We started a discussion yesterday about what we, as Christians, should be doing in response to challenges in the world that we might consider to be issues of social justice, that was precipitated by the ouster of the Tunisian president by public revolt and the current public outcry in Egypt calling for the removal of President Mubarak.
One of the things that often comes up for people as we assess how to respond is what led to the current situation. For those interested in knowing more about the situation in Egypt, here is some information that I have gathered from the Wall Street Journal, Al-Jazeer, a media outlet in Qatar, and several internet sources:
- Many attribute the start of events currently unfolding in Egypt to a police action ... a 28 y.o. man, Khalid Said, was brutally beaten to death by 2 plain clothes officers, supposedly angered over his YouTube posting of them dividing a confiscated bag of marijuana which he posted to highlight the issue of corruption in the police department. Two official autopsy reports claim he died (choked) trying to swallow a bag of marijuana to hide it from the police. European-based outside experts claim the report was falsified and that he died from an extreme beating. Many people who were near the shop where he was abducted and beaten, all claiming he was brutally attacked, his head bashed repeatedly, even after it was clear he was already dead. The accused officers remain at large and charges have not been filed against them.
- The case of Mr. Said highlights the abuse of power exhibited by the police and brings attention to the fact that Egypt has been under a state of emergency (martial law) since 1981 ... justified by the claim of needing to defend the country against terrorism (this is also, by the way, why the Muslim Brotherhood is, officially, an illegal organization in Egypt ... they are suspected of having links to al qaeda).
- Under martial law, the police have had tremendous power, which the people claim they have flaunted and abused over the years. According to Human Rights Watch, torture in Egypt (by the police) is an "epidemic." It is estimated that over 5,000 people have been held in Egyptian jails without trials ... some for decades.
- Under the current political conditions, the media have been restricted, journalists jailed, and elections have been considered shams to legitimate the positions of those in power.
- Part of the energy behind the current uprising has to do with trying to ensure that Mubarak doesn't use sham elections to hand power to his son, who is widely seen as being groomed to step into his father's role in the next election. The demand for Mubarak to leave office immediately is a demand to try and ensure that he doesn't have an opportunity to manipulate the system for a power transfer to his son.
- Egyptian protesters also claim government corruption far beyond the corruption in the police force (and you'll note that the police force is considered problematic at the moment, and that the military is protecting the protesters from police brutality). ... as an aside, one of the tactics used in the past to repress political dissent by the government was to hire thugs to claim to be "government supporters." Many feel that the current clashes between "pro-Mubarak" supporters and protesters are actually being stirred up by government officials hiring thugs to intimidate protesters and to legitimate the need for Mr. Mubarak to remain in power ... to protect against chaos.
- Some manifestations of the political corruption ... 92% of Egyptians don't own the deed to their home, because the system is so corrupt that it's nearly impossible to complete the ownership process; it's estimated that it would take up to 10 years, and visits to 56 government agencies, to complete the appropriate titles and filings to begin a basic business in Egypt ... so most businesses are, technically, unregulated and illegal, and the environment of slow business development contributes to high unemployment.