Egypt: Political allegiances have shifted under repressive regime


For more than two decades, Mubarak's regime tried to change the structure of Egyptian society through the creation of a class that is loyal to it and benefited from its gains. These gains appeared to flow from Hosni Mubarak’s continuing presidency and his son Gamal’s eventual take-over. The regime put an emphasis on establishing private schools and universities which taught international curriculums, as well as opening the doors for international corporations at which the graduates of these schools and universities would be offered lucrative jobs. It also built luxury malls and attractions; this new class was intended to spend its entire income on imported goods and social diversions.

The regime completed the picture of a cosmopolitan society by providing this new class with high speed connections to the internet where they found their sources of news and analysis, and connected to the wider world through Facebook, Twitter and other online social-networking sites. The regime did not consider that by doing so, they were giving them the tools to challenge the regime. This new class has higher political expectations and is fully aware of the dynamics of its society. On January 25, 2011, they joined forces with other socio-political classes and groups and massed at Tahrir square (the Liberation square), where they remain to date.

This new class is mainly formed of the generation between 18-25 years, which is estimated to be at least 30% of the Egyptian population and is joined by lower middle-class groups who are negatively impacted by the economic reforms led by the Egyptian government. These groups are comprised mainly of government employees, public school teachers, as well as workers in factories surrounding Cairo. 

Women were – and continue to be – the biggest losers under the Mubarak regime. Although the regime has always claimed that it is biased towards women's rights and has backed-up these claims by issuing some reforms to divorce and custody laws, their policies as a whole have increased poverty. It is well-established that poverty is feminized, and the proportion of women-headed households is on the increase as men either emigrate from Egypt or just cannot live up to their financial responsibilities towards their families due to the lack of jobs or a stable source of income.

The level of political awareness witnessed not only in Tahrir square but all over Egypt is impressive. The list of demands is clear to everyone: Mubarak must leave; a transition government should be formed; the constitution needs to be re-written and presidential and parliamentary elections can take place in two months. The movement has so far no figure head and insists on continuing that way. Only once their demands are achieved will they open up the arena to politicians, but with clear stance that they could rise up again if the opposition failed.

Women are taking an important role in this peaceful revolution. They participated in the initiation of the call for the protest movement on January 25, spreading the word, taking part in marches and staying overnight in the square. They could be heard chanting the familiar call: "The people want the downfall of the system!". The women’s movement in Egypt is confident that by establishing a democratic system in Egypt, women's rights will be guaranteed. There would still be a lot of demands and negotiation, but under an open system of governance. 

The different political parties and groups including the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to shape their roles in the midst of a wider stream. Most of them announced that they would not participate on 25 January, but when they witnessed the huge numbers of people in the square (estimated to be at least 30,000), and the brutality of the police, they declared that they would join on Friday 28. All these groups and parties confirmed that they would not use political slogans.

The next few days will be crucial to Egypt's future, especially with the preparation of what is called the "Day of Departure" on Friday 4 February: meaning the day when Mubarak is finally ousted from power.

02 February 2011

By Doaa Abdelaal in Cairo