By Michael Jansen
There is a world of difference between Egypt’s people’s power uprising and the ongoing Syrian revolt.
In Egypt, there were specific local developments that in combination with the overthrow by popular action of Tunisia’s President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali prompted millions of Egyptians to raise the standard of rebellion. The first was the public murder by police officers of Alexandrian businessman Khaled Said in June 2010, the second was the unprecedented rigging of the parliamentary election in November.
The killing of the businessman prompted blogger Wael Ghoneim to create his Facebook page: “We are all Khaled Said”, with the aim of pointing out to Egyptians that they were all vulnerable to violent attack by police officers who, during the 30-year reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak acted with impunity. The entire election process was so clumsily manipulated and the result so skewed that it had no credibility with the majority of Egyptians; only 5-10 per cent of whom bothered to vote. The regime was, therefore, seen as both brutal and lacking popular support.
Although several Egyptians followed the example of Tunisian vegetable vendor Mohammad Bouazizi, who sparked his country’s uprising by setting himself alight in protest against police harassment, subsequent Egyptian self-immolations were not a major cause of Egypt’s largely peaceful mass uprising.
The spark that lit the fire of revolt in Syria was the arrest in mid-March of 15 teenagers who spray painted on walls in the southern city of Daraa the provocative slogan from Egypt’s uprising: “The people want the end of the regime”. The boys, who were imitating Egyptian youth, almost certainly did not understand the significance of what they wrote. When their relatives protested their detention, the provincial governor came down hard, launching the cycle of violence that has characterised the Syrian unrest.