After 18 days of protests and violent clashes, controversial Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Friday (February 11) and handed over power to the military amid citizens' headline-making calls for his departure. Protesters are now celebrating in the streets following the end of a three-decade tenure that has been criticized as widely corrupt, and many Egyptians are looking forward to swapping out the dictatorship for democratic rule.
MTV's politically oriented blog Act checked in with an activist on the ground, Ahmed Zidan, a 23-year-old medical student at Cairo University and editor of the website Mideast Youth, who conceded that while the change is exhilarating, he's concerned about what lies ahead for the North African nation.
"Well I'm worried a little bit. This moment is much far bigger than to judge it now. I mean, we should wait until the next days, maybe months, to see what will go on. It's a little bit early to comment. But I have my worries. I'm worried about the Peace Treaty with Israel, because it's not very popular in Egypt, and this might cause a lot of troubles to us, and to Israel too. I support peace, and I'm looking forward to continue this treaty," he explained. In addition to fearing continued looting and vandalism among the country's 80 million people, Zidan added that he's concerned about the influence of a popular Islamist political organization. "I'm worried too about the Muslim Brotherhood lure. They're [looking] for any frontline posts in the country, and a group with a terrorist past can do a lot of harm too," he added.
The uprising picked up momentum over two weeks ago as a series of longstanding factors including widespread poverty and unemployment and catalysts such as the recent revolt in nearby Tunisia prompted unrest in the Arab nation. The revolution has been especially notable as it was driven by young, technologically savvy Egyptians — 30-year-old Google executive Wael Ghonim who mobilized protesters via Facebook has been credited in part for galvanizing the young supporters — and Zidan added that the country's youthful Web community has long been a significant outlet for political expression.
"Facebook is very popular here. Pre-Facebook, we have blogs, post-Facebook, there's Twitter," Zidan said. "Along these years, Egyptian Netizens were expressing all their aspirations on the Internet because the political arena was limited to the ruling party and other fragile parties ratified by the ruling party. So, generally, the political life was very dull and limited. They decide for you everything: from your president to your frame of 'freedom.' So this parental state, here in Egypt and all over the region, has created a turmoil on the Internet life. Cyber-dissidents are [working] a lot, writing, sharing news, and expressing their opinions freely, increasing awareness of the mainstream from the Internet users. But I'm talking about the roots of these protests. It's an awareness over the Internet: opinion articles, open free media, and crowd participation. They were doing online what they actually lack in their daily lives."
Zidan mused that "Wael Ghonim's page is just a co-factor [in the revolt]. It was the sperm, among millions, which penetrated the ovum of the revolution," adding that the rhetoric of opposition leader Mohammad Elbaradei and the beating death of 28-year-old Khaled Said by police also helped electrify demonstrators. While the revolt has played out in city squares and Web forums, Zidan said Egypt's laws must be overhauled as the Arab country heads into its next phase.
"We should have a powerful constitution, a secular and powerful one. At this moment, when we have a powerful constitution and law, it'll be up for the people, because the presidential terms would be limited to two," he said. "The emergency state will be lifted, the SSI — State Security Intelligence — would cease to exist, and SSI have a terrible past," he said. "The freedom of speech, freedom of Internet, freedom of expression, freedom of protest, freedom of access will be guaranteed by the new constitution. I'll not be scared if all these changes are guaranteed. I'll not be scared about whoever rules because rule of law will be the reference — not the regime, or the police, or the president."
As Egypt navigates this critical period of transition, Zidan said that young Stateside supporters can help out as well by engaging their Middle Eastern counterparts via the Web — the same medium that helped kick off the swift revolution.
"You can circulate our articles, visit our websites, react with us! I mean, the youthful spirit is very important. The Internet spirit, this solidarity. I've received e-mails and tweets from all over the world in the past four hours congratulating me. I mean, let's share this moment of glory," he said, adding, "But you should pressure your regime too."
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