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EGYPT: Little protest on Mubarak's 80th birthday

May 4, 2008 |  6:31 am

Hosni_mubarak Cyberspace activists calling for nationwide protests to upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 80th birthday found sparse turnout and little passion.

Few took to the streets, few boycotted work and few wore black. It was another setback for opposition groups and bloggers who have been unable to ignite sustained protests against low wages, rising food prices and political repression.

As word of the protest circulated in recent days over the Internet and in cellphone text messages, the Mubarak government countered with old-school, low-tech politics: Police and security forces were mobilized and the president announced a 30% pay raise for all public employees.

Many Egyptians were temporarily satisfied; others were scared to cross a regime that in April had put down similar protests.

There is little question the Mubarak government is increasingly unpopular. It is presiding over economic growth, but the benefits of its reforms have not reached the lower and middle classes, to say nothing of the 45% of the country that lives on $2 or less a day. Inflation is a rallying lament, but the opposition is a disparate collection of left-wing intellectuals, Nasserists, Facebook activists and a Muslim Brotherhood that has been weakened by the arrests of hundreds of its members in recent months.

“The strike won’t help any way. Things are just moving from worse to worse, and the reason behind that is those who rule us perceive the country as a chicken which they share among themselves," said Abdo Mohamed Ibrahim, a government driver who earns about $72 a month.

His companion, Mustafa Balaha, wondered: “The strike won’t lead to anything because the government does what it wants in the end. The raise won’t solve anything. My basic salary is 200 pounds ($36), which means I will get a 60-pound raise. What can 60 pounds do for me and for my eight children?"

— Jeffrey Fleishman and Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: President Hosni Mubarak. Credit: AFP