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Monday, January 31, 2011 

Egypt and the green revolution.

Like many others, I've been scrabbling around for a reference point to the tumult in Egypt. Abu Muqawama wisely and humbly requests that we stop reaching immediately for the great European revolutions as analogies, whether of 1789, 1848 or 1989 when we are after all attempting to comment a nation that has been around for a couple of thousand more years than the territory more familiar to most of us.

He's right of course. But while we've got the revolution in Tunisia as part influence and catalyst for the uprising against Mubarak, I can't help but keep thinking back to the "green" protest movement in Iran now nigh on two years ago. That short lived taking to the streets, viciously snuffed out by the authorities was in response to what most agreed was the blatant rigging of the presidential poll in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's favour. Curiously gone mostly unmentioned is that Egypt also had elections back in November. As has always been the case under Mubarak they weren't even close to free or fair, yet in a sign of just how sure the regime was of its hold on power just two short months ago, where Muslim Brotherhood candidates standing as independents were allowed to win 88 seats in 2005, they were left with nothing this time round. Mubarak's National Democratic party won 97% of the seats in the Egyptian parliament, something which resulted in either no comment from most of the European nations which now feel they have to say something, and in a statement of "dismay" from the US. "Dismay" translated from the diplomatic means "carry on".

Another reflection of the Iranian protests is that the young and the secular have overwhelmingly taken the lead, although it's also true that the protesters themselves have been determined to show that they're united in wanting Mubarak out regardless of their personal differences. The opposition forces which have either been semi-tolerated or remained organised regardless of the repression, whether it be the MB, or the National Progressive Unionists refused to take part in last Tuesday's "day of anger", and have been playing catch up ever since. It's only now that all the forces for change have begun to come together, calling for a million to march tomorrow.

The key difference is that while the Egyptian army is now making clear that it won't put into action any demand for a Tiananmen style crackdown, the key subsections of the Iranian state, nurtured and funded by those opposed to any return to the years of relative liberalism under President Khatami remained completely loyal. The Basij especially were crucial in crushing the protests themselves, the leaders and student radicals either arrested or murdered, while the Revolutionary Guard waited in the wings if it was needed. In Egypt it's clear that while the police, widely loathed for their corruption and addiction to beatings and torture have remained relatively loyal to Mubarak, they've either disappeared in the face of the protests or drawn back, at least for now, with the army having stepped into their role. Those opposition figures that were rounded up or had been arrested prior to the elections have either been released or escaped following the breakdown in law and order. The best the police have managed in the instilling fear and terror stakes is, if we're to believe the theories of those in the major cities, their involvement in the looting and criminal damage which has resulted from the very security vacuum they created.

With the protests now affecting everyday life across the country, something is going to have to give, and with the army apparently refusing to countenance any violent crackdown, everything points towards Mubarak either being forced into standing down, perhaps by his newly appointed vice president or into a similar, humiliating dash for the exit, ala Ben Ali. Even if those now protesting repeat the mistakes made by those who fought for the overthrow of the Shah, the events, slogans, passion for freedom and heroism of the past week will reverberate for decades to come.

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