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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Arab Spring - Tahrir Square Erupts again

Egypt's version of the Arab spring began fairly quietly in February 2011. After the stirring events in Tunisia, young men and women trooped out to protest on Egyptian streets and thus a revolution was born.

That revolution has unseated Hosni Mubarak, led to the arrest and trials of Mubarak, his sons Gamal and Alaa, and other members of his cabinet, and caused Egyptians to have hope that maybe, just perhaps, democracy might actually really come to Egypt. They might finally stop being afraid of the secret police, of a country where nepotism, patronage and corruption are rife.

More than 6 months after the heady days of unseating Mubarak, some things have changed but a lot has stayed the same. The Military backed ruling cabinet says it is trying to govern and prepare the country for elections. However, no Military is suited to the art of governing well. Life in the Military is simple - a command is given and obeyed. There is no room for discussion, no arguments, no objections allowed - in short, the total opposite of civilian and democratic life.

Last week, ordinary Egyptians were enraged by a draft document from the governing council outlining principles for the new constitution. In it, the Supreme Council of the Armed forces (SCAF) will be given veto power over a civilian constitution and the military's budget be exempt from civilian oversight in Egypt's future. It also suggested presidential elections might be delayed until 2013. The head of SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Muhammad Tantawi was Mubarak's defence minister for over 20 years. Things change but the faces at the top remain the same.

Many who marched in the initial revolution felt cheated and betrayed. A coalition of the opposition tired of the slow pace of getting a constitution written, a parliament elected and presidential elections afterwards,called for mass demonstrations. Egyptians trooped out again in their thousands to protest, to demonstrate, to demand presidential elections immediately after the parliamentary elections beginning later this month, in short to take advantage of rights that most in the Western world take for granted - the right to match against one's government, to demonstrate peaceably, to tender demands.

But for some crazy reason, the Egyptian police and military decided to go to war against their own people. 20 Egyptians have been killed and over 1800 injured in 3 days of mass demonstrations. Tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets have been fired at the protesters who have responded by throwing stones at the police and security forces.

The protests have spread from Cairo to other major Egyptian cities with the police firing tear-gas at protesters in Alexandria. Shocking photographs have been broadcast around the world showing police beating up innocent demonstrators, people coughing their lungs out, eyes tearing from tear gas, bruised bleeding dazed demonstrators fighting back, carried away by friends, but most shocking of all, dead bodies stacked up. Young men dead for demonstrating for the right to vote, the right to quick elections.

It is easy to watch it far away on the TV screen and forget that those who have died are real human beings with families that love them. I look at the faces of the police and the demonstrators and my heart weeps - how can brother set upon brother at the behest of a government that cares for neither but is only interested in maintaining the status quo?

When will governments learn they are not there for themselves but are only in power to run the country well for the people? Why does authority get scared when the people demand answers and ask that their government does better? A government is meant to belong to the people and NOT the people to the government.


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