Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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EGYPT: A birthday protest for the president?

April 24, 2008 |  7:47 am

808hosnimubarak_6 Cyber-dissidents and Facebook activists are preparing to give Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a birthday present that is certain to spoil the cake and candles mood. On May 4, when the leader turns 80, opposition groups have called for a national strike to protest low wages, inflation, poverty and political oppression that have led to growing anger against Mubarak.

The dissidents have the Internet, but Mubarak controls the intelligence and security forces. It’s being couched as a battle between technology, and tear gas and batons.

A national strike several weeks ago turned out to be more symbolic than successful. Police shut down most protests before they started and many in this nation, where more than 40% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, couldn’t afford to give up a day of work to punch their fists in the air.

But activists were inspired, rallying around Esra Abdel Fattah, a 27-year-old blogger who was arrested earlier this month while plotting a protest movement on a Facebook network that included an estimated 64,000 members. She was released from prison earlier this week.

The question for the Egyptian opposition, however, is can electronic dissidence lead to placards and marchers in the street? Historically, Egyptians are not known for taking on their leaders in massive public protests, and the Mubarak government is moving swiftly to silence bloggers, satellite TV channels and other contrarian voices. People are angry, but are they determined?

—Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: President Hosni Mubarak (AFP)