“How to Protest Intelligently: Important Information and Tactics” reads the title of the pamphlet being circulated among protesters in Egypt. It begins with a declaration, a list of the demands of the Egyptian people. The pamphlet follows with an “Anarchist’s Cookbook” of ways to subvert authority, engage in political protest and ultimately incite a revolution. The 21st century revolutionary, with the help of a can of spray paint for decorating security cameras and police visors, the top of a large pot to shield his or her body from batons, and gloves, goggles and a scarf to protect from nerve gas, is waging a war of attrition in which the loser does not succumb to famine or drought—but rather is put under a media spotlight for all the world to scrutinize their flaws. Yet, perhaps most appropriately, the 21st century revolutionary wears a rose—a symbol of peace and the collective action needed to address the plight of the Egyptian people.
Number one on the list of demands is the resignation of current president, Hosni Mubarak. Number two calls for the cessation of the Emergency Law, a Draconian measure re-instated after the assassination of the former president, Anwar El Sadat. This measure, at its core, infringes on the civil liberties of Egypt’s people, permits censorship, allows for indefinite incarceration without trial, eliminates parliamentary elections and places the country in a constantly militarized state in which police powers are extended. This law stifles democracy in Egypt by limiting a person’s right to a fair trial, ability to protest, and right to vote. In this modern police state, national security issues supercede individual liberties, and constitutionally guaranteed rights are suspended. New cabinet appointments are not enough—the people demand reform now, and they are clearly willing to take to the dangerous streets in order to voice their desire for freedom and justice in Egypt.
The conflict in Egypt has evolved over the last two weeks from small, disparate demonstrations to full-scale, nation-wide opposition. Protests have intensified and progressed toward violence and chaos. Although there was a slight lull in protest activity over the weekend, this week has seen a renewal of violence, a large expansion of the protests, and fervent demands for the current regime to step down. However, last Friday, the Egyptian Government showed its people, and the world, how one suppresses a 21st century revolution: turn off the internet.
Welcome to the new millennium. A military regime no longer needs to make revolutionaries “disappear”; it just needs to press the mute button on their activities. In an unprecedented move, Egypt on Friday effectively severed its connection to the outside world by “turning off” the internet and its mobile phone services. A strategic, albeit extreme, measure, they hoped to limit the ability of protestors to communicate and organize. Although the black-out lasted only a day, it nonetheless sent a signal to protestors that the present government would not submit without a fight. Clearly, the protesters have learned, seeing how the pamphlet mentioned in this article contains instructions that expressly prohibit its distribution through Facebook or Twitter. According to the pamphlet, social networking sites are being actively monitored by the Ministry of the Interior.
Now, as Egypt is setting its sights on shutting down the internet again, Google and Twitter are collaborating to provide a service for Egyptians to send tweets using a normal mobile phone. As the protests intensify, politicians around the world are urging Mubarak to step down and respect the wishes of the people. Although President Obama has stopped short of calling for Mubarak’s resignation, he calls for real and immediate political reform in Egypt.
Egypt is not the only country experiencing the after-effects of Tunisia’s meteoric uprising. In Tunisia’s wake, widespread protests are taking place all over the Middle East. Jordan’s King Abdullah has replaced his cabinet to placate mounting unrest, while Yemen is dealing with its own protests as pressure mounts for its president to step down. The movement is spreading like wildfire, and social media is breathing air on the flames. As the hot angry masses take to the streets all across the Middle East, they are waging a 21st century revolution assisted by new technology and ways to spread information. And even if those lines are severed by authoritative governments clinging desperately to power in the face of worldwide condemnation, the people will find a way—too much is at stake.