Friday, April 9, 2004

Protests Hint at New Chapter in Egyptian Politics

By Tamir Moustafa Reposted from Middle East Research and Information Project

The week marking the first anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq saw a flurry of demonstrations across Egypt. A protest in central Cairo marking the beginning of the war was followed by a series of demonstrations at al-Azhar and other major universities, as well as the lawyers' and journalists' syndicates, upon the Israeli assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin just three days later. While none of the protests matched the magnitude of those that rocked the Egyptian capital in March 2003, the constant recurrence of public demonstrations over the past year reveals much about how regional crises continue to exacerbate domestic economic and political tensions.

A New Kind of Dissent

On the morning of March 20, as they had the previous year, central security forces marched into downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square, making it once again resemble an army barracks. The estimated 5,000 security personnel easily contained the 2,000 demonstrators assembled, but the enormous security presence did not deter protesters from publicly indicting the government in a way that was unimaginable only two years ago. In the shadow of the massive government building in the square, Nasserists, Islamists, leftists and liberals condemned the US occupation of Iraq and bitterly criticized the inaction and impotence of Arab governments. A coffin carried through the crowd bore the epitaph, "Here lies the Arab League," and demonstrators cried out: "What is happening now in Iraq will happen tomorrow in Cairo!"