Mubarak’s gone – people power triumphs in Egypt

The last forty-eight hours or so of history have been somewhat of a roller coaster. Remember, if you will, BBC One’s 6 o’clock News on Thursday, when we all watched what was meant to be President Mubarak’s resignation speech. It wasn’t. Instead, the man who had been at the center of demonstrations against his rule for more than two weeks, renewed his promise not to stand for re-election in September. The protesters in Tahrir Square were literally jumping up and down with anger – and who could blame them? They had appeared so close to success and were now facing a long stand off and rule by a man who had lost all credibility.

The US reacted by withdrawing any support it had shown for Mubarak, thereby alienating itself from the only regime in the Middle East it had good relations with. This was a risky move, but the US is keen to be seen as pro-dimocracy, whatever that entails. This may have been a strong cause for what happened next.

Just a day after the previously mentioned announcement, President Mubarak stepped down. The news was broken to the people of Egypt by their Vice President, via a televised address. The crowds in Tahrir Square were given the news on loud speaker. They cheered and shouted, laughing and weeping in equal measure. Chants of ‘Egypt is free’ echoed around the capital. The demonstrators had succeeded in ending a thirty year rule in the course of eighteen days.

It was not just the consternation of the US that drove Mubarak out of power. His own army played a huge part in his downfall. The generals who had once helped him to power were starting to panic. Their soldiers on the ground were mostly on the side of the protesters and were therefore refusing to use force against them. The generals were at risk of losing control of their own men. The only way to avoid complete chaos was to regain credibility and give the protesters what they wanted. They forced Mubarak to temporarily hand over power to their High Council.

Now what? Well, Egypt must keep moving forwards. Protesters must return to work. Tourists must go back to holidaying in the country. If the economy does not stay reasonably steady, none of the Egyptian’s hopes will be achieved. The army are promising to uphold all of Egypt’s international agreements, including those with Israel. It is also promising to continue the move towards democracy. This is helping to reassure those within and outside the country. Hope is very much alive.

Egypt – an unfolding revolution

After thirty years of rule by President Mubarak, Egyptians want him out. Having seen the protests and their success in Tunisia, which forced the President to flee the country, the Egyptians started their own demonstrations. On the 25th January, Cairo erupted. The protests soon spread throughout the country to the main cities of Alexandria and Suez. The main focus of the world’s media, however, has remained on Liberation Square in Cairo, where demonstrators appear to have set up a permanent protest.

The protesters are mainly Egypt’s younger generations who are influenced by social sites such as Twitter, which fuel the anger in such situations by bringing news in to a country that the government has banned on television and in newspapers. These people, who have never experienced anything other than Mubarak’s regime, are facing high unemployment and spiralling food prices. They are demanding freedom of speech and justice; and – crucially – the end of Mubarak’s rule.

I found this cartoon whilst researching this article: it’s funny and also concisely explains what is
going on:
Carciature of the day
http://www.squidoo.com/egypt-and-the-current-protests

It has also been interesting to watch the peoples’ reactions to the protests. There has of course been some violence but, unlike in Tunisia, it has not been widespread. Ordinary men have taken up the jobs of the non-existent police force and are protecting their homes in a relatively disciplined manner.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of what has happened in the last two weeks because it would, quite frankly, make me sound much like BBC News 24, which is not really the aim of this blog. I would rather highlight the issues so that when you next see the news you will have a grasp of why these events are happening.

As it stands, Egypt seems to be in deadlock. President Mubarak has agreed to step down at elections in September, but the opposition want him gone now. They are not prepared to accept anything less and say they will stay in Liberation Square until their demands are met. Mubarak, on the other hand, is not budging. The new cabinet that he instated when the protests started, including his son, resigned yesterday. There is no one ruling Egypt. Liberation Square appears to have been very appropriately named.

All the power in the country rests on the army, which has a very obvious presence on the streets. However, although once loyal to the President, the army has publicly declared that it will not harm protesters; saying that their grievances are justified. This came as a huge blow to the regime and marked its official loss of control. The question now is: what will the army decide to do? The answer to that will determine the future of Egypt and ultimately the situation in the entire Middle East.

But the problem is even wider than that. The West is worried and is calling for an ‘orderly transition’. The fear is that, should the protesters get their way and Mubarak stands down, there will be a perfect opportunity for Islamic extremists to take power. The West have tolerated Mubarak’s regime because he has been open to the idea of Israel. Without this, terrorism and anti-Israeli fighting could increase dramatically.

