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Protestors climbed on military equipment on January 29 in Cairo. Photo: Al Jazeera English



1. Egypt is huge.

80 million people live in Egypt, 37 million in Cairo, of whom some millions are currently protesting each day. 80 million people is about a fourth of the Arab world’s population.

2. Egypt is militarily strong.

Egypt has the largest military in Africa, totaling nearly half a million active personnel, the tenth largest in the world, and one of the largest in the Middle East.

3. Egypt is culturally central to the Middle East.

Although Mecca and Medina are in Saudi Arabia, Egypt contains the thousand-year-old al-Azhar University, the first Islamic university, a renowned center of learning and particularly of Islamic jurisprudence; the pyramids and other remnants of ancient cultures of Egypt, many of which are stored in the Egyptian Museum; the Coptic Orthodox Church; and the ancient cities of Alexandria and Cairo.

Many Egyptian political movements, including the supporters of Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood, have spread in one form or another throughout the Middle East during the last century.

4. Tunisia was just overthrown by a popular revolution.

A Tunisian popular revolt overthrew the dictator of Tunisia in December. Tunisia, which contains the ruins of Rome’s old rival Carthage, is a small Arab country on the other side of Libya from Egypt. It had been ruled by the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali since 1987, who overthrew the previous “president for life” in a bloodless coup.

5. Egypt kicked out the Brits in a popular uprising.

Modern Egypt was ruled by a dynastic monarchy from 1805 until 1952, although from 1883 to 1919 it was really controlled by the British empire. Egypt, from the British empire through popular uprisings in 1919 and 1921 (similar to the one we see today) was led by the Wafd Party.

6. Egypt has been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1952.

In 1952, a military coup led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser overthrew the monarchy, and Nasser became the first “president” of Egypt.

Egyptian soldiers pose in front of a US battle tank during
Operation Desert Shield in 1990. Photo: Wikipedia

Since 1952, Egypt has been ruled by three successive military dictators using the title “president”. No incumbent president in Egypt has ever lost an election or declined to run again; power passed to Nasser’s vice-president Sadat when Nasser died, and to Sadat’s vice-president Hosni Mubarak when Sadat died.

Nasser was very popular during his reign, Sadat was somewhat less popular, and Mubarak is very unpopular.

7. Egypt’s dictatorship is brutal.

Torture of innocent people is a common technique in police investigations in Egypt. The US government has sent many prisoners to be tortured by the Egyptian police.

The Egyptian police have no accountability. Last year, for example, they beat Khaled Said to death because he disobeyed an illegal order to produce identification. The numerous innocent people tortured by the police have no legal recourse.

Political figures that oppose the president have frequently been arrested in Egypt (including within the last month) but not assassinated and rarely expelled from the country.

8. Egypt’s dictatorship is a major ally of the US.

Egypt’s last two dictators, who have ruled the country for forty years, have enjoyed very strong support from the US. This is in part because Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak’s predecessor, made peace with Israel. Egypt controls one of the borders of the Gaza Strip, one of the Palestinian territories, and has built a wall along it to prevent Palestinians from going in and out.

9. Egypt receives a lot of military aid from the US.

Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US military aid, US$1.3 billion per year. This pays for military equipment. It is widely believed in Egypt that Egypt’s dictatorial regime would have fallen long ago without US support.

10. Egypt is still a poor country.

60% of Egyptians depend on government-subsidized bread (since the internet in
Egypt is currently turned off, use this Google Cache link for now.). Roughly half live on under US$3.00 per day.

11. The Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest opposing political party in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928, and although it has always advocated nonviolent reform, it has been illegal but tolerated under Mubarak. “Independent” candidates belonging to the MB won 20% of the parliamentary seats in the rigged Egyptian parliamentary election of 2005. It advocates a fairly conservative version of Islam, promoting, for example, the separate education of girls.

The MB condemned the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, and has generally opposed political violence.

Its ultimate goal is political reunification of the Muslim world under Islamic law.

International branches of the MB are influential in a number of states, and one of them, Hamas, is the current democratically elected government of the Palestinian occupied territories.

12. Mohamed ElBaradei has returned to Egypt.

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei in 2008 at the Munich Security
Conference speaking as General Director of the International
Atomic Energy Agency.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work controlling nuclear weapons proliferation around the world as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has opposed Mubarak’s dictatorship for several years, but left the country a few years ago to live in Vienna, saying that the Egyptian press refused to talk to him.

Now he has returned, and a coalition of opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party, have nominated him as their spokesman.

