Unrest continues in Egypt; ND students evacuate
Sam Stryker | Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The current political turmoil in Egypt is a result of 30 years of harsh rule under President Hosni Mubarak, according to Emad Shahin, professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.
“What is going on is a popular uprising that is aspiring to change Mubarak’s regime that has been in power for the past three decades,” he said. “He has been suppressing freedoms and ruling the country with an iron fist.”
Shahin said the events in Egypt are similar to those experienced in Communist Europe, at the end of the Cold War.
“I think we are witnessing a movement similar movement to the uprising in Eastern Europe against pro—Soviet dictatorships,” he said. “It is mainly a movement that is pro—change and seeking to change the regime from an outdated one to free and democratic.”
Unlike the events in Soviet Europe, the events in Europe have been driven by technology in order to organize the motives of change, Shahin said. The Egyptian government responded to these movements by ordering Internet service providers to shut down from the Internet, the last one complying Monday.
Though the protests began as a youth movement organized largely through social media Shahin said they have spread to all spectrums of Egyptian society since Jan. 25.
“In general, this uprising has drawn diverse segments of society from different classes, from different backgrounds, from different ages, even different ideological [areas],” he said. “It has managed to spread from the north to the south of the country.”
Shahin said the movement against Mubarak’s regime started as peaceful, but was met with brutal force by the Egyptian president. This has caused the situation to escalate, providing many of the violent images being broadcast around the world.
“[This forced] some of the demonstrators to target the symbols of suppression in the street and in the country,” Shahin said. “Some started to burn headquarters of the state party, the National Democratic Party. These are the fires we are seeing on television.”
Security police have pulled out of their duties, Shahin said, leading to a state of anarchy Mubarak hopes will aid him in retaining power. There have also been accusations of the current regime intentionally releasing prisoners.
“It is the very simple equation of liberty versus security,” Shahin said. “Mubarak’s regime tried to create a state of insecurity at the expense of liberty so people would wish for security and forget about liberty.”
Despite the chaos on the streets of Egypt, Shahin said the people of Egypt have taken it upon themselves to secure districts from violence.
“As a result of the breakdown and the spread of anarchy, the people themselves have started to organize in order to protect neighborhoods and ensure that order and security are maintained,” he said.
Mubarak has responded to calls from the opposition to relinquish power by taking the unprecedented step of appointing a vice—president, Shahin said.
“At the political level, the Mubarak regime, bowing down to popular pressures, dismissed the government,” he said. “He appointed a vice—president, something he has resisted to do for the past 30 years.”
Shahin said the past few days have been especially difficult because the current government and those seeking change have not been able to make progress.
“The military stepped in, so what we have now is a military led government that is supposed to restore order,” he said. “This has not happened because the people were determined to continue their pressure and their pro—democracy protests. We are having a kind of a stalemate.”
Egypt is second only to Israel in terms of monetary aid received from the United States. However, Shahin said the position of the American government toward Egypt has changed in the past few days.
“The United States position started to shift,” he said. “As events started to unfold, the position of the United States became much more galvanized around the possibility of seeing smooth and peaceful transition to a government that would respond to the democratic aspirations of Egyptians.”
Shahin there are two possible outcomes to the current conflict in Egypt. The first involves Mubarak retaining power through violent military suppression of the pro—democratic demonstrators, he said.
“The more likely scenario that we will see soon, perhaps within the next 48 hours, is that the people themselves will be able to hang on and steadfastly press with their demands until they succeed in bringing down Mubarak’s regime,” Shahin said.
Shahin said the political implications will not be felt in Egypt or the Middle East alone, but all across the world.
“The implications would be tremendous. Egypt is a heavyweight in the region,” he said. “Internationally, the Europeans and the Americans are faced with a [situation] where the status quo cannot be maintained. They will have to start formulating a new position depending on the nature of the government.”
Shahin said Egyptians are capable of handling the situation without international intervention.
“This is an internal issue,” he said.
Egyptians must handle this issue on their own, Shahin said, because the protestor’s desired changes are revolutionary.
“Egyptians are rising up in protest in a revolt,” he said. “I think now it is really a revolution in order to change the three decade long autocratic and oppressive system and institute a democratic one.”
Though Egypt is undergoing a tumultuous period in its history, Shahin said people should not be shocked by the revolutionary intents of the protesters.
“It seems chaotic and unstable, but these events should not come as a surprise,” he said. “The burst of democracy is a tough process. This is something most nations have to go through.”
While the country is experiencing a trying series of events, Shahin said he is confident the issues at stake will be resolved in a manner that bodes well for the country’s future.
“The Egyptian people will be able to restore stability and chart a new course of change and a new democratic future,” he said.