February 9, 2011

Three Cornell Professors Offer Perspectives on Egyptian Protests

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“I would like to challenge the idea that democracy [for Egypt] is unlikely,” Prof. Valerie Bunce, international studies, said at a forum Wednesday evening. The forum, titled “Egypt’s Revolution: Where it came from; implications for the region,” featured three presentations on the causes, effects and possible outcomes of the revolution in Cairo.Bunce, along with Profs. Ziad Fahmy, Near Eastern studies, and David Patel, government, weighed in on the massive protests pushing for democracy that are currently evolving in Egypt. Speaking to a crowded classroom, both Fahmy and Patel stressed the vital role new technologies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube have had in Egypt’s populist uprising. Many of those responsible for mobilizing protesters have been “tech savvy, middle-class, 20- to 30-year-olds,” Fahmy said.“Nowadays, almost everyone is a journalist,” he said. “There are millions of cell phones in Egypt and almost every phone has a camera.”When a strike by textile workers was brutally repressed in a small town on the Egyptian delta in 2007, word spread quickly as pictures and videos soon found their way online.

According to Fahmy, after the violent ending of the strike, police attempted to cover up the beating and murder of a 28-year-old man, but photographs of his disfigured body went viral. “Many of the bloggers, somewhere in the thousands, called for a new day of mourning and change,” Fahmy said.That day, Jan. 25, became the beginning of the current Egyptian revolution. However, Patel seemed reluctant to predict the success of the movement.“Nothing has changed,” Patel said. “Anderson Cooper has gone home, Christiane Amanpour has gone off to some other exotic local, but we’re still at day one.”After analyzing revolutions worldwide, Bunce said he felt confident that Egypt has all the necessary tools to formulate a democracy — if not in the first election cycle, then in the years ahead. “None of the factors that have been trodden out to doubt Egypt are very good arguments,” she said. Fahmy reiterated Bunce’s claim, stating that he believed the president had been overthrown. “I think Mubarak is done,” Fahmy said. “Whether Mubarak leaves in September or whether he steps down now won’t make a difference.” Patel was unnerved by the United States policy decisions when choosing sides between President Hosni Mubarak and the protesters.“Obama has behaved shamelessly,” Patel said. “He has lost my vote.”“It is not our place to choose who does and does not deserve to have a democracy,” he said.Patel said that the Egyptian government has a record of every major protester on the streets and that, as international focus starts to drift away from Egypt, the climate will become more and more dangerous for these protesters.“Even if [the protesters] don’t fall into a black hole somewhere, they will be blacklisted,” Patel said.After the discussion, Patel pulled out his iPhone and pointed out the numerous tweets in English and Egyptian he was receiving from people in Tahrir Square, the center of the protests. Patel said that the use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is not “voyeurism,” but the sharing of a revolution in real time. “There are dozens of tweets every moment,” Patel said.According to Patel, it was not any one political group that mobilized Egypt, “it was Facebook and Google that got those protestors into the street.”

Original Author: Shane Dunau