Community Connection

Be sure to check out How to Follow the Egyptian Uprising on Twitter, written by Nick Rowlands.

And if you have a unique perspective, let us know in the comments field below or submit an article for review.

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About The Author

Kragen Javier Sitaker

Kragen Javier Sitaker pulled up roots and moved halfway around the world to Buenos Aires because of philosophy. He does abstract math and computational problems for fun. With dreary mundane problems that everyone has typical solutions to, he goes at them from his own crazy angle. Frustrating? Sometimes. But not, he is told, boring. Find out more about what makes him tick at canonical.org.

  • http://canonical.org/~kragen Kragen Javier Sitaker

    The best news source for this stuff is Al Jazeera English: http://english.aljazeera.net/

    You can stream it live online, although I haven’t. I’ve been watching Twitter instead.

  • Donaji

    Gracias por la info, siempre es bueno saber que pasa en nuestro mundo.

    Sara
    México

  • Ana O’Reilly

    This is very interesting, thanks for the info. Do you think the Muslim party will get stronger and seize power?

    • http://www.sarahirving.co.uk Sarah Irving

      Hi Ana,
      it’s highly unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood would ‘seize’ power – it’s a political party which might get elected, either on its own or as part of a coalition, but I think the fact that it’s Muslim/Islamic makes people assume it will try to take control undemocratically. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood has operated in pretty much the same way as other political movements in Egypt – underground because opposition has not been tolerated, not by choice, and as Kragen noted it has condemned acts of violence in the past, such as 9/11. Its religious agenda is conservative rather than revolutionary – a fair comparison would probably be with many Christian politicians in the USA or with explicitly conservative Christian political parties in Europe, especially Catholic countries. I don’t hold any particular brief for the MB – I tend to dislike all organised religions as hierarchical and patriarchal – but it’s also not fair to assume that all Islamist parties are secretly wanting to behave like Al-Qaeda and ‘seize’ power or force themselves into office.
      In regards to the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship to Hamas in Palestine and the issue of taking control, it needs to be put in the context of the MB being a largely quiet, conservative group in Palestinian society for many decades after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Its Hamas offshoot developed largely because it was tolerated (and according to some allegations even financed) by Israel and the USA because in the mid/late 1980s, when Hamas emerged, both of these were more afraid of left-wing parties than of Islamist ones. While Hamas’ acts in Israel, such as suicide bombings, have been appalling (although they’re no more appalling than Israel’s killings and collective punishments in Palestine, and have killed and injured perhaps 15% of the number of people as Israel’s attacks on civilians), Hamas was democratically elected in 2006 (see my response to Tim below). Its behaviour in running Gaza has been undemocratic and repressive, but no more so than the Fatah-controlled, Israel/US/EU-supported-and-trained PA in the West Bank (and not that different from Israel’s increasingly repressive behaviour towards its own dissidents, whether of Palestinian or Jewish ethnicity).

      • http://apuntesideasimagenes.wordpress.com Ana O’Reilly

        Sarah,

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my question in such deep way. I must admit I don’t know much about what’s going on in North Africa and the Middle East. Thank you for enlightening me.

        Ana

  • http://www.nilecruiseholidays.net Rob

    I can vaguely remember when Sadat was assassinated. 11 people will killed in that attack.

    It should be pointed out that the Red Sea resorts have been fine. Many of these are little more than villages with hotels near them. Consequently, the local people enjoy high levels of employment.

    I’m planning to visit Taba in April. Its a wonderful country which I’ve visited many times and I hope the situation gets sorted sooner rather than later

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  • http://canonical.org/~kragen/ Kragen Javier Sitaker

    Ana: Anything could happen, but based on my limited knowledge of Egypt, it doesn’t seem very likely to me.

    Sara: de nada!

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  • Kay

    “The US government has sent many prisoners to be tortured by the Egyptian police”

    I am married to an Egyptian and both he and I are not quite sure what you mean by this and if you can please back this up with a few examples. Very clear you are not an American, I am very curious where your distates for the the U.S.A. stems from as you have given several examples of it in this article.

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  • Tim

    “Hamas, is the current democratically elected government of the Palestinian occupied territories.”

    No, Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, the unoccupied Palestinian territory.

    • http://www.sarahirving.co.uk Sarah Irving

      No, Hamas won the 2006 elections for the entire PA area, but were prevented from taking office by Mahmoud Abbas with Israeli, US etc support. Hamas therefore retains control in Gaza where Abbas’ power is less and which, while not subject to the West Bank-style direct occupation such as constantly-present Israeli troops and settlements, has its border controlled by Israel and is under constant siege from it.

