Megabyte Revolution; Social Networks Spark Revolutions across the Mideast

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

Megabyte Revolution; Social Networks Spark Revolutions across the Mideast


Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Cairo Necropolis is a bustling jumble of tombs and mausoleums where some 5 million homeless and impoverished (out of 18 million Cairenes) live and work among their dead relatives and ancestors. Along the base of the Moqatham Hills, the City of the Dead stretches for four miles from northern to southern Cairo. With 40 percent of Egypt's 82 million living below or just above the United Nation's poverty line of $2 a day, many come to Dead City looking for work, shelter and food.

Just to keep up with population pressures, the government has to generate 1 million new jobs a year, which is mission impossible. So the Egyptian bureaucracy, started 5,000 years ago, keeps growing. The recent 30 percent hike in world food prices brought social pressures to a boil.

After three weeks of 'round-the-clock demonstrations, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his pharaonic perch but didn't leave Egypt. In his Red Sea abode in Sharm el Sheik, Mr. Mubarak was surrounded by hundreds of loyal guards and state security personnel. Tourists and journalists on access roads were checked and searched by security police. In Cairo, Tahrir (Liberation) Square, occupied day and night by up to 250,000 for almost three weeks, was now cleaned up - and the army definitely in charge.

The demonstrators had gone home but many were muttering about a return to the square unless the military accelerated free elections and a new civilian government with no links to the Mubarak regime. A few dozen did return to Tahrir Square still guarded by tanks and armored personnel carriers. Army personnel dismantled their tents and firmly showed them the exit. The suspension of the constitution puts Egypt under martial law. Both houses of parliament were dissolved and the Armed Forces Supreme Council is now Egypt's official ruler.

The acting head of government is 75-year-old Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, a Mubarak crony who's been army chief since 1995. He is also defense minister - and the man in charge of pending elections in the fall. His acting government is made up of Mubarak loyalists. In a WikiLeak cable, one U.S. official called Mr. Tantawi Mubarak's poodle. In the 1991 Gulf War, he commanded one of two Egyptian divisions and developed close relationships with U.S. officers. The first political decision was to dissolve parliament, where Mr. Mubarak's National Democratic Party won most of the seats in last year's elections.

The much feared Muslim Brotherhood (MB) dropped out of the runoff round of the elections, accusing the government of fraud, terrorism and violence carried out by police and thugs.

Mr. Tantawi's first priority was to restore security. Inmates from six prisons had either been let out or escaped during the demonstrations that covered Alexandria, Mansura, Tanta and Port Said in the Nile Delta and Aswan and Assiut in Upper Egypt. Some al Qaeda suspects are among them.

Egypt is now in a twilight zone. Mr. Tantawi's ruling council is in sole control for six months or until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held. The constitution has been abolished and its articles have to be amended or rewritten. No one believes this can be done much before the end of the year. Rules for a popular referendum to endorse constitutional amendments will also have to be negotiated. …

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