My name is Luke Schleusener. I’m a graduate student at the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. I’ve got six years of Arabic, Classical and Dialects. I attended AUC for four months in 2006. I’ve written about new media and the public sphere in Bahrain.
First, let’s settle something. Between 8-10% of Egypt’s population is on twitter or has regular internet access. This is not a twitter revolution. The spread of internet and mobile phones in tandem with the rise of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya meant that the regime lost both framing and hegemony, and the secret police never had enough resources to monitor every conversation. It’s not the organizing factor that makes the internet so powerful. Other, freer societies (say the Philippines in 1986, even under Marcos) did not need new technology to accomplish this.
Egypt is a generic military dictatorship with nationalist-ethnic pretensions. The governing National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak has its roots in socialist Arab Nationalism, but central planning, socialism, and Arab political unity have fallen by the wayside in the interest of octogenarian crony capitalism.
Two thirds of the population is under 30, and about a third of the population is unemployed, but actual figures plus underemployment make things much grimmer. The NDP historically promised free college education and jobs for every graduate, but along with most other public goods in the semi-socialist paradise, the Mubarak government has gone out of its way to defund schooling to prevent the advent of a middle class to overthrow it. Instead, it has impoverished school teachers, professors, and civil servants. Recent college graduates tend to turn to the Muslim Brotherhood for hope, health care, and food. Cairo’s taxi fleet is made up of moonlighting civil servants trying to make enough to buy bread. Less than five percent of the population controls 90% of the wealth. The last five years have been increasingly tumultuous as food and fuel prices skyrocketed, neoliberal economic policies exacerbated unemployment. Economic growth has produced winners, but that has escalated class divisions: over the past year, new gated communities have displaced slums across Cairo.
Tensions have run high since the 2006 elections, when Mubarak refused to seat the Muslim Brotherhood in parliament and then tossed secular liberal Ayman Nour into prison. More recently, many expected Mubarak engineer his son Gamal’s succession in the upcoming presidential election in September. The military has been tepid, at best, about that idea.
Recent events in Tunisia encouraged the populace, but the situation was dire before that.