Friday, January 28, 2011

How quickly they fall.

Hard to tell what's going on in Egypt, but there are increasing signs that this government might fall. Most telling are the mentions in the Guardian Breaking News blog (see link in post below) that the police and military are siding with their fellow people against the dictator.

2.32pm: Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, gives this detailed account of how protesters overwhelmed police in Alexandria today.

After prayers, the protesters came out of a mosque and started shouting slogans. They were saying "peaceful, peaceful" and raising their hands. They were immediately attacked by police in an armoured car firing teargas. Fierce clashes started then, with exchanges of rock throwing. About 200 police faced about 1,000 protesters. The clashes lasted for nearly two hours. Then a much larger crowd of protesters came from another direction. They were packed in four blocks deep. Police tried to hold them back with teargas and rubber bullets, but they were finally overwhelmed.

Then the police just gave up, at about the time of afternoon prayers. Protesters gave water to police and talked to them. It was was all peaceful. Hundreds of protesters were praying in the street.

Now walking down to downtown Alexandria, the whole road is packed as far as we can see, people shouting slogans against [Hosni] Mubarak and his son Gamal. Asking others to join them. It is a very festive atmosphere. Women in veils, old men, children, I even saw a blind man being led. And there are no police anywhere.

There is one lesson that activists should learn from all of this. A country can look stable, or at least repressed. The discontent bubbles beneath the surface when the state police kick in the doors of any dissidents. But, the discontent is still there. And, when the people sense that there is a real chance for real change, they will pour out into the streets in their millions.

The key is not to make the mistake of thinking that the lack of signs of public protest, which are repressed by raids and arrests by the state police forces, represent the lack of discontent amongst the population. The discontent is just hidden when state censorship and state police raids on dissidents keep it from being public. But it doesn't mean its not there.

The fall of the Soviet Union surprised everyone with the speed with which it progressed. Now we are seeing again how quickly can change as the pro-American dictatorships across the Arab world are starting to collapse as the people realize that change might actually be possible.

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