With every passing day, the Egyptian uprising gathers strength as more citizens rally to the cause and demand the immediate resignation of Hosni Mubarak. The regime’s pillars are crumbling. Yesterday, the demonstrators surged out of Tahrir Square and marched towards the National Assembly and the building that houses the Ministry of Interior. But perhaps the most important development was the smaller demonstrations held in front of government owned media outlets and the resignations of a number of prominent journalists on the regime’s payroll.
The defection of journalists and TV personalities means that the regime has lost its ability to control the message. Until Monday, the coverage of the uprising by the government owned press has been scandalous. Now, the change in tone coming from the regime’s very own megaphone suggests that even state paid propagandists have read the writing on the wall and decided that the demonstrators have gained the upper hand.
One prominent headline in Wednesday’s issue of Al-Ahram, the official megaphone of the regime, demonstrated the dramatic tilt in coverage. “Fi Al Tahrir Hata al Raheel” translates into “We’ll Occupy Tahrir Square until Mubarak steps down” or in other words “We shall not be moved.” That would have been unthinkable a week ago.
What’s more astonishing about these developments is that a day earlier, Omar Suleiman, held a two hour meeting with the management of major government daily papers and privately owned opposition papers. I guess whatever message he was trying to deliver just didn’t sink in. It appears that even disreputable government employed journalists have bailed out on Mubarak because they understand the liability of being too closely identified with the dictatorial regime.
Every journalist in the country is suddenly howling about the mind boggling corruption of Mubarak’s government. The former minister of interior, Habib Adly, apparently amassed a fortune of $1.3 billion dollars. Not bad for a government employee. Other former ministers have amassed similar fortunes. According to Al-Ahram, the former Minister of Tourism, The former Minister of Housing and the former Minister of Health are all billionaires and the attorney general has already issued orders freezing their assets and barring them from leaving the country. In a country where the minimum wage was only recently raised to the equivalent of $70 a month, even a million dollars is considered surreal wealth. So you can only imagine how these revelations sit with the man on the street especially when they are confirmed by the government’s own media establishment.
Of course, the net worth of the Mubarak clan is still a taboo subject. There is speculation in the foreign press that the president is one of the richest men in the world with a fortune estimated at $40 billion. Al-Ahram won’t go there – not yet anyhow. But the disturbing news of the first family’s fabulous wealth has already reached Tahrir Square and it helps explain why the demonstrations are gaining strength.
With the sudden change in the sentiments of the scribes of the government press, all eyes are now focused on the army. So far, the army has maintained a neutral stance. The common wisdom in the western press is that the army will eventually tilt towards the regime because its senior officers are beneficiaries of many perks. That might be true but they’re still Egyptians and they won’t easily give up their status as the single most respected institution in the country. While the generals are often handsomely rewarded by the regime for their loyalty, the vast majority of officers are middle class and their compensation has taken a downward dive even as Mubarak targeted his largess towards the police and the Republican Guards. Anybody who knows anything about Egypt understands that the junior officers in the military will abandon their posts before accepting orders to abort a popular uprising. The military establishment has two choices – they can play a meaningful and constructive role in the Post-Mubarak era or they can prop up the faltering regime for a few months at the expense of losing the trust of their people.
As the uprising gains momentum, college professors, professional associations and trade unions are joining the fray. They know which way the tide is turning and so does the army’s rank and file.
The young people who led this uprising have a spirit and a love of country that no Egyptian can ignore. There is a surge of patriotism in the country that transcends anything seen since the 1973 war. Egypt has not experienced a popular uprising of this magnitude since 1919 when Egyptians became the first third world people to secure nominal independence from the British Empire. Those kids in Tahrir Square know their history and have seen three hundred of their finest shed their blood for freedom. They will honor their sacrifices by standing tall against any force that attempts to abort their uprising. A word to the wise – listen carefully to what these young men and women are saying – “we shall not be moved.”