Clashes in Cairo

When I woke up this morning, I read some tweets from Nick Kristof, and I learned this:

Very messy in Tahrir right now. Clashes. Could be a bad day. Looks like Mubarak says: you challenge me, you pay a price.

Pro-democracy folks have heard protesters are being attacked and are rushing to the square by the thousands to help.

I’m now (4 p.m.) listening to NPR and hearing that people in Tahrir Square have been throwing Molotov Cocktails at each other.

Here’s a description from Nick Kristof’s blog.  I’m so grateful for his reporting.

Today President Mubarak seems to have decided to crack down on the democracy movement, using not police or army troops but rather mobs of hoodlums and thugs. I’ve been spending hours on Tahrir today, and it is absurd to think of this as simply “clashes” between two rival groups. The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed — and they’re using their weapons. 

In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side — that is preposterous. It’s difficult to know what is happening, and I’m only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.

I have no idea whether this tactic will work. But the idea that President Mubarak should make the case that he is necessary for Egypt’s stability by unleashing violence and chaos on his nation’s youth — it’s a sad and shameful end to his career. And I hope that the international community will firmly denounce this kind of brutality apparently organized by the government.

I’m still trying to sort out everything that’s going on there.  One great point that one of my students raised (thanks, John!) is that Mubarak has apparently embezzled about 40 billion dollars over the course of his 30 years in power.

I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate, but he surely has amassed billions of dollars.  That’s a lot of money.  Who will get to control it if he leaves the country?  If it’s in secure banks outside of Egypt, can Egypt possibly recover that money?

Speaking of money, protests like the one in Egypt that just completed Day 9 are very costly the people.  Think about it: there’s no business being conducted.  There are no trains running.  There’s no food distribution.  And there’s certainly no tourism, which normally makes up about 5-6 percent of Egypt’s economy.

The timing of the violence and political uncertainty couldn’t be worse — winter is the high season for visitors …

Tourism is a major industry in Egypt, a country that struggles with poverty. It accounts for 5 percent to 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to several estimates. Egypt is also often a starting point for people exploring Jordan and parts of Northern Africa.
Source: Fox News

As this story develops, it will be important to keep an eye on the money.  When a new government settles in Egypt (I’m guessing Mubarak is done — the question is what his departure looks like), how will it distribute money to its people?

And what will become of the $1.5 billion that the U.S. typically gives to Egypt on an annual basis?  Here’s an article from 2004 that adds up how much money the US has given to Egypt since 1979:


Source: Christian Science Monitor, April 2004

More to come, I’m sure — it’s now 4:30 p.m. in North Carolina, meaning it’s about 11:30 p.m. in Egypt.  I hope there’s a peaceful night over there.  Here’s a recent picture from the front web page of the New York Times:

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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