Human Rights Issue Update: Youth in Revolt, in Egypt

Today was a big day for human rights:

  • What the heck is going on in Egypt? Protesters gathered in the streets to voice disapproval with widespread poverty, the rising cost of food and Hosni Mubarak's corrupt 30-year-old rule. After weeks, youth-led protesters refused to give in to any of the efforts intended to pacify them. Mubarak made a speech yesterday and laid out plans for the transfer of power but shocked everyone by insisting he would not be stepping down any sooner than September. Then, after an angry response from Egyptians, he changed his tune once again. This morning Mubarak finally resigned, amid celebrations from protesters chanting, “Egypt is free!
  • The whole movement has been hailed as being primarily youth-led, both on the streets and on the web. One notable leader, 30-year-old Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian Google executive and activist, was detained for twelve days by security forces for his role in organizing the protests via Facebook. When he was released, the crowds welcomed him as a hero of the revolution. Ghonim credits the success of the movement to technology, saying, “This was an Internet revolution. I’ll call it Revolution 2.0.” Even the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations hailed Facebook and Twitter as being largely responsible for the shift in power in Egypt, noting that “governments are increasingly cognizant of their power.”
  • A hashtag on Twitter used in the early days of the uprising actually inspired a popular song and video called “#Jan25”. It features several North American and Arab hip-hop artists. This is one of several examples of how music, technology and protest all collided in Africa.
  • Earlier in the stand-off, the Egyptian government responded to the increased web activity and protests by briefly hitting the kill switch on the country’s Internet service providers, effectively preventing all Internet communication during the demonstrations. The government also shut down cell phone service. Once service returned, providers like Vodafone were forced to send pro-government text messages to subscribers.
  • For a few days in the middle of the protests, Mubarak supporters fought back against the protesters, starting violent scuffles in various major Egyptian cities. They also targeted and attacked journalists, including sweet little Anderson Cooper. There are accusations that these regime supporters were paid by the government to incite violence.
  • Egypt does have a history of human rights abuses, but those abuses were traditionally associated with the Security Force, which was under the control of the Mubarak regime. Now that Mubarak has stepped aside, the Egyptian military - which is by and large popular and respected among Egyptian citizens and the international community - is in control of Egypt's future. There are questions over whether the new system will prove to be better, though, especially as details surface about allegations of kidnapping and torture by the military during the protests.
  • All of the unrest in the Arab world began in Tunisia in December when 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in protest of the power of Tunisian authorities. These authorities, he said, had pushed him too far by confiscating the materials he used to earn a meager living. His act of self-immolation directly led to the Tunisian uprising and eventual resignation of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had served for 23 years. He wasn’t exactly a model humanitarian - he had a history of censoring the press and locking up his critics.

It’s pretty exciting when there are big developments in human rights like we saw today. Stay tuned for future Human Rights Issue Updates!