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Jean Jacques Rousseau and Egypt

From The Vancouver Sun’s online opinion blog:

In watching the live streaming coverage of the Egyptian revolution on Aljazeera, I am awe-struck by the incredible humanity of what is unfolding in that country. I imagine Jean Jacques Rousseau wandering amongst the throngs of people and being equally amazed and delighted. For the character of this uprising, this outpouring of frustration and joy, of kindness and determination, of compassion and hope and community is more Rousseau than it is Mohammed or Marx.

The image of an old man with a long white beard racing his horse across Liberation Square yelling at the top of his lungs “I am free! I am Free! I am free!” – hardly able to comprehend that he was able to do so without fear of bring beaten or worse, is for me the most enduring image of the incredible events taking place in Egypt.

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I will continue to shoulder my responsibilities… until free and fair elections.

—Embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced Thursday night he will not immediately resign, as heavily rumoured. Video.

An opposition demonstrator prays in front of army soldiers near Tahrir Square in Cairo. Reuters

An opposition demonstrator prays in front of army soldiers near Tahrir Square in Cairo. Reuters

 
The mainly peaceful protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have turned violent as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attacked protesters with fists, stones and clubs in Cairo on Wednesday.
 
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The mainly peaceful protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have turned violent as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attacked protesters with fists, stones and clubs in Cairo on Wednesday.

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A brief history of Egypt since 1952

The Vancouver Sun’s world affairs reporter Jonathan Manthorpe cast an eye down the modern history of Egypt, and finds a long line of military string pullers in government:

It has not always been apparent since the jolly King Farouk (pictured at left) scampered aboard his royal yacht in 1952 and fled into exile on the Italian paradise island of Capri, but Egypt has been a military regime ever since.

Behind the suits there have always been uniforms and even when there have been civilians in the administrations, the relationship with the military and other security forces has always been as close as teeth and gums.

Unlike Tunisia, where Ben Ali was run out because his miliary would not fire on its people, the military entaglements in Egypt create a different field of play: 

It’s a different relationship in Egypt, as President Hosni Mubarak, commander of the Egyptian Air Force until appointed vice-president in 1975, made clear on Friday.

First, he confronted mass demonstrations calling for his removal by ordering the army on to the streets to impose order for the first time since these demonstrations started.

Then, in a live television broadcast Friday evening, Mubarak said he has asked the government to step down and said he will quickly appoint new ministers.

Some observers have interpreted Mubarak’s deployment of the army as a sign of desperation and have wondered whether Egyptian soldiers, like their Tunisian counterparts, will refuse orders to fire on the crowds if it comes to that.

But putting troops on the streets and relegating the police to a secondary role may well be a smart move by Mubarak to defuse tension.

The 450,000-strong military is, unlike the police, very popular in Egypt. Indeed, there are reports of soldiers being greeted warmly by demonstrators as the troop convoys drove into Cairo and Alexandria.

That does not mean, though, that if push comes to shove the soldiers will abandon the regime of which they are the essential part.

To get more context on the situation in Egypt, here’s the rest of Manthorpe piece from the weekend.

 

An Egyptian army Captain identified as Ihab Fathi holds the national flag while being carried by demonstrators during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 31, 2011, on the seventh day of mass protests calling for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. Credit; Marco Longaro/AFP/Getty Images.
More of The Vancouver Sun's coverage on Egypt:
We’re updating this gallery with images from Cairo and beyondRally in Vancouver shows solidarity with EgyptEgyptians using Vancouver’s Hootsuite to bypass governmental restrictionsChina restricts internet dialogue about Egyptian protests"And then everything changed" - Murray Dobin on Egypt

An Egyptian army Captain identified as Ihab Fathi holds the national flag while being carried by demonstrators during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 31, 2011, on the seventh day of mass protests calling for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. Credit; Marco Longaro/AFP/Getty Images.

More of The Vancouver Sun's coverage on Egypt:

We’re updating this gallery with images from Cairo and beyond
Rally in Vancouver shows solidarity with Egypt
Egyptians using Vancouver’s Hootsuite to bypass governmental restrictions
China restricts internet dialogue about Egyptian protests
"And then everything changed" - Murray Dobin on Egypt

China blocks internet reports from Egypt

Chinese censors are blocking online discussion and sanitising news reports about the unrest in Egypt, in a sign of official unease that the uprising could fuel calls for reform at home.

Keyword searches on the protests returned no results Monday on microblogs and reader discussion of news reports about Egypt was disabled on major portals as China’s pervasive censorship apparatus swung into full gear.

News coverage of the demonstrations against the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was limited to sparse accounts that largely glossed over the underlying political factors and calls for democracy.

Coverage instead stressed Cairo’s lawlessness and the need for order — echoing calls by China’s foreign ministry — and the government’s plan to send two chartered jets to Cairo to bring home more than 500 stranded Chinese.

Photos from Egypt were conspicuously absent from major Chinese newspapers, while Monday’s state news broadcast omitted footage of protests, instead showing Mubarak meeting top officials.

"I would imagine the government put out some sort of order for all outlets to use only copy from (state-run news agency) Xinhua. That’s the standard procedure," said Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of the Beijing-based China media website danwei.org, which also is blocked by censors.

"That way they can sterilise the depiction of the situation or portray it as something negative or a product of Western influence."

China actively censors content seen as a potential challenge to the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.

China’s leaders have faced mounting public discontent in recent years over political hot-button issues including persistent reports of abusive government officials, dangerous environmental damage and now surging inflation.

China suppressed violent ethnic uprisings in Tibet and the mainly Muslim Xinjiang region of northwestern China in 2008 and 2009, while the Nobel Peace Prize won by dissident writer Liu Xiaobo in October also rattled Beijing.

Coverage of Liu’s honour was limited to government denunciations of the decision by the Oslo-based Nobel committee. Foreign TV coverage of the award ceremony in December was blacked out.

Beijing’s reaction to the Egypt situation recalls similar curbs put in place during the so-called “colour revolutions” in Eastern Europe a decade ago.


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A protestor gestures to riot policeman in front of the l-Istiqama Mosque in Giza on January 28, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt (Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)


More photos here. 

 

A protestor gestures to riot policeman in front of the l-Istiqama Mosque in Giza on January 28, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt (Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)

More photos here. 

Muslim Brotherhood promises “day of rage” in Egypt today

The extent of the threat to the 30-year regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will be seen on the streets of Cairo and other cities today as the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood promises to mount a “day of rage.”

Since widespread protests against Mubarak’s authoritarian rule erupted on Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood, widely believed to be Egypt’s most popular political group if free and fair elections were held, has refrained from official involvement.

And although a few easily identifiable members of the Brotherhood have taken part in demonstrations, the protests, mostly involving young people marshaled by social network messaging, have quickly lost steam.

The extreme but largely nonlethal response by the Egyptian police and security forces has seen the numbers dwindle from about 20,000 on Tuesday to minor protests by a few dozen people on Thursday.

In an effort to stop the kind of organic uprising that happened in Tunisia and spread to Yemen on Thursday, Egyptian authorities have shut down social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and have even blocked cellphone text messaging.


Read more from The Vancouver Sun’s Jonathan Manthorpe on the “day of rage”.