More on what Tunisia means for Egypt

Reader Amjad asked (several times) in a comment:

Please allow for a slight detraction from the ongoing events in Tunisia, this still is very relevant but with an eye out to the future, near or far.

As most people here have observed the news coverage on all news channels very quickly turned to Egypt, and for reasons I'm sure we are all well aware of. I'd like to ask Arabist permission to open up some debate on how to manage such an event, should it occur in Egypt and in particular Cairo.

Change will one day happen, and laying out strategies to cope/manage the consequences are as attested in Tunisia pretty important.

Cairo alone is surrounded by at least 72 slums housing millions, no where in Cairo or the surrounding new cities are safe as all of them have mini slums or pockets of social housing, ready to take out their frustrations on anyone in sight, an epidemic of drug use in all classes and a worrying rise in armed/gun crime and acquisition of. make for the disastrous combination of High & Armed.

Tunis also shows us that security forces themselves took part in the looting, needless to say looking around anywhere in Cairo and the you have the Amin Shurta on the take for traffic offenses and letting a street seller do their business. they also happen to have a weapon.

What strategies on the popular/citizen front can be deployed and thought of in such an event, how can all groups be bought on side for understanding the consequences.

It wouldn't surprise me if we see much more of the old NDP guard on show, they always claimed the had the people eating from their hands and that would worry the New guard we know about as they have no credibility on the street.

I'm sure the ruling elite in their own security minded way are developing their own strategies, mainly a way out with their wealth intact, but they could learn a lot, but making some brave moves now. Abolish emergency laws? establish law and order for all? etc... the ruling elite will have most to loose, they own everything and everything will burn.

Learn from the Ahmed Rushdi during his short tenure as Interior minister, probably too late for him to come back but hopefully he has many disciples out there, and nothing can be more insulting for the president than having an Israeli news paper heading "Plane Ready", read into it what you want, I'm sure they would love to offer hospitality.

Let's think up strategies.

I'm neither a political activist nor Egyptian, so I'm not sure it is my place to take part in this debate. My own experience is that elite Egyptians tend to think in terms of getaway plans, because they are either deeply in bed with the regime or because they expect an uprising to become a class war. Social inequalities have been deep in Egypt for a long time, perhaps forever. I actually don't think, like many people, that they have particularly increased in recent years — the picture is more complicated than that. You've had further pauperization of the poorest and, at the same time, modest middle class growth. But expectations have changed dramatically as Egypt, since the 1990s, has turned into a consumer society.

There has been a dramatic state failure to maintain basic health services and deliver good education. This is perhaps Egypt's biggest failure. And as in all Arab countries, autocratic political systems have de-intermediated citizens from their rulers. What I mean by this is that the channels to relay popular grievances to governments have been deeply eroded by money and power. This is dangerous, because in the end it blindsides the regimes to the popular mood, and means there are people at the local level who have the moral authority to calm the situation should there be an outburst of anger.

Regarding the old vs. new guard NDP battles Amjad mentions, this is where I see one of the main threats coming from: manipulation and instrumentalization of public opinion by either side. It's what happened in January 1951 during the Cairo fire, when agents provocateurs instigated riots against foreign-owned shops in Downtown Cairo.

On that note, I'll let others come up with strategies and answer Amjad's request.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.