Tuesday night after my midterm, I was standing outside a classroom at Harvard on the opposite end of the hall waiting for my friend to come out of class, and as I glanced up at the bulletin boards that span across the wood paneled walls, I saw a couple of things that interested me:
One was a poster for a lecture that would begin at 7:30 pm somewhere on campus given by Paul Harding, the author of tinkers, the Pulitzer prize-winning work of 2010 which I had recently read (and written a post about earlier.) It was 7:34 pm when I read that poster, so I figured I would, unfortunately, not make it to that event.
The second item of interest was a poster from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) advertising a special guest lecture that would be held the following day, March 30, 2011 given by Kirk Beattie, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Simmons College.
Beattie is working on a book, and it appeared that he was essentially reading from a stack of 40 pages or so of a manuscript as his presentation at the CMES. I did learn a great deal about the general framework and atmosphere leading up to this revolution, as well as the repercussions, just as the title of the talk implied. It’s informative and really helped to give a broad overview of the major world history that just happened earlier last month. I hope readers find it likewise helpful to understand the situation.
Some of the salient and interesting points:
- Speaking of blogs, Egyptians hit the blogging scene perhaps before blogging and twittering really took hold as mainstream social networking in the USA. The blogging phenomenon among Egyptian youths began in 2004-2005. Blogging and twittering became a common tool among the technologically-savvy young sector, and of course, was instrumental in the 18-day Tahrir Square Revolution of 2011 in Egypt. Famous bloggers and people power – Sand Monkey, and others.
- Mobilization and Clever Ways of Communication: there seemed to be a romantic, revolutionary presence. The Kite Runner movie star was out there, the poor, all different demographics, role reversals (Coptics guard the square while Muslims pray), getting people out on the street. Many people had a good idea of the mobilization capacity and pulled the revolution off brilliantly. For the most part, early on, it was non-violent. Only when the people were physically threatened did they respond violently. The government responded to the electronic mobilization efforts and used the “Armageddon response” to pull the ISP plug. The people were not fazed: they performed field tests and reverted to the standard mass mobilization techniques: stand below in the street and call up to people above and encourage them to come down. People recognize that the role of social networking in a political revolution of that magnitude means greater things for the future of political activism of the populace: perhaps there will be virtual parties with representatives more often than physical political rallies.
- 1952 Coup is comparable to the 2011 Revolution. In 1952, people rose up against King Farooq. Then, they rose up against Nassar, Sadat, and now most recently, former President Hosni Mubarak.
- Uprisings in Egypt tend to occur in January.
- Since 2007, there has been a more prominent labor unrest that affects a huge percentage of Egyptians, and approximately 65-70% of youths. Huge unemployment crisis. College grads or not, finding a job is very difficult there. People with B.A. degrees are often forced to work in service jobs they are extremely over-qualified for, working for people with no or little educational qualifications, and 20% of the population is living on less than $2 per day. This is below the WMF poverty level!!!!
- Food crisis: Bread. No bread. Egypt is the world’s greatest importers of food, and perhaps the largest importer of wheat. 60% of its wheat is imported. Shortage of wheat worldwide perhaps. Even Texas wheat farmers are switching to cotton.
- What do the Egyptians want? 1) Freedom of speech and assembly, 2) housing for newlyweds, and 3) end to police brutality.
- Beattie described the situation in Egypt that led up to the revolution as a ‘caldera’ meaning a large crater created by a volcanic explosion.
- The leaders of the revolution, some of which are known and others who are not, were little when the events of 1979 in Iran and in Algeria at another time were occurring.
- In 2009, images of the unrest in the region and of Gulf War years prior affected Americans and Egyptians in pronouncedly different ways. Their reaction to images of Iranian soldiers after a US air strike crawling towards the US troops to surrender are in a way a thermometer telling of the times. While Americans like Beattie may not have thought much of this, the image of the abased Iranian “cousins” crawling towards the West in surrender hit Egyptians hard – it was an echoing reminder of “Oh, here comes the West again to do whatever they want here, importing their democracy.” Egyptians were unhappy with this.
- US-Egyptian Foreign Policy? Beattie commented that the Bush administration was happy with Egypt despite political ideological differences because information on terrorists was being tortured out of people on Egyptian soil. Some wondered metaphorically: “Is the American being thrown out with the Western bathwater?”
- Key events leading to the revolution: 1) New Year’s Eve Coptic Church bombing. 2) Tunisian self-immolation resonated with the struggling plights of decent people trying to eke out a living. 3) a 28-year old handsome young man beaten to a pulp for his views, expressed on the blogosphere.
- Women took on the role of activists (but this step also made them vulnerable, and some were subject to violence and humiliation as a result, but not exclusively, as men also were faced with brutality of similar natures).
- Post-Revolutionary Period: Egypt is becoming an importer of oil and dependent on other nations for help. High levels of unemployment is lending itself to a bloated social sector. People are considering what to do with their assets – possibility that money is leaving the country. People are cautious of economic activity because they cannot see where the country is going.
- Political stability must precede economic stability.
- Chances of a new government being effective? Initially, slim. The government would likely be branded as a failure from the start with an impossibly difficult economic market pressures.
- Today, depression has hit the usually resilient and tolerant Egyptian people. For a country that relies so heavily on tourism, the recent events have dramatically cut down on tourism. People estimate that 1 out of every 7 Egyptians make their living on tourism. With the government up in the air and secret police and military milling about with roles that people generally seem unsure of, the direction of a country that may have formerly been considered a political leader in the Middle East is very ambiguous.