“One more week and all hell will break loose”
Last week, some 250 protesters showed up in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Copenhagen, lending their support to the mass uprising in Egypt that has turned the worldÂ’s most populous Arab country on its head and threatens to ripple throughout the region.
While 250 might not be much compared to the estimated one million who descended on CairoÂ’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, the local protest showed that for DenmarkÂ’s nearly 2,000 Egyptians, the revolt at home has captured their imagination and inspired hope for long-awaited reform back home.
Â“One more week of MubarakÂ’s regime, and all hell will break loose and many more lives will be lost,Â” Andrew Saleb, a Danish Egyptian who was at the local protest, told The Copenhagen Post. Â“The police are united with the Mubarak regime and weÂ’ll be seeing police snipers on roofs and nobody will be safe. WhatÂ’s happening there right now is just crazy Â– and thereÂ’s more to come.Â”
These are the first large-scale protests in Egypt since the 1970s. More than 100 fatalities and thousands of injuries have been reported so far as a result of clashes with police and other violence.
Saleb is 24 years old and from Alexandria, EgyptÂ’s second biggest city. He lives with his Danish wife Sarah in Frederiksberg. He hasnÂ’t been to Egypt for over a month, so heÂ’s not directly affected by the current demonstrations, but Saleb was an active participant in the lead-up.
Â“The Tunisian protesters gave us the courage to start doing something about the situation in Egypt,Â” he said. Â“The recent uprisings in the Middle East started when, inspired by a man in Tunisia who set himself on fire, people in the thousands took to the streets to protest against their regime. This spurred Egyptians to protest against MubarakÂ’s corrupt regime Â– with the date January 25 specifically mentioned, which was the day the riots started.Â”
Saleb was one of over half a million members who joined a protest group on Facebook that was formed after a young Egyptian man published a YouTube video of a police officer selling drugs last summer. After posting the video, the man was allegedly killed under orders from the Egyptian authorities. Â“Everyone knows thatÂ’s what happened, but the government said he had ended up as he did because he had swallowed a bag of weed. How sick is that? His head was smashed to pieces.Â”
According to Saleb, EgyptÂ’s people have suffered greatly under the autocratic rule of Mubarak, who came to power in 1981. He said that the revolts in Egypt are a consequence of poverty, rampant unemployment and significant government corruption.
Â“The police are completely corrupt and theyÂ’ve been treating us like shit for years,Â” he said.
The people only have one friend left: the military. Â“They are regular people who are forced to be in the military,Â” he said, pointing out that Egypt, like Denmark, has compulsory military service. Â“They have suffered just like me and other Egyptians. ThatÂ’s why theyÂ’re on our side.Â”
After the man was killed by the police, some small-scale protesting occurred, but there was no reaction from the government. The protesters then tried the digital route by forming the Facebook group.
Â“Before Mubarak shut off access to the internet, the group had almost half a million members,Â” he explained. Â“There would have been a lot more, but people were scared to join, worrying that the Egyptian intelligence services would track them down.Â”
Â“And then as soon as we heard about the riots in Tunisia, we started feeling it was our turn, and the rest is history starting on January 25.Â”
It is not easy for Saleb to stay up to date with what is happening in his country as both the internet and the mobile phone networks have been shut down by MubarakÂ’s government to prevent protesters from using them to organise. He does, however, have occasional contact with his family on their landline phone.
Like everyone who turned up to the Copenhagen protest, Saleb is angry and desperately seeking change. Â“We must get rid of Mubarak Â– and that has to happen now! We really need the USA and its allies to act now. This is a desperate situation!Â”
Saleb, like most of his Egyptian friends, is not sure what would be a good alternative once Mubarak has been removed from power. Many have suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood, EgyptÂ’s biggest opposition movement, should take over.
Saleb, however, disagrees, claiming that one of his friends who works with the secret service has discovered strong links between the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.
Â“If they come to power, the situation in Egypt could become even more dreadful,Â” he said.
Another leading candidate is one of the opposition leaders, Mohamed ElBaradei, but Saleb isnÂ’t keen on that idea either. Â“He has been too much away from Egypt, living a life of luxury, and he hasnÂ’t suffered like we have,Â” he said. Â“IÂ’m also worried that heÂ’s going to be too much on the US and UN side. We donÂ’t want to end up like Iraq, under administration by the USA.Â”
While SalebÂ’s current hope is that Mubarak will step down, what happens next seems only secondary right now. Â“IÂ’m so confused and I donÂ’t really know whatÂ’s happening down there because thereÂ’s no internet or mobile phone access.Â”
A temporary solution, he said, could be to let the current vice-president, Omar Suleiman, take over and get some stability back into the system, and then just wait for the general election, which is due to take place this September.
Just before this paper went to print, Mubarak announced that he would not run in the next election, though this concession appeared to do little to pacify the demands of the protestors.
Protests are scheduled to continue, with upwards of two million people expected to rally for MubarekÂ’s removal by Friday. On Tuesday, US president Barack Obama said Â“orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now,Â” effectively ending the US support of the Mubarek regime.
According to SalebÂ’s information from various Twitter and Facebook groups, the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt is about to spread to neighbouring countries over the coming days.
Â“By the time your paper hits the shelves, Yemen will have started its own revolution. Algeria, too, has a little revolution that is on its way. And Morocco, Libya and Syria may also see similar uprisings in the very near future,Â” he told The Copenhagen Post. Â“And weÂ’re talking days from now Â– not weeks. Things are erupting down there!Â”
The Tunisian president has been pushed out of the way and now the King of Jordan has fired his government. ThatÂ’s three down and, according to Saleb, many more will follow over the coming days.