Professors offer insight to Egyptian Protests

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protestors continued to demand the resignation of Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak today on what is now the 18th day of protests. Protestors are also demanding for more civil rights and Mubarak to leave the country, but he said Thursday that he has no plans to leave office.

Mubarak came to power in 1981 and has held office since. Elections are held in Egypt but are often perceived as rigged. Political Science professor Lisa Glidden explained that in Egyptian elections other popular political parties are typically made illegal and repressed.

Marketing professor Ashraf Attia said during the 2005 presidential election that Mubarak’s government prevented Egyptian judges from their duty of overseeing elections and prosecuted those who spoke out about the manipulation of the elections.

Attia, an Egyptian and American citizen, said the Egyptian people have great trust in the Egyptian judges.

Alma Hidalgo, an Oswego State student who studied abroad in Egypt last spring, said "I never experienced any unrest or discontent. Everything was pretty peaceful. However, sometimes during conversations or discussions in the classroom, the Egyptians would express their opinions about Mubarak and his repressive government."

During Mubarak’s presidency there has been little economic opportunity in Egypt. Glidden said the economic divisions are one of the major dividing factors in Egyptian society with over 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

"There is a lot of poverty there. I saw a lot of street children working and not going to school. It was really unfortunate to see that and at times I felt helpless because I wanted to help all those children," she said.

Since protests began Mubarak’s family was revealed to possess over $40 billion. Attia said that one of the reasons Mubarak does not want to step down is that he fears what may happen to his wealth and he wants to avoid the investigations that may follow and unearth the corruption of his presidency.

The Egyptian military’s role in the protests will play an integral part in the future of Egypt.

"Before the protests, the military had been supportive of Mubarak and gained a lot of power and benefited greatly from the United States," she said. At this point, the military is still going back and forth, trying to decide who to support.

U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually, raising questions. "Do we support regimes or do we support people?" Attila asked.

Glidden elaborated on the complex situation by expressing that the American government is currently torn between upholding its core value of democracy versus protecting and securing American national interests in the Middle Eastern region.

The Egyptian government had been a strong ally to the U.S. and Israel as well as an important trading partner.

Many are concerned about the role the Muslim Brotherhood may play in Egypt if Mubarak were to step down, but Glidden dispelled these fears.

"They’re presented as some big boogeyman because people don’t know what it is," she said.

Glidden explained that there are at least three different moderate factions, within the Brotherhood. Compared to the multiple factions of the various political beliefs found within the American Republican or Democratic parties.

Attia said protestors want to dissolve the current government.

"The regime doesn’t care about the people. It is not enough for Mubarak to step down because the Vice President [Omar Suleiman] and the Prime Minister [Ahmed Shafik] are all a part of his fabricated government," he said.

If Mubarak chooses to step down, the Egyptian Constitution mandates that the vice president takes the president’s place or the Prime Minister takes the president’s place if there is no vice president.

Attia echoed the demands of protestors and explained that there must be a transitional government in place of Mubarak’s that would ensure free and fair elections for a new government as well as change some of the constitutional amendments Mubarak put in place to legitimize his rule.

"Some call it the Egyptian protests, or the Egyptian Revolution, but really it’s a social media revolution," Attia said.

In the beginning of the protests, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet within the country to stop word of the protest and actions by the Egyptian police and government from spreading via Twitter and Facebook. The Internet has since been restored.

Since that time the government has cracked down on other forms of communication. Al-Jazerra, the most widely used news source in Egypt, had their offices stormed and journalists imprisoned. The journalists have been released since then.

"I’m excited and hopeful for social and political change," Glidden said. She also hopes that the way this is resolved will inspire other social and political changes in the Middle East.

The Tunsian Revolution in January sparked many similar protests in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Tunsia’s neighbor Algeria, and in Syria, who all have governments similar to that of the regime in Egypt.

Glidden explained that many Middle Eastern and North African autocrats don’t want to see Mubarak’s government fall. And with Iran and Hezbollah beginning to side with protestors, the time for the United States to step in is now.

"The people there, for the most part, were incredible, so welcoming. I just hope everything works out for the Egyptians for the better," Hidalgo said.