Have you been following what’s happening in Egypt? I have over the past few days and am hopeful for the people of Egypt. I agree with our Prez and the Secretary of State that the people have the right to express themselves peacefully including via social media and that this is an opportunity for the government there to respond. Above, watch Egypt’s Tiananmen Square moment where a young man stands up to a tank at 1:30min. The force of his will to protect others and his silent call on those in the tank to stop hurting people is palpable. The tank even backed up for a moment in response.
Obviously, Obama and Clinton have to walk a narrow tightrope — Mubarak has been an important ally in the region. It would be super-unhelpful if he was replaced by an Iran-style regime hostile to America. We’ve invested a lot of money in Egypt — it’s one of our top recipients of foreign aid. So that’s your hard-earned money at stake right now, fyi. The current Obama administration strategy appears to be playing both sides – a dangerous, delicate dance to be sure.
Yet Hosni Mubarak is an old-school strongman and dictator, 30 long years runnin’. Egypt is a democracy in name only. He’s led that country with an iron fist for decades. Our money hasn’t really gone into making Egyptians’ lives better but goes into the pockets of the wealthy and well-connected. Much like China, Egypt’s leadership has maintained the support of the military’s top brass by giving them business interests and making them rich.
There’s a huge young population and a lot of unemployment. There are a couple of catalysts at work. One is clearly the successful overthrow of the Tunisian government by its people using social media to organize opposition. That’s given people in the region hope that they can take destiny into their own hands and stand up to a government that doesn’t serve its interests.
Another catalyst is a case of police brutality and corruption to which a lot of African-Americans can likely relate. Please allow me to introduce you to Khaled Said – from the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page dedicated to him:
Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian from the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, was tortured to death at the hands of two police officers. Several eye witnesses described how Khalid was taken by the two policemen into the entrance of a residential building where he was brutally punched and kicked. The two policemen banged his head against the wall, the staircase and the entrance steps. Despite his calls for mercy and asking them why they are doing this to him, they continued their torture until he died according to many eye witnesses.
Khaled has become the symbol for many Egyptians who dream to see their country free of brutality, torture and ill treatment. Many young Egyptians are now fed up with the inhuman treatment they face on a daily basis in streets, police stations and everywhere. Egyptians want to see an end to all violence committed by any Egyptian Policeman. Egyptians are aspiring to the day when Egypt has its freedom and dignity back, the day when the current 30 years long emergency martial law ends and when Egyptians can freely elect their true representatives.
According to Associated Press, Khaled was killed “after he posted a video on the Internet of officers sharing the spoils from a drug bust among themselves”. After Khaled was killed, the Police authorities refused to investigate in Khaled’s death saying that he died because he swallowed a pack of Marijuana. When many Egyptians started to ask questions, the Police issued few statements saying that Khaled was a drug user (as if it is ok to murder and torture to death all drug addicts! – And everyone who knew khaled reject these claims completely). Another official statement said that Khaled is an army deserter (which was also proved to be false accusation afterwards and his army service report is now published showing that he has fully completed this service). The authorities then refused any further investigation. After pressure mounted, and the European Union representatives in Egypt asked for an impartial investigation, the Egyptian authorities finally decided to question and arrest the two Policemen and they were charged with two counts: “using excessive force”!!! and “unjustified arrest”!! of Khaled Said.. No one was charged with murder!
If you click through to the site, you’ll see the before photo of a young man in his prime and the gruesome aftermath post-police. Made me think instantly of Emmett Till. Much like the recent Oscar Grant case here, the police and the government’s customary coverup of their own crime was thwarted by citizens’ new ability to take pictures and video that show the crime in action. African-Americans have taken to the streets in cases of police brutality with similar emotion — it’s a common experience to feel oppressed by those who are supposed to protect you.
It’s difficult for some white people in America to fully understand or be empathetic since this is often outside their own experience. You often hear — why are they destroying their own neighborhood or it’s just one case, what’s the big deal? Let me try and explain: the outrage essentially comes from a visceral, instinctive reaction to the violation of Rousseau’s Social Contract in which individuals agree to obey certain social norms and rules and even pool resources in the form of taxes in exchange for social services and increased safety.
When it becomes clear to a given population of citizens that an individual can do everything right and obey every rule and yet have their life destroyed by the very people who are supposed to protect them and whose salaries they pay…when a people have no hope for a better life, for education, for work…when it appears that no one cares and there is no redress –> this is when people erupt with rage and feel they have nothing to lose. This is when people take to the streets to push back against the society they believe to be pushing down on them.
Many people are wondering what will happen in Egypt. It’s too early to tell. Yet my prediction is that even if Mubarak stays on, change will come to Egypt as a result of this. The best parallel is China in fact. Many people including me were disappointed when the crackdown in Tiananmen Square came in 1989 and appeared initially successful in crushing a populist push for greater freedom. Yet, 20 years later, it’s clear that the government has been forced to make significant changes in order to maintain power. Some of the societal shifts those protestors wanted have come to pass — but not democracy just yet.
So my belief is that change gon’ come, no matter what and I’d urge the White House and the State Dept to be on the right side of history here. As a major donor nation, we have a lot of say and a lot of stake in what happens there. Martin Luther King said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. African-Americans can surely be sympathetic to a people unwilling to accept bullying, corruption in their communities and a lack of opportunities and supportive of a people willing to march for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in their own land. Meanwhile, our own struggle here against police brutality, repression, injustice and racial profiling goes on. Our voices on social media and our own cameras will continue to be our “weapons” in the fight for peace.
For more info on what’s happening and how social media like you and I use here at JJP is putting the power in the hands of the people, I’d recommend this Fast Company article and this great Mother Jones primer…I’ve tried to be supportive of what’s happening in Egypt over the past few days via Twitter and I’d urge you to do the same, if you can.
Cheryl Contee aka "Jill Tubman", Baratunde Thurston aka "Jack Turner", rikyrah, Leutisha Stills aka "The Christian Progressive Liberal", B-Serious, Casey Gane-McCalla, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley aka "Marcus Toussaint," Fredric Mitchell
Special Contributors: James Rucker, Rinku Sen, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Adam Luna, Kamala Harris
Technical Contributor: Brandon Sheats