For better or for worse? 212

Will the continuing protests in Egypt bring about a democratic revolution?

Or will Mubarak survive as president?

Or will a worse regime take power?

It seems probable that the armed men who went round the prisons in Egypt and let prisoners out were  Mubarak’s agents. The freed villains set about obligingly looting and raping, while the police were withdrawn, and the populace, the householders, the shop-owners were left to defend themselves and their property with whatever makeshift weapons they could muster. The idea behind these moves was almost certainly to provide Mubarak with an excuse to crack down hard on the protesting crowds. But if it was for that purpose that he then sent in the army, his will was frustrated. The soldiers started at once to fraternize with the protestors.

(Events are moving so fast in Eqypt that by the time any state of affairs is reported, it has probably changed. There are now reports that some police are back on the streets.)

“Experts” are expecting that the outcome of the uprising will be a worse regime than Mubarak’s.

The Muslim Brotherhood, some predict, will seize power. But they have no leader to put in place. Some expect Mohamed Mustafa ElBaradei to take over the presidency. (He was the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It was a wonderfully counter-productive idea the UN had, to appoint a Muslim to head the watch-dog organization in the years when Islamic states, chiefly Iran, were hell-bent on becoming nuclear armed powers. Funny that he didn’t manage to deter them.)

ElBaradei, however, has no base in Egypt. He has been living in Vienna for many years.

So will an organization that has no leader match neatly with a would-be leader who has no organization? If so, some say, ElBaradei may become president of an Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.

These items of news come from the Jerusalem Post:

Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood threw its support behind ElBaradei to hold proposed negotiations with the government in order to form a new unity government. …

ElBaradei, in an interview aired on CNN Sunday, said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak must leave the country immediately.

“It is loud and clear from everybody in Egypt that Mubarak has to leave today, and it is non-negotiable for every Egyptian.” he said. He added that it should “be followed by a smooth transition [to] a national unity government to be followed by all the measures set in place for a free and fair election.”

Addressing Mubarak’s Friday night move to sack his entire cabinet, ElBaradei said, “I think this is a hopeless, desperate attempt by Mubarak to stay in power.” …

The statements came as protests continued in central Cairo, where tens of thousands of protesters were reportedly gathered despite an announced curfew and strong military presence. …

Minutes before the start of a 4 p.m. curfew, at least two [fighter] jets appeared and made multiple passes over downtown, including a central square where thousands of protesters were calling for the departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Al-Jazeera (Qatar-based, pro-Muslim Brotherhood) was officially, but apparently not effectively, closed down by Mubarak on Sunday. It is still reporting.

Al-Jazeera anchors on its English satellite channel directed viewers to follow the live Twitter feeds of its correspondents across the country who were updating on a consistent basis via satellite connection, while noting other prominent Twitterers and significant tweets, such as @Jan25Voices which was taking calls from Egyptian protesters and eyewitnesses and tweeting their messages in real time, thus circumventing the blackout in a creative way.

The network itself also found ways to bypass restrictions over the weekend, issuing a statement detailing its efforts: “While ordinary Egyptians have not had access to social networks like Twitter, Al-Jazeera have been using Skype to record messages by members of the public. It have made the recordings available on Audioboo, promoting them through Facebook.”

As the reported death toll rose drastically from 5 on Friday evening to over 95 by Saturday noon, Al-Jazeera broadcast graphic footage from inside hospitals and morgues of bloodied bodies, and of distraught family members. On Saturday, it showed scenes of laughter and amiable exchange between protesters and army officials. Some military personnel were filmed kissing young children and handing them back to their parents.

Also on Saturday night, Al-Jazeera’s live coverage provided viewers with real-time footage and reporting from Cairo as events descended into chaos when looting and vandalism became rampant, and thousands started escaping from prison. …

Al-Jazeera’s combination of mainstream coverage of the events on its satellite channel and website, including correspondents’ reports, expert commentary, interviews, and its staff’s savvy use of social media tools has maximized its influence and has turned it into a force to be reckoned with in the region.

As we have said before (see our post below, Tweet a changing world, January 26, 2011), American technology is transforming the world. The internet is an immense force for freedom – which is, of course, why governments want to control it. True, the forces of repression – Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood through Al-Jazeera – make use of the new technologies too. But in the long run they must surely be liberating?

The angry crowds in the streets of Egypt are demanding freedom. Will they overthrow a secular despotism only to replace it with an Islamic tyranny?

We wait, with an unfamiliar smidgen of optimism, to see if the glimpse of freedom young Egyptians have caught through their iPods will stop them from submitting ever again to the oppressive rule that characterizes the Arab states.