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  • Rex Flagg

    Cairo population 37 million? Try 6-7 million.

    • Elizabds

      I too disagree with the author’s figure of the Cairo population (too high). But I disagree with yours too (too low).

      I’d say around 20 million.

      TECHNICALLY CAIRO might have around 6-7 million, but that’s not realistic. Do people travelling in the city think “oh, I’m travelling over the Oct. 6 bridge, leaving Giza and entering Cairo!” ? NO! As this well-researched wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo) illustrates:

      “With an additional ten million inhabitants just outside the city, Cairo resides at the centre of the largest metropolitan area in Africa and the eleventh-largest urban area in the world.[7] ”

      That “just outside the city” is Giza (i.e., where the Pyramids are) and isn’t on-the-ground a “separate city.”

      Also, there are the millions of DAY workers who come to the city each day, and the millons of WEEK workers who leave the city each Thursday evening for the weekend.

  • Mai

    Great article. Thanks for the detailed explanation of facts.

  • chris

    These are interesting bits on information, but they do very little to explain what is going on over there. Why precisely is Mubarek unpopular? What exactly does the US have to do with the uprising now? Why is the American press being brutalized for reporting on it? Why is the Internet shut down? Furthermore, some of the links you listed to substantiate your info do not lead anywhere. I’m not saying any of this is incorrect, just that it seems less than credible because of it. It also lends itself to “opinions-stated-as-facts”, and another similar practice of “bait-and-opine”. I think we are all beginning to recognize this method of editorial persuasion, as it has been prevalent over the last four and a half years.

  • Youssra

    Mohamed Naguib was the 1st president. He was president for only one year after overthrowning King Farouk.

  • Mike

    You don’t think the price of wheat / grain’s increase played a roll here as it did in Tunisia and seems to be playing into the unrest in Yemin, Algeria? Articles said the increased price of grains may further cause unrest in Saudi Arabia, even. This is evidenced by the stores that are being bought up by several arab states.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  • http://thewritealley.com gwendolyn alley

    I visited Egypt in January and left just days before the uprising.

    I agree with your points and would like to add one more:

    It was been an unusually cold and wet winter in Egypt. People are miserably cold; they’re not prepared for cold and wet. The air pollution from fires to get warm is overwhelming and irritating.

  • Buzzy

    While there is a lot of correct information in the article. the things left unsaid are dangerously naive.
    Mubarak took over when Sadat “died?” Sadat, a Nobel-prize winning peacemaker was assassinated — by adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood. Far from being an acceptable alternative to the current admittedly brutal and autocratic regime, the world knows that any country (e.g., Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, Iran) whose civil law has been replaced by shari’a — Islamic religious law — is inherently undemocratic and repressive, especially towards women, who would be denied basic human rights, while horrors like genital mutilation (sometimes wrongly termed female circumcision) and “honor killings” will be tolerated.
    As for Hamas, it did win elections, in Gaza only, but only took control after bloody, murderous reprisals against Fatah opponents. There is a reason the entire Western world (not just the US) refuses to recognize Hamas, and defines it as a terrorist organization, yet does maintain relations with Abbas in the West Bank. Because while the West Bank is finally showing some signs of stability and economic development (even prosperity in cities like Ramallah), Hamas continues to hoard all resources for its political leadership and armed militias (depriving much of the rest of Gaza’s population) — and to foster a culture of violence, against any domestic political opposition, as well as against civilian targets in Israel, thus provoking a military response that unfortunately was disproportionate overkill on Israel’s part, leading to terrible devastation suffered first and foremost by Gaza’s ordinary citizens.
    Those who would like to see Iranian-style theocracy in Egypt will support the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who favor Ahmedinajad-style shooting of peaceful teenage protesters in the street will be the first to defend Hamas.

    • Youssra

      Islam is neither undemocratic not is it repressive.
      Genital mutilation is NOT tolerated.by Islam whatsoever. Female circumcision does exist in some Arab cultures, but is not tolerated by Islam. Check this link to find more info.
      http://www.unicef.org/egypt/media_3875.html

      Honor killings, also known as Jihad, is wrongly interpreted by the western cultures. Jihad means that if you are struggling to maintain your faith, to improve the Muslim society or in a holy war, and you die in the process, you would go to heaven; however, it doesn’t mean to kill yourself on purpose.

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