Back with a journalistic bang (I hope)

Sorry for the temporary lapse in my blogging – Christmas and revision rather zapped my creativity. But here I am, back to the furious typing. It seems to me that a lot has happened since I last blogged, so I will just do an article on one of the most important events.

Students riots turn interesting, and ugly
Thousands of students took to the streets throughout November and December, firstly to dissuade politicians from voting for an increase in tuition fees and then to show their anger once the bill was passed. And angry they were. Seemingly peaceful demonstrations turned worryingly violent at times, most notably outside the Tory headquarters at Millbank Towers where windows were smashed and the property ransacked. As I’m sure you know what happened, instead of bringing you a blow-by-blow account, newsroom style, I am going to instead tackle some of the issues that the riots highlighted.

Firstly, should students really have to pay vast amounts for higher education? Well, there is no doubt that the government needs to cut the deficit. It is hard to imagine that George Osborne woke up one day and decided that increasing tuition fees sounded like a fun initiative. These measures clearly come from necessity, not choice. I think the vast majority of the population would rather students paid more and the NHS budget was not slashed. The government is being forced to prioritise. Yes, a top benchmark of £9,000 a year is very expensive, but it is also amazingly cheap compared to the $50,000+ charged by the leading colleges across the Atlantic. British universities offer a good education and can not be expected to find funds in thin air.
The vandelism shown on the riots was unbelievable and also disappointing. If the protests had remained peaceful and ordered they may have had more of an effect. Instead, a brutal and ridiculous mob demanded fairness, which does not make a lot of sense. Any sympathy from the press was greatly reduced and the protesters turned from hot-headed and impassioned youth into rowdy trouble makers, if not criminals. The saddest part of the situation is how it has potentially permanently ruined the lives of some of those involved. Many young people had not wanted to cause trouble but were simply caught up in the chaos. This is perfectly demonstrated by the case of eighteen year old Edward Woollard, who made the mistake of hurling a fire extinguisher off the seven-story high roof of Millbank Tower, narrowly missing protesters and police officers below. Yesterday he was sentenced to thirty-two months in a youth offender’s institution. The defence described his action as ‘a moment of madness’.
And finally, and in keeping with the apparent theme of this blog, I had better mention Jody McIntyre, who was dragged from his wheelchair twice by police during the protests. Now, you all expect me to be up in arms about this, but I’m not. I do not agree with how the police handled Jody, but nor do I agree with the way he was protesting. He was not violent, but he was hardly peaceful. After the incident, Jody played the part of a vulnerable disabled person. Being disabled myself, I do not think disability always constitutes vulnerability, and Jody’s campaigning hardly supports the image he is trying to portray. Yes, of course he should protest. No, of course he shouldn’t be dragged from his wheelchair. But he should not use his disability. It simply defeats the credibility of his opinions.

