February 13, 2011

Egyptian Uprising Breaks Model of Mideast Revolts, Cornell Professors Say

Print More

Bowing to pressure from an unrelenting protest movement, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power Friday. According to Prof. David Patel, government, the revolution that toppled the 57-year old regime represented a “different model.”

“The fact that this [revolution] remained peaceful for over two weeks is absolutely stunning,” Patel said. “It shows a way of change that people in the Middle East have not seen in a very long time.”

Patel said that in the Middle East, overthrows of reigning government typically involve violence. While there was some violence and looting in Egypt during the protests, Patel said the main hubs of the revolution, Cairo and Alexandria, were relatively peaceful.Given the movement’s lack of a single leader restrain the protesters, it was surprising that there were no assassinations and no violent targeting of politicians, Patel said. Prof. Ziad Fahmy, Near Eastern studies, described the typical models for revolutions of this nature. “It really is the first time that a true revolution took place in Egypt that is from the ground up,” Fahmy said. “[The revolution] went against the prior narrative that was out there in the media.”Ordinary civilians gathered in places like Tahrir Square to protest the government. And for many of those protesters, the Mubarak administration — which came to power in 1981 following the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat — was the only government they had ever known.“50 million people woke up yesterday, and for the first time in their [lives], they had a president other than Hosni Mubarak,” Patel said.Patel said many young Egyptians had no role in an autocratic regime.“For the first time in their lives, they probably felt like they participated in their governance, in the future of their country,” Patel said.The civilian involvement gave traction to the revolution, Fahmy said. He said that labor unions, factories or “hard-core political activists” largely spearheaded Egyptian protests in the past decade. Alexandra Woodhouse ’12, who was working at the United Nation’s International Labor Organization in Cairo until she evacuated to the United States last week, said that the uprising in Tunisia, however, provided the spark and template for civilians to mobilize and demand change from their government, giving Egyptians hope that through peaceful demonstrations they could initiate a successful revolution.Woodhouse said that the spirit of the Tunisian uprising “caught on like a fire” largely through social media. Woodhouse also attributed technology and the Internet to exposing Egyptians not only to the uprising in Tunisia, but also to western ideology that made them realize what they were missing under the Mubarak regime.“Looking at my friends, so many of them lived their entire lives with this oppressive dictatorship and knew nothing different … I think [that] living with it for that long, you become almost numb to it,” Woodhouse said. “Because of the use of the Internet, they were able to see countries like America and western societies where they have these ideals of freedom, equality and justice.”While Twitter and Facebook have been lauded as the technologies of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, “Al-Jazeera really is the technology that mattered here,” Patel said.Within Egypt, Al-Jazeera showed more accurate documentation of the protests in comparison to misleading images of calm on state-owned television networks, according to Patel. For example, Al-Jazeera would often use a split-screen to show its own coverage alongside “state propaganda.”Furthermore, Al-Jazeera was also “beaming those images into the homes of tens of millions of Arabs in other countries,” Patel said.In large part because their citizens have been watching the protests unfold over the last two weeks, other countries in the region, particularly autocratic ones, have been keeping a close watch on Egypt and will continue to do so, Patel said.“The way Egypt develops in the coming months will be hugely important for what the other regimes in the region do,” Patel said. “I’m not suggesting they’re going to fall domino after domino, but you could see patterns of reform and liberalization or de-liberalization of the economy in some places.”Despite the success of the revolution, Egypt’s future is still uncertain.“The story is still being written,” Fahmy said.

Original Author: Seth Shapiro