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Power in Action -- The Making of Egypt's Revolution

By       Message Esam Al-Amin     Permalink
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Freedom lies behind a door, closed shut
It can only be knocked down with a bleeding fist
-- Egyptian Poet-Laureate Ahmad Shawqi (1869-1932)

On April 21, 2008, an assistant high school principal placed an advertisement in Al-Ahram, the largest daily newspaper in Egypt, pleading disparately with President Hosni Mubarak and his wife to intervene and release her daughter from prison.

It turned out that her 27-year-old daughter, Israa' Abd el-Fattah, was arrested 10 days earlier because of her role in placing a page on Facebook encouraging Egyptians to support a strike in the industrial city of al-Mahalla that had taken place on April 6.

In her spare time, she and two of her colleagues created the Facebook page. Within days of posting it, over 70,000 people supported their call. After the security forces cracked down against the huge riots in al-Mahalla on April 6, Abd el-Fattah was arrested.

What was odd about this arrest was that although thousands of people have been arrested over the past three decades, it was the first time that a warrant was issued against a female under the notorious emergency laws imposed in the country since 1981. To get out of prison she had to apologize and express regret for her actions. But the experience made her more determined than ever to be politically active.

On that day, the "April 6 Youth" movement was created. For the next two-and-a-half years it maintained its presence and created one of the most popular political forums on several social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

When the  president of Tunisia, Zein al-Abideen Ben Ali, was deposed on January 14, following a four-week popular uprising, the April 6 movement, like millions of youth across the Arab World, was inspired, energized, and called for action.

Changing of the Guard: the Youth leads

Looking at the calendar, Israa' and her colleagues picked the next Egyptian holiday, which was ironically "Police Day" falling on Tuesday, January 25. Within a few days they called on all social media sites for massive protests and an uprising against the Mubarak regime.

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They called for marches to start from all major squares, mosques and churches in Cairo and Alexandria while asking others to help plan in other Egyptian cities. They insisted that the protests would be peaceful and that no one should bring weapons of any type.

They had four demands: that the government develop programs to address poverty and unemployment; that it would end the state of emergency and uphold judicial independence; the resignation of the interior minister whose ministry was notorious for torture and abuse of human rights; and for political reforms including the limitation of presidential terms to two, the dissolution of the parliament, and for new elections to be held after the massive elections fraud of last November.

Within a few days, over 90,000 youth signed up and charted a comprehensive protest throughout Egypt. Initially, neither the government nor the opposition took them seriously. Even former IAEA director Dr. Mohammad Elbaradei, who has been criticizing the regime for over a year, was abroad due to his frequent speaking engagements.

In a show of force, the government assembled over 200,000 of its security forces surrounding the protesters throughout the country. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched representing broad cross-sections of society, men and women, young and old, educated and illiterate, and declared that their demonstrations were peaceful but that they were determined to press their demands.

When they could not control the crowds the police beat back the protesters using water canons, tear gas and rubber bullets. By the end of the day there were over a dozen casualties and hundreds of injuries. This not only outraged the demonstrators, but also ignited the whole country.

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Most of the protesters refused to go home and escalated the confrontation, declaring an open demonstration in Liberation Square in downtown Cairo and throughout the country. The government continued its crackdown calling for curfews in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez from 6 PM to 6 AM.

The curfews for the following days kept getting longer until the government called for a general curfew from 3 PM to 8 AM.  But each time the people simply ignored it and increased their demands, calling for total regime change and the ouster of Mubarak.

An Uprising turns into a Revolution

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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