Hossam el-Hamalawy writes:
In the 1990s, one could only whisper Hosni Mubarak’s name. Political talk or jokes were avoided in phone calls. This year, millions of Egyptians fought for 18 days against their ageing tyrant, braving the police troops firing teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. People in Egypt have lost their fear, but it did not happen overnight. The Egyptian revolution, rather than coming out of the blue on 25 January 2011, is a result of a process that has been brewing over the previous decade – a chain reaction to the autumn 2000 protests in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada.
Mubarak’s iron-fist rule and the outbreak of the dirty war between the regime and Islamist militants in the 1990s meant the death of street dissent. Public gatherings and street protests were banned and if they did take place, confronted by force. Live ammunition was used on strikers. Trade unions were put under government control.
Only after the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000 did tens of thousands of Egyptians take to the streets in protest – probably for the first time since 1977. Although those demonstrations were in solidarity with the Palestinians, they soon gained an anti-regime dimension, and police showed up to quell the peaceful protests. The president, however, remained a taboo subject, and I rarely heard anti-Mubarak chants.
I recall the first time I heard protesters en masse chanting against the president in April 2002, during the pro-Palestinian riots around Cairo University. Battling the notorious central security forces, protesters were chanting in Arabic: “Hosni Mubarak is just like [Ariel] Sharon.” [Continue reading…]