Sunday, July 15, 2007

Citizen Protests in Egypt

From Baheyya From Remonstrance to Rights
"Egypt is so rife with protest these days it’s difficult and crucial to keep track. On any given day, at least one group of citizens takes to the streets to press demands, air grievances, and claim recognition. Sometimes, miraculously, they win. [...]
If it’s true that ordinary people are innovating new ways of dealing with the government, why is this happening? The erosion and near-collapse in the infrastructure of basic services (sewage, potable water, irrigation water) is a key factor, but even more aggravating to citizens is that they’re still required to pay fees for services that they don’t receive. What’s more, the services they’re being deprived of are the very minimum required for human survival. We’re not talking about affordable healthcare, decent schooling, or subsidised alimentary goods, things they’ve long ceased to expect from this government. We’re talking about clean water, for God’s sake! We’re talking about the right not to suffer routine police brutality, as in the case of North Sinai’s residents. We’re talking about the right to have alternative housing when the government decides to “upgrade” the neighbourhood you’ve lived in for 50 years by clearing you out.

Another factor that may be causing ordinary people’s street action is the inefficacy of existing representative structures. Ordinary citizens have a long and bitter experience with unresponsive or corrupt municipal officials, so they’ve realised that they must surpass these ineffectual intermediaries and make a beeline for the national symbols and holders of political power. A third factor may be the changing nature of protest itself. Ordinary people may have noticed that street protest is now a common and well-worn method used to advance all manner of collective interests, whether by poultry farmers or unemployed university graduates or citizens opposed to the construction of mobile phone towers or families of disaster victims or congregants after Friday prayers. They see these groups advertising their grievances and they mimic their tactics..."

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