Home – part 1

I wished I had some curtains, just so I could tear myself away from my view of this new, dazzling, alien city. I wished I had brought a frayed cushion for the sofa that seemed too big, or a dirty lampshade to dim my bare bulb. My feet echoed on the cheap wooden floor, tapping a hollow rhythm as I wondered around my apartment. After running my tired eyes over every nook and cranny of the room, I focused them on the box marked ‘URGENT’. I pulled off the thick brown tape and started unpacking, pulling out kitchen utensils, a book, shampoo and a phone charger until the functional basics of life lay scattered as if a mini hurricane had formed itself in my new living room. I stopped, taking stock of my progress, and then stooped again. A towel, soap, pots and pans. I looked at the clock on my phone and saw that it was just past five in the evening, but to me it was the early hours of the morning. My muscles ached from the plane journey and I realised that I was hungry.
The fleecy jacket I had worn on the plane hung on the solitary hook by the front door and I pulled it on as I headed out, down two flights of clanging metal stairs and onto the street. I breathed in, letting the pulsing heartbeat of the Big Apple seep into me. I knew from my taxi journey that there was a 7-11 at the end of the block, so I started to walk, feet slapping lazily on the smooth concrete. I felt myself blend in with the locals and the tourists, I heard the brief snippet of ‘yes, I’m walking up East 12th’ and I experienced the elation which came when I realised that I was too, that I was part of that man’s New Yorker world. I reached the supermarket, suddenly very aware that I may have to pay for my pasta with a credit card, as I didn’t have so much as a dollar on me. As I signed my name, chip and PIN had obviously not come to the world’s second largest economy, the cashier looked at me quizzically.
“You enjoying your holiday ma’am?’ he asked in his light drawl. I smiled; I obviously didn’t blend in as much as I had thought. I told him that I’d just moved in up the road, but then he asked if I was living on the block.
Once I had eaten and washed out the pot to put into the rubbish when I got around to buying a bin bag, I realised just how alone I was. I was not expected to turn up for work for a week, and with it being a Monday I would not have much opportunity to meet many people until the weekend. Of course, a few of my university friends were over here too, but these were girls I had not seen for three years and with whom I had never really been close. I sighed. The book beside me did not seem all that appealing and my laptop was buried in the cardboard box mountain stacked against the wall. I decided that, on my first day in New York, it was not too early for an early night.
My body clock woke me at three-oh-seven the next morning. I cursed myself silently for not having stayed up as late as possible and then lay perfectly still. I listened. Back in my pebble-dashed London street, set in with the urban sprawl that characterised most cities, it would have been silent at this time in the morning; but here the metropolis was very much alive. A police car screeched past as the front door of the downstairs flat opened and shut. A television gave out the booming headlines of America’s beloved CNN. I relaxed. I was not yet homesick, I wondered if I ever would be. For now, it was nice to be away. The light from the streetlamp cast the shadow of my little person-width balcony railings through the white curtains and onto the floor. The rest of the room was a fuzzy dark grey but I could just about make out some details, like some art-deco decoration at the top of my wardrobe. I had no idea how I had been so lucky getting this flat in Manhattan when I had expected to be in Queens. I had no idea how I had been offered my dream job at the New York Times with just a few years experience in a backroom at the BBC. It seemed surreal, but I was not complaining. I was grinning ear to ear into the darkness.
I must have dosed again until five o’clock but then I finally decided I had had enough. I pulled my tired body out of the warm bed and was hit by solid cold air. I shivered, huddling into myself, and scuttled towards my suitcase and into the bathroom. Once ready, I hunted down my emergency tea-bag supply. I was very grateful for the warmth it provided as it took me a good ten minutes to find the thermostat and turn up the heating. I had forgotten how cold New York was in October. Through the thin walls I heard the city’s volume increasing as the taxis sped past, ferrying people to offices in Lower Manhattan. I longed to be a tourist for a few days, to ponder the grid-map of the city and to see all the iconic sites; but I knew I had more to do than that. I had a life to make. I needed to go shopping, to buy fairy liquid and a sponge, all the little things I had never noticed living at home with Mum. New York may be glamorous, but I was still just a typical girl living alone for the first time. I had not realised how much stuff you needed for normal life. A sense of apprehension crawled over me, displacing my earlier excitement. I felt very, very young.
I went out for breakfast, sitting at a little deli on 2nd Ave. I briefly considered ordering a Tropicana, even though I had never liked it, just because of an old advert for it that showed clips of breakfasting New Yorkers. Moving on, I went back to the supermarket and stocked up on essentials, thanking God I would soon be earning some money. The apartment had warmed up while I was out and the television had obviously been connected as I was greeted by the slightly alarming voice of an angry talk show host. I quickly flicked to the news, my journalistic instinct kicking in. Having watched the headlines several times over I made a start on the unpacking. I had been putting it off since I had got up but it was surprisingly fun finding places for all my clothes in the wardrobe, arranging them just how I had at home. I placed a few photographs on the dressing table and was cheered even more by the faces of family and friends. Treasured and tattered paper backs spread themselves all over the flat followed by knickknacks and homeliness. It was far from perfect of course – and I was exhausted – but having put the few empty boxes outside I felt myself relax. It was good to be reminded that by moving away, I hadn’t left everything behind.

Poem

So far untitled, suggestions welcome

When time has dragged its tears down
And all are bent-double with grief
When no one meets another’s eyes afraid
Of disappointment
Will someone make a stand against the inevitable
melancholy? Will anyone force a lift in the frowns
That form masks on cheerful souls
And show the way to revolution

WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks, a website that publishes leaked documents, has hit the news again. The site, which caused a minor stir recently when it released files on the Iraq war, is now responsible for a possible break down in world diplomacy. It has just started releasing cables leaked from US Embassies across the world and the US State Department. While only 6% of the documents are labeled ‘Secret’ another 40% were deemed to be ‘Confidential’ and were not meant for public consumption. The US government has been forced to warn multiple countries about the potentially embarrassing information that is about to be released. In this, my first detailed research and analysis article, I hope to investigate all aspects of this major event.

