The Middle East upheavals are nothing new to the region, but what is taking place in Egypt right now could change the course of history for generations to come.
“The uprising is understandable but, in the meantime, there is no clear picture of who the leader is,” said Abdel ElSawabi, a local business developer who grew up in Cairo.
In what seemed to be sparked by Tunisia’s governmental overthrow, Egypt’s North African neighbor, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Egypt’s capitol of Cairo calling for democratization. Tunisians forced their President Ben Ali into exile following months of protests and Egyptians are calling on a similar outcome for their President, Hosni Mubarak.
The protestors have called for a million-man march Tuesday, in further attempts to force Mubarak out of power.
“I think it [the march] will happen. Two weeks ago I would have said ‘No way’ but since last Tuesday, I definitely think, yes,” said ElSawabi.
ElSawabi is executive vice president of Apponaug Waterfront Development, LLC. The company is currently working on a hotel for Apponaug. He said they are going through the approval process with the city.
ElSawabi immigrated to the United States in 1985 to pursue a master’s degree in architecture. ElSawabi married in college and moved to Warwick in the late ’80s where he ran a construction company. When he left Cairo, Mubarak was only in his fourth year of what would eventually become an almost 30-year run as the nation’s president. Mubarak assumed the presidency in 1981, following the assassination of then President Anwar El-Sadat.
“Egypt has been under emergency law since Sadat [died] in 1981. They can come and arrest you without cause,” said ElSawabi.
Under emergency law, police powers are extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship is legal. The law sharply circumscribes political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned.
Some 17,000 people are said to be detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000. During the state of emergency, the government has the right to imprison individuals for any period of time, and for virtually any reason, keeping them in prison without trials. The government continues the claim that opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood could come into power in Egypt if the current government did not forgo parliamentary elections; confiscate the group's main financiers' possessions; and detain group leaders; actions which are legally impossible without emergency law under their non-emergency judicial-system.
“The Islamic Fundamentalist movement [said to be behind the assassination of Sadat] was really, really bad, so emergency law was justifiable for a certain time frame,” said ElSawabi.
That time frame ended long ago, according to ElSawabi, and the restrictions were kept in place to maintain Mubarak’s control over the country. His control spread throughout the economic markets and isolated most of the population and was apathetic about social responsibility.
“The Egyptian economy last year was up six and a half percent. The people that benefit are the top one percent, they are close to the ruling party,” said ElSawabi.
Protestors are driven by anger over economic frustrations and a dramatic rise in the cost of living over recent years. ElSawabi said the Egyptian economy was dormant for decades, but began to grow over the last several years. Instead of the entire country benefiting from this economic growth, he said distance between the wealthy and the poor continued to grow. Protestors have spoken out about widespread corruption within Mubarak’s regime and some have called for the government to be put on trial.
“The level of unemployment aggravates and creates a bad feeling and hardship [between the people and the government],” said ElSawabi.
Similar protests have broken out in the port city of Alexandria and the important shipping city Suez. Eight percent of global trade goes through the Suez Canal and if that were to shut down, trade would take 18 days longer to get to Europe and 10 days longer to reach America, according to Al Jazeera, an international news network headquartered in the Middle East.
“I don’t think that will happen. The Suez is 20 percent of the country’s entire income,” said ElSawabi.
Reports show that the majority of protestors are young men, many of whom are said to be from the educated middle class who cannot find work.
“They are men that graduated college four, five, six years ago and are still without work,” said ElSawabi.
Members of the European Union have expressed concern over the situation in Egypt and the delicate rebuilding of the international economy. The Union has not specifically called for Mubarak to step down, but has warned that quelling the protests would be bad for the country.
“It’s sensible to say that you do have a choice here, this repression, if you opt for that, that will end badly for Egypt, badly for the world,” David Cameron, the British Prime Minister said in a news release.
Another delicate piece of the puzzle is the relationship between Egypt and Israel. Egypt is the only nation to have been kicked out of [and then welcomed back into the Arab League] for its peace treaty with Israel. Fears have been expressed globally that the Muslim Brotherhood, which has long been quieted by Mubarak, would play a larger role in the country if the protests continue without an election.
“The peace treaty won’t be touched no matter who takes over. The Egyptian people love the peace treaty because we suffered a lot through four wars with Israel. A half million Egyptians were killed, we don’t want more war,” said ElSawabi.
On cable news on Sunday, Senator John McCain called for democratic elections to be held in September, as originally scheduled. The change he wants to see should be that it would actually be a democratic process.
It has been said that political corruption in the administration's Ministry of Interior has risen dramatically to secure the prolonged presidency.
In what many believe to be the initial moves in Mubarak’s eventual step-down, he fired his entire cabinet and appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as Egypt’s first vice president in 30 years.
“The best case scenario, if Mubarak stays, is that the vice president will take over in a few months and then a free election will be held within a year or so. The vice president is very well respected. He is not corrupt, nor was Mubarak in his first ten to fifteen years, but he lost touch with the people,” said ElSawabi.
Right now, the biggest danger facing the country is the lack of security and increasing chaos.
“People are worried about looting, so no food is being delivered. The banks are closed, so people can’t get money, and there is no transportation,” said ElSawabi.
The fear among people across the world is that, if Mubarak falls, the instability that could hit the region without a proper election process could be catastrophic, but that does not mean more outside influence is needed.
“What America is doing right now, siding with the Egyptian people, is the right thing. America cannot take sides. Egypt is the security blanket of the entire Middle East; if Egypt goes, the entire Middle East goes,” said ElSawabi.
In the wake of Egypt's success, the Middle East upheavals continue to spread throughout the region, now taking stances in Libya and Syria.