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The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

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EZZELDIN: In 2008, April 6, 2008, they met with huge and brutal repression by the police, and it was like a street war. So this was -- this moment actually made a new hope, that first it delivered a new culture, a new experience for ordinary people about the strike. So it was followed by estimated, almost estimated 800 strikes in two years, which [is] unprecedented in Egyptian history."

"In 2008, 2009"So we had first a political movement 2005, social movement, spread all over Egypt, in 2008 manifested by Mahalla strike and the tax [textile?] workers strike, who called for independent trade union. And both experiences [inaudible] many of Egyptian workers and people who are protesting against the regime and the -- it paid a lot of attention to what these people can do and how powerful they are. Okay?"

"It was followed later, last year, in 2010, by a youth movement. This youth movement [inaudible] after the brutal death of Khaled Saeed. Khaled Saeed was a young man, a university graduate in Alexandria, and he was tortured in the street and he was killed by the police inspectors. And after -- like, who was ordered by the police to kill this man, and he was killed."

"And after the murder of Khaled Saeed in June 2010, there was a huge and massive opposition between the youth [inaudible] the people who are vulnerable to unemployment, people who are facing the police in daily interactions, and people who feel that this country is theirs, this country is ours, but it has been hijacked, it has been captured by this repressive regime and the political and economic figures who are supporting this regime and who are depriving them from a new future."

"So we have three moments manifested in what happened. And, of course, this wouldn't happen, I would say, this wouldn't happen, at least unless we have kept watching the great and glorious revolution of the Tunisian people, which actually broke any barrier of fear [inaudible] just fearing to go to demonstration and continuing and insisting on the demands. So Tunisia, of course, played a huge role in what--to make what happened [inaudible]."

JAY: How important was social media? We're--you know, from the Western coverage there's kind of this sense that Egyptians were doing nothing, Tunisia happens, social media, and now you get this. So now what -- you can understand there's years of development. But that being said, did social media play an important role?

EZZELDIN: Yes, it played an important role. But we have to understand there's a sort of difference between Egypt and Tunisia. The Egyptian regime, the dictatorship in Egypt, is supported, basically, by the American aid and supported by American regime"American administration, and of course supported by Israel. The geographic and strategic status of Egypt in the region made the Egyptian regime quite different from other regimes in the region, okay, w hat made the mission and the task of the Egyptian opposition is really hard. So this is number one. Number two--.

JAY: But just to add, because there's so much at stake for Western interests, Egypt is like the pillar of this US policy for this region.

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EZZELDIN: Sure. Sure. Sure. This first. And this not--by any means, this--I don't mean to reduce anything of what happened or to underestimate what happened in Tunisia, which is beyond imagination, beyond recognition, something really incredible, something great. But I would say, first, Egypt is quite different in terms of population, in terms of strategic importance to United States.

And second, regarding the media, the media played important role, because, first, the government and the state media lost its legitimacy since 2005. Al Jazeera and all independent bloggers and websites, Facebook, all this new social media played a significant role in networking and in, like, calling for strikes.

For example, in April 6, 2008, it played a magnificent role. So social media played very important role. And people now, like, we--I expected that what happened in Tunisia is going to influence people in Egypt, but I didn't expect that it's going to influence--me and many people didn't expect it will take this short an--it was with this--in this quick way, this very fast way. So media, basically, the coverage of events in Tunisia last month, played a major role in bringing the potential for change in Egypt to a moment, a momentum.

JAY: So do you get a sense now that -- both in terms of the workers movement and the unions and the student movement, that this is going to give rise to new forms or more developed forms of organization? 'Cause right now it looks very spontaneous.

EZZELDIN: Yeah. It's completely spontaneous. The opposition movement, the legitimate, legally, opposition movement can't claim anything of what's going on now in Cairo streets. And Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, they denounced what happened. They said, we didn't participate; we are going--. They said they are going to participate, but they didn't participate actively in what happened Tuesday. Okay? So this actually is really inspiring. First, those people are having spontaneous motivations. They were going after an--because of unemployment [inaudible] economic and political social grievance, because of dictatorship, because the suppression, the oppression of the police, okay, they are just--they are done. They are done.

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They [The Muslim Brotherhood] have nothing to lose [inaudible] People are going to change. Okay? So this is number one. There's--they are not consolidated by foreign influence or foreign support. In terms of money, in terms of organization, like what happened in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, for example, it's quite different. People are not supported in Tunisia and Egypt; they are not supported from outside. And all the stereotypes in Western media about the potential threat of Islamist and all this stuff and they are going to take over the power [inaudible] only potential or only alternative to the recent regime in the region. Now it's -- it doesn't has-- it lost all of its credibility, because people are going and challenging the regime.

As Ezzeldin says, the role of social media such as Facebook and Twitter should not be underestimated. Many observers are referring to the current demonstrations are "The Twitter Revolution." But others think that overplays its significance.

To Mohammed Ezzeldin, the real contribution of social media is to shrink the length of time required from having an idea of staging a demonstration and actual implementation of that idea. Many Egyptians were exchanging messages about the Mubarak regime and what could be done, literally for years. And demonstrations for social and economic justice took place regularly, sometimes with deadly consequences for the participants.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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