took place and the casualty count increased as the people prepared for the Friday of departure (4th Feb.). In an Interview to ABC’s Christiane Amanpour Mubarak stated that he was fed up of being in power but did not want to resign as it would benefit the Muslim brotherhood. On the Day Of departure around two million protestors came to Tahrir to pray, with Christians forming a human chain around praying Muslims. The following protest called for Mubarak to step down. Talks with US officials also increased as VP Suleiman felt that the longer Mubarak stayed the more strident the protests would become. The following day pro – Mubarak activists tried to storm the square. The army fired into the air to disperse them. The following morning pro Mubarak activists fired into the square. A Sunday Of Martyrs protest was organized, with Christians doing mass at Tahrir square with Muslims forming a human chain, a reverse of Friday and then the Muslims later participated in a Salat al-Janazah(funeral prayer). Talks are still in continuation as well as protests.

Egypt is the place where the world is looking at as it is known that if the protests succeed, the protesters across the rest of the Arab world will rise up as well. Tunisia may have been the startup required for the Arab protestors but Egypt is the crowning glory. The Egyptian protests if successful would be like the finding of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1923. Egypt is a game changer, which the US recognizes as well, considering the amount of pressure they are exerting on the Mubarak cabinet to replace Mubarak with his deputy Suleiman is a well known supporter of theirs and has less problems with the protesting masses.

The US knows very well if the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt but controls 20% of the seats in the Egyptian parliament through its members who ran as independents. The Brotherhood is known to follow principles which are quite in line with those of Islamic Fundamentalists, which could harm their relationship with Israel and bring back chaos into the region again. It is feared that this might also lead to groups similar or even more fundamentalist than the brotherhood, thus ruining the position of the US in the region.

The protests have also had a big impact on the world economy. The Arab world controls most of the world’s oil supply. The chaos in the Arab world has lead to crude oil crossing the $100 mark. Tourism has also taken a hit as well with leading tour organizer Thomas Cook stating that the losses due to Egypt could cause losses of around 30 Million Pounds Sterling(around $42 Million).

All in all these protests for better or for worse could determine how the Arab world will progress in the future and maybe the world. Only Time will tell.

Dateline of Egypt Protests for journalists, reporters and students (and more)

Image courtesy: Al Jazeera English