Anti-Mubarak riots in Egypt originated, organized in social media



Column by Shady El-Maraghi. E-mail [email protected].

If you have ever been to Egypt, it is unlikely that your memories would evoke thoughts of jasmine.

Car exhaust, maybe. Cows hung from hooks in open air butcher shops, possibly. Having an asthma attack as you suddenly realize that there is a frightening lack of oxygen in the air, probably. But jasmine? Hardly.

For those of you who have been to Egypt, it might come to you as a pleasant shock that the streets of downtown Cairo were virtually devoid of cars last Tuesday.

Remember that large, beautiful square in front of the Cairo Museum? For once, it was not clogged with those murderous drivers, who, if they couldn’t get you as you crossed the street, could at least have some solace in the fact that they will cause you a much slower and more painful death by car exhaust.

But have no fear; there was no surplus of oxygen in the streets of Cairo last Tuesday. Instead, they were filled with the much more irritating fumes of hundreds of tear gas grenades.

Following the lead of the successful “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, the people of Egypt — or at least 20,000 to 30,000 of them — took to the streets calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, now in power for 29 years.

What is remarkable about these riots is not that they have produced any results, nor in the amount of people participating in them; in a city of 18 million, 20,000 seems a little scarce.

No, what is remarkable is this revolt has been organized almost exclusively on Facebook. Ninety thousand people pledged on Facebook to take to the streets; about a fourth of them actually did.

With seven dead, a curfew and rumors of the president’s family fleeing the country, the fate of a country of 80 million is completely up in the air.

With massive demonstrations, also organized on Facebook, taking place last Friday after the afternoon prayer, anything could happen as a result.

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Prize recipient, has pledged to return to Cairo to support the demonstrations and to lead a transition movement if the people so please.

So the alternate has presented himself. But before Feb. 2, no one can tell you how things will go. What is not certain is that a people largely billed as “apathetic” (one would prefer patient) have finally decided to make a move, and a big move it has been.