Mohamed Atef lies on the ground after being allegedly shot in the head by security forces while protesting in Sheikh Zoweid, Egypt. With Mohameds death, the toll has climbed to five on the third day of protests. (Reuters)
Jan. 27: For decades, Egypts authoritarian President, Hosni Mubarak, played a clever game with his political opponents.
He tolerated a tiny and toothless opposition of liberal intellectuals whose vain electoral campaigns created the facade of a democratic process. And he demonised the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as a group of violent extremists who posed a threat that he used to justify his police state.
But this enduring and, many here say, all too comfortable relationship was upended this week by the emergence of an unpredictable third force, the leaderless tens of thousands of young Egyptians who turned out to demand an end to Mubaraks 30-year rule.
Now the older opponents are rushing to catch up.
It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date and decided to go, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said yesterday with some surprise during a telephone interview from his office in Vienna, shortly before rushing home to Cairo to join the revolt.
ElBaradei, a Nobel prize winner, has been the public face of an effort to reinvigorate and unite Egypts fractious and ineffective Opposition since he plunged into his home countrys politics nearly a year ago, and he said the youth movement had accomplished that on its own. Young people are impatient, he said. Frankly, I didnt think the people were ready.
But their readiness — tens of thousands have braved tear gas, rubber bullets and security police officers notorious for torture — has threatened to upstage or displace the traditional Opposition groups.
Many of the tiny, legally recognised political parties — more than 20 in total, with scarcely a parlour full of grass-roots supporters among them — are leaping to embrace the new movement for change.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood may have grown too protective of its own institutions and position to capitalise on the new youth movement, say some analysts. The Brotherhood remains the organisation in Egypt with the largest base of support outside the government, but it can no longer claim to be the only entity that can turn masses of people out into the streets.
The Brotherhood is no longer the most effective player in the political arena, said Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar now at the University of Notre Dame. If you look at the Tunisian uprising, its a youth uprising. It is the youth that knows how to use the media, Internet, Facebook, so there are other players now.
ElBaradei, for his part, has struggled for nearly a year to unite the Opposition under his umbrella group, the National Association for Change. But some have mocked him as a globe-trotting dilettante who spends much of his time abroad.
He has said in interviews that he never presented himself as a political saviour.
Now, he said, the youth movement will give them the self-confidence they needed, to know that the change will happen through you and not through one person — you are the driving force.