History professor Joel Beinin, an expert in Middle East history, delivered a talk on the current uprisings in Egypt on Tuesday afternoon in front of a full crowd in the Lane History Corner.
Since Jan. 25, protestors have taken to the streets of Egypt’s main cities, calling for the fall of the existing regime and the resignation of incumbent president Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.
Over the weekend, Mubarak appointed a vice president and made attempts to reshuffle his government, measures that did not appease protestors. Monday saw the launch of a “Million Man March” in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and during Beinin’s talk, Mubarak announced that he would not be running for reelection in September. Several world leaders, including President Obama, had previously urged him to take this step. Egyptians continue to call for his immediate removal.
After presenting a brief history of the nation since 1952, Beinin painted a bleak picture of the 40 percent of Egypt’s population living near or below the poverty line, highlighting a 25-percent employment rate for young men and 23-percent inflation on food and beverages in urban areas.
“This didn’t happen on Facebook. It happened as a result of certain historical processes,” Beinin said, emphasizing the value of a historical approach in analyzing the uprising.
These historical processes, Beinin argued, were put in place by the “authoritarian kleptocracy” of Mubarak’s regime and its “resolve to embark on the neoliberal agenda.”
Mobilization of labor, corruption (or in Beinin’s words, the “classic crony capitalist project”) and income inequality were among the historical processes to which Beinin assigned blame. Tunisia’s recent uprising’s effect was also discussed, but Beinin was careful to make distinctions between the two North African states.
“Two key things happened in Tunisia that haven’t happened in Egypt yet, and one of which won’t happen,” Beinin said. “The trade union federation changed sides, and the army changed sides.
“In Egypt, the trade union federation is not going to change sides because there is too much at stake,” he added. “The army still hasn’t decided, which will be the biggest make-or-break factor.”
Beinin ended the talk by mentioning an undergraduate advisee who is currently in Egypt. This student had communicated messages to him from the streets of Cairo to be relayed to America.
“Tell people in America nobody wants an Islamic government. We are protesting because we are tired and sick of hardships,” Beinin said, quoting the student. “Ask people in America to speak out against their government and support what we are doing.”
Following the talk, a 20-minute question-and-answer session saw audience members asking Beinin about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, the food shortage, U.S. policy regarding Israel and the prospects for Egypt’s future.
On this final point, Beinin gave a cautious response.
“Egypt is fundamentally broken in many ways…and democracy does not come without a struggle.”