Unrest in Egypt

Anti-government protests are shaking Egypt right now. It's incredibly hard to get good information about what is going on there since the U.S.-backed Mubarak government (we give them over $1.3 billion annually, I believe) has shut down social media and regular media. Here's just one recent example:

Egyptian police arrested an Associated Press Television News cameraman and his assistant early Wednesday while they were filming clashes between security forces and protesters in Cairo. An AP photographer was beaten by a policeman and injured while shooting demonstrations.

The Mubarak family has fled and the government is attempting to suppress these protests with brutality. Three people were killed yesterday.

This is a complicated story, and one that comes on the heels of the revolutionary protests in Tunisia. Many of the people protesting in Egypt likely want democracy, rule of law, civil rights. This is also an opportunity for exploitation by anti-democratic forces.

One of the interesting subplots to these protests is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was just six days ago that I read the headline "Inspired by Tunisia, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Warns of Unrest." The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist opposition movement. We also know that the Egyptian government is blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for these protests, claims the Muslim Brotherhood denies -- even while promoting the protests using social media.

Here's how the New York Times handled the question of what's driving these protests:

The reality that emerged from interviews with protesters -- many of whom said they were independents -- was more complicated and reflected one of the government's deepest fears: that opposition to Mr. Mubarak's rule spreads across ideological lines and includes average people angered by corruption and economic hardship as well as secular and Islamist opponents. That broad support could make it harder for the government to co-opt or crush those demanding change.

"The big, grand ideological narratives were not seen today," said Amr Hamzawy, research director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. "This was not about 'Islam is the solution' or anything else."

Instead, the protests seemed to reflect a spreading unease with Mr. Mubarak on issues from extension of an emergency law that allows arrests without charge, to his presiding over a stagnant bureaucracy that citizens say is incapable of handling even basic responsibilities. Their size seemed to represent a breakthrough for opposition groups harassed by the government as they struggle to break Mr. Mubarak's monopoly on political life.

The BBC says that the Muslim Brotherhood is also a rudderless mess. Looks like we'll need some coverage to help explain precisely the role of the Brotherhood and other religious groups.

One big ghost pointed out by many readers is the complete lack of mention of Copts, who comprise 10 percent of Egypt's population. Are they participating in these protests? Why or why not? What will happen to them if the Mubarak government is toppled? Obviously things aren't going terribly well for them now -- the last big story out of Egypt was the New Year's Eve massacre that wounded or killed well over 100 Copts -- but might things get worse or better? Again, when reporters and photographers are being beaten up, arrested or otherwise prevented from doing their jobs, this is something very difficult to cover. But inquiring minds want to know. Hopefully we will be able to find some answers soon.

The Guardian had some great coverage of Sunni protests in Lebanon, a story that was shadowed by the larger Egyptian protests.

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