In preparation for massive protests after Friday prayers, it's being reported that Egypt has completely shut down access to the internet
and most text and MMS messaging.
In June of 2010, 28 year old Khalid Saeed was allegedly dragged away from an internet cafe after refusing to show identification, and then brutally beaten to death in a nearby hallway. Though the authorities claim he died from choking on a bag of drugs he was trying to conceal, the graphic and disturbing photo of his disfigured body
show broken teeth, a broken jaw, and horrific lacerations. This event and the wide distribution of the photo sparked massive demonstrations and a Facebook page
to honor him, with the slogan "We Are Khalid Saeed." Today, just after an AP video surfaced of a protester being shot in head
, Egypt seemingly shut all communications down.
Fast forward to the present, and the success of Tunisian protesters ousting their own dictator of 23 years has sparked protests from Algeria to Lebanon, and seems to have taken hold in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled since Anwar Sadat was assassinated for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1981, is accused of holding false elections (since no one else can run against him under the current constitution) and widespread cruelty. Egypt has largely been under a state of emergency for his entire rule, and dissidents are regularly tortured and killed according to numerous sources.
And today in Egypt, where Friday has already began, the most massive portion of the protest has been planned to begin after Friday prayers. Egypt has called up it's counter-terrorism units, cut off roads, communications, and continued sweeping protesters up in massive arrests from Cairo to Alexandria to Suez. (Jack Shenker, a Guardian reporter, provided a harrowing recording
of his experience at the hands of Egyptian police.) Meanwhile the popular opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has arrived in Cairo to participate in the protests. President Mubarak has not been seen publicly since the start of the protests, though his son and his son's family have already fled to Britain.
Amid the rising tension, the US State department has issued soft statements recommending change and supporting freedom of expression, though it continues to support Mubarak's government as legitimate. Egypt is the second highest recipient of US aid despite their lengthy human rights record, receiving over 1.2 billion dollars every year. It is seen as a stabilizing force in an area that is very valuable not only because of the Suez Canal and the hundreds of millions of barrels of oil that pass through it every year, but as a regime friendly to Israel and US interests. Egyptian military forces were even among the first to enter Kuwait during the first Gulf War to oust the Iraqi invasion.
the merits of democracy in Egypt: the Muslim Brotherhood would see widespread gains in influence if they were allowed representation. The group has yet to show official support of the protests, though it is allowing members to participate individually, and may officially appear in the Friday protests. Founded in 1928 in Egypt, it is one of the oldest political groups in the Islamic world. Though the group officially condemns violence, it has turned more fundamentalist in its viewpoint in the past decade, and officially seeks Sharia Law. One of its most influential members, Sayyid Qutb, believed in violence as a tool to oust governments and reportedly was a huge influence for Al Qaeda. (At the time of this writing, it is being reported that leaders of the Brotherhood have been arrested.)
Among all the uncertainty, the question remains: will the United States support democracy in Egypt? If the interview with PJ Crowley
of the State Department by Al Jazeera is any indication, it looks like Washington is going to wait to see what happens later today.