Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Egypt: Opposition hopes for Tunisia-style revolution

Agence France-Presse
Egypt opposition hopes for Tunisia-style protests

January 24, 2011

By Mona Salem (AFP)

CAIRO — Egyptian opposition groups have launched a nationwide call for protests on Tuesday, in the hope that Tunisia's popular uprising will embolden crowds to take to the streets in support of economic and political reforms.

Inspired by a wave of street protests that ended the rule of veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, organisers have urged Egyptians to join the protest dubbed "the day of revolt against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment."

At least 87,000 people have said they will participate on a specially created page on the social networking site Facebook, despite interior ministry warnings that it will deal "firmly" if people behave illegally.

The call was first launched by pro-democracy youth group the April 6 Movement, and received the backing of others.

Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has expressed support for the protest, saying recently that opponents of Egypt's long-running regime should be able to follow the lead set by Tunisia.

"If the Tunisians have done it, Egyptians should get there too," the former UN nuclear watchdog chief told Germany's Der Spiegel in an interview.

A statement by ElBaradei's National Association for Change said that several of its members had been summoned by security services in the run-up to Tuesday's demonstrations.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most organised opposition movement, and the liberal Wafd -- Egypt's oldest opposition party -- have not formally endorsed the demonstrations, but have said many of their members will take part.

Amnesty International in a statement urged the authorities not to crack down on Tuesday's planned protests.

"Egypt needs to allow peaceful protests, and stop arresting and intimidating peaceful opposition activists," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for its Middle East and North Africa programme.

"The country's security forces have a worrying record when dealing with demonstrators, and we urge them to refrain from excessive and disproportionate force tomorrow."

In December, the self-immolation of 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi unleashed a wave of street riots across the North African country that culminated in the dramatic ouster of Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

Bouazizi's attempt to draw attention to economic hardship and repression sparked a series of copycat public torchings in Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Tunisian grievances have been echoed throughout the Arab world, whose mainly autocratic leaders were left unnerved by events in Tunisia.

Egyptians have long complained of economic difficulties, and Cairo has come under repeated criticism for failing to lift an emergency law in place for three decades.

The controversial law, which gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity, was renewed in 2010 for a further two years.

The opposition has repeatedly called for clean and democratic elections and rejected perceived plans for Gamal Mubarak, the son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to take power after his father.

Mubarak, 82, has been in power since 1981 and has yet to announce whether he will run for a fifth six-year term in elections scheduled for September.

The authorities have rejected the idea that the Tunisian scenario could spill over into Egypt.

But in a sign of anxiety over public discontent, authorities have recently tried to reassure the public that subsidies on basic commodities will remain in place.

Around 40 percent of Egypt's 80-million population live on around two dollars per day, and a large part of the population relies on subsidised goods.

However, analysts have expressed doubt that Tunisia's uprising will have a short-term impact on Egypt, saying that unlike Tunisia, the Egyptian regime had managed to give the opposition a margin of freedom.

The Egyptian army, from whose ranks all presidents have emerged, is also deemed loyal to the regime, they say.

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