Egyptians Hope for Another Tunisia

January 26, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
Egyptian demonstrators demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms face riot police in Cairo on January 26, 2011. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian demonstrators demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms face riot police in Cairo on January 26, 2011. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

The throngs of mostly young Egyptians filling the streets in major cities, demanding revolutionary change, are taking direct inspiration from Tunisia’s seemingly successful Jasmine revolution.

Of course it is still in the early days of post-revolution Tunisia and rollbacks are always possible, but the protesting Egyptians are trying hard to keep up the domino momentum of toppling dictatorships. After a month of fervent protests, Tunisians ousted their dictator and Egyptians are taking it as strong inspiration.

The similarities between the two countries, Egyptians seem to feel, bodes well for the prospects of a similar outcome.

The protests in both countries are dominated by the youth using modern mass social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to spread the battle call to collapse an oppressive regime, and for sending out news internationally. The catalysts in both cases are also the same: a failed economy, political infighting, and festering anger over years of social and political repression.

“The main similarity is that they have been ruled by a corrupt and ruthless regime for the past 20 or 30 years, and that young people especially will not accept the status quo any more,” Radwan Masmoudi, president and founder of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, wrote in an e-mail.

Both Tunisia and Egypt gained independence from a western European country in the 20th century—1956 and 1922, respectively—and only have known two and four leaders, respectively, since then. In both countries, the recently deposed and at-risk-of-being-deposed leaders ruled for decades, suppressing all forms of opposition to retain power.

A violent government response to demonstrations against economic conditions was an early spark in both countries, as well. In Tunisia, the protests greatly intensified after 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police preventing him from selling fruit to make a living.

In Egypt, a rallying cry for the protesters has become 28-year-old businessman Khaled Saeed, who was beaten while in police custody in June 2010.

Some observers think that the prospects in Egypt are even better than Tunisia, since an important difference between both countries is that “Egypt has thriving political parties and civil society organizations and can easily become a functioning democracy without having to go through the difficult and painful revolutionary process,” wrote Masmoudi.

The Egyptian regime, however, will only be able to survive if they listen to the demands of protesters and close down “the current illegal and illegitimate parliament and [organize] free and fair elections—under international supervision—within six months.”

At present, the situation on the streets between protesters and security forces is intense. According to tweets from Egypt—and the figures do vary widely—over 1,000 protesters and reporters have been arrested, six people have died, a government building was set on fire, and police are closing off areas in the capital, with reports of the use of live bullets on protesters.

Outside of Egypt, the reform is being encouraged. The European Union and the United States are both urging the Egyptian government to listen to the protesters and institute fundamental reforms.

“We want to see reform occur, in Egypt and elsewhere, to create greater political, social, and economic opportunity consistent with people’s aspirations,” said a release from the U.S. State Department on Wednesday.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, an Egyptian, said after a meeting with experts on Wednesday that reforms are needed.

At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where a panel of Middle East economic experts agreed that the region needs better education, more transparent regimes, and cleverer business strategies, Moussa was quoted by independent Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm saying that for many reasons “The Arab citizen is angry, is frustrated. That is the point. So the name of the game is reform."