Adam Shatz in the LRB blog:
Mahmoud, my driver in Cairo when I reported from Egypt last year, didn’t talk much about politics, and – an understandable precaution – kept his views to himself unless he was asked a direct question. But when he dropped me off at the airport, he launched into a sharp attack on the Mubarak regime. ‘The Egyptians are a very patient people by nature, but their patience is running out,’ he said. ‘They could explode.’ (Once his calm returned, he begged me not to mention his name, which isn’t in fact Mahmoud.)
I thought Mahmoud’s warning was the sort of crystal-ball punditry you hear from taxi drivers throughout the developing world, where life continues to grind on as usual even though autocratic governance, corruption and poverty give people every reason to revolt. Leftist militants, reformist politicians, Muslim Brothers and human rights activists had been telling me for the previous two weeks that, for the moment, the regime had been reasonably successful in neutralising dissent, that Egyptians were too caught up in everyday worries to mobilise politically, and that the hopes raised by the Kifaya protests of 2005 had collapsed.
But that was before the murder of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Alexandrian beaten to death last June by plainclothes officers for asking whether they had a warrant when they searched him. That was before the flagrant rigging of the parliamentary elections in December, which left the Muslim Brotherhood – the country’s largest opposition movement – without a single seat. That was before the New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, in which 23 died, followed by the usual official claims that there are no sectarian tensions in Egypt. And that was before the popular uprising against the regime of Zine Ben-Ali in Tunisia.
Yesterday, tens of thousands of demonstrators – men and women, young and old, working and middle-class, religious and secular – took to the streets in a ‘Day of Rage’ protest against Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981. The protests weren’t restricted to Cairo: there were demonstrations in Alexandria, Suez and the Nile Delta village of Mahalla, a centre of labour insurgency in recent years.