Hopefully you are aware that there is major unrest currently underway in Egypt. I’m a bit shocked at how little coverage the protests are getting here in Canada – I’ve been watching the news all morning, and have seen one, five minute clip on Egypt, while I have seen the same reporter talk about a subway closure in Toronto every ten minutes (this subway closure has been scheduled for weeks, and the subway line being shut down is exactly 2 city blocks from a parallel subway line…I’m baffled as to how this is news). I’m not sure …
… how much coverage the story is getting in the US, but it certainly should be a leading story, and I’m going to tell you why.
First, some back ground. Egypt has a population of about 89 million people, which is the largest population in the Middle East. Egypt is separated from Tunisia by Libya. As you hopefully are aware, there has been huge civil unrest in Tunisia, which has contributed to the unrest in Egypt. Egypt has taken a cue from Tunisia, and is protesting their current government over the wide spread poverty effecting their country, government corruption, and what they feel is a lack of democracy. The bulk of the protesting was initiated on January 25th, which is being labelled ‘The Day of Anger.’ The immediate goal of the current Egyptian protesters is to oust current president, Hosni Mubarak, and it is widely reported that Mubarak would be replaced by Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been placed under house arrest by the current government. Mubarak has been in power since 1981, and has typically been seen as an ally to the west. The US supplies Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid each year, and they have been a key factor in the war against Al Qaeda. So an overturning of the government would certainly be of interest to the US government.
However, there are other reasons why you should care about what is currently happening in Egypt. For one, the way that the government is reacting to these protests is extreme. Tanks have been called in to protect the headquarters for the ruling party, and the reaction of anti-riot police has been under heavy criticism. Police have been responding to protesters with water cannons, tear gas, batons and it has been reported that live ammunition has been used on several occasions. Over 100 people have been killed, and over a thousand have been injured. Mubarak has attempted to place a curfew on the entire country, but this has largely been ignored by protesters. Protest leaders have been circulating a message of peace, and asking protesters to voice their opinions in a non-violent manner. There have been reports of looting and violent protest, but they have also been photos circulating of protesters kissing police officers as an expression of their peaceful intent, and praying to show they don’t intend harm on others. As news stations have been slow to pick up the news, the majority of information has been coming from online sources, such as Twitter and Facebook. However, the feed of information came to a halt on Friday, as the internet in Egypt was shut off.
This is the most shocking event in my opinion- they shut the internet off. This wasn’t even confirmed to be possible before – never has an area this large had their internet services suddenly revoked. If you don’t care about the police brutality or the right to peaceful protest, you should certainly care that a major government has denied an entire country access to the internet. This is a huge violation of what many would view as a human right – shutting off the internet not only has limited Egyptian’s ability to have their voice heard in the rest of the world, but will have profound affect on the Egyptian economy and online trading. Business will effectively halt for anyone who is participating in international commerce, which could lead to a very significant loss in finances for the whole country. Coupling the internet shortage with the fact that the government has intermittently been shutting off cell phone service means a shut down in communication for all Egyptians. The message of the protesters has been silenced, and they are limited in their means of contacting one another- let alone those who aren’t even involved in the protest, who are now unable to contact their families to let them know they are safe.
If the internet can be shut off in Egypt, it could realistically be shut off here. And that should be a terrifying thought to anyone. The internet has been a means of allowing individuals to share information with one another independently of major media outlets and information released by the government. When the protests began in Egypt, the first photos, stories and facts were available to the world through Twitter- if this ability for immediate communication between individuals is removed, ruling parties have the ability to influence the public opinion on current events.
The people should have the right to criticise the government, and to protest to show their desire for change. No government should have the right to restrict communication among the people. What is happening in Egypt could happen here, and I hope people are taking notice. Often people put international issue on the back burner in favour of directing their attentions to what is happening in their own country (I know I make an active effort to avoid American news when I can- it is often just too frustrating for me to bear). But this international event should be of direct interest to absolutely everyone- if not because the rights of others are being so badly violated, but because these events could happen at home, and we need to be aware of what is happening now to prevent it from happening to us in the future. There should be legislation in place to ensure our governments do not have the ability to shut down the internet and cell phone services- and there isn’t. This should concern everyone.
If you are not following the events in Egypt, I would suggest you do so at http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/.