What is WikiLeaks?
On the site, WikiLeaks describes itself as aiming to ‘bring important information and news to the public.’ It offers a secure place for sources to share information which is catalogued and analysed by its volunteer journalists around the world. It claims to be defending the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. WikiLeaks does not censor its news but may delay publication of material that may endanger innocent people. Due to this lack of censorship and its various unidentifiable web addresses, WikiLeaks is considered to be the most important whistle-blowing website.

CablegateOn Sunday WikiLeaks started publishing 251,287 leaked US Embassy cables. Not only is this the largest set of confidential documents ever released, it also covers an unprecedented time period, from 1966 right up to February of this year. The documents come from 274 diplomatic locations worldwide and have created immense diplomatic pressures. Here are highlights so far:

Arab Nations urge US to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities
This is interesting, if only because no one was expecting it. Several Arab leaders have encouraged America to attack Iran and put an end to the supposed nuclear weapons programme. Multiple cables from Saudi show various degrees of concern, but all show that Iran is considered a serious threat. King Hamad, ruler of Bahrain, is quoted in a cable dated the 4th November 2009 as saying ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it’. The leaders’ views seem to be radically different from that of their people, who tend to support Iran in its ongoing stand off with the West. What will these revelations do for the already high tensions in the area?

US diplomats ordered to ‘spy’ on UNA cable sent my Hilary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, gives orders for US agents to spy and collect data on high profile members of the United Nations. They asked for personal information such as biometrics (the uniquely distinguishing features of a face) and biographies, as well as passwords used by the members to access UN systems. Other information, from DNA samples to credit card numbers, was also sought. Speculation is mounting over whether the US was planning a hacking operation. If this information was indeed collected the US may find itself in breach of international law. This will put in under huge pressure from other powerful countries. Experts expect to see multiple calls for Mrs Clinton’s resignation from across the international community. This leak may prove to be a major disaster for US diplomacy.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons cause fear
The UK, US and Russia are all concerned that their ally’s nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists or be used in a war with India. the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, cabled to Washington ‘Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.’
—-As I was researching this the main WikiLeaks site went down. I ended up using a mirror site whose domain I will not publish—

Sometimes I wonder, I really really do

So, yesterday on BBC London News I saw a report on eleven year old Idayah Miller, who was refused a place at London’s City Academy because her wheelchair took up too much space. Now, I’m no fan of overused capital letters, but WHAT? Yes, a girl with cerebral palsy, who has been in mainstream education all her life, was refused a place at a school because her small, manual wheelchair compromised health and safety. Huh. What’s more, they said her presence might compromise the education of others.

Being me, I was not best pleased. I’m writing to David Cameron. He doesn’t know what’s coming for him, I’ll tell you that. I better get a response. The thing that gets me is: I go to a top independent school (which sounds really bad put like that, but whatever) and I do just fine. Better than fine. It’s hard work, granted, and access is not brilliant, but I manage. Idayah is physically more able than I am, so why on earth is her disability a problem? It just goes to show what we all battle with everyday. For me, and I’m guessing most disabled people, it’s the prejudice – not the disability – that really hurts.

Waiting

This weekend the media’s attention has been captured by the plight of families involved in a mining disaster in New Zealand. On Friday a blast forced part of the mine to collapse, trapping twenty-nine miners about one-hundred and fifty meters below the ground. Rescue efforts have been hampered by a build up of explosive gasses, which are too dangerous to disturb. The last thing anyone wants is a second explosion Today it is hoped that drilling will begin so that a rescue shaft can be made.

As yet, no-one is certain that the men are alive, although the chances are favourable. The anxious wait for news is a reminder of another mining disaster – that of the San Jose mine is Chile – where the men were trapped for two months. However, the authorities are being quick to remind people that this situation is different. The mine in this case is bored sideways into a hill, rather than downwards, and therefore a rescue shaft will be quicker and safer to drill. This is good news, as the men have no food and were only carrying a bottle of water each. Oxygen is being pumped into the mine in a bid to maintain a steady level of fresh air.

While rescuers continue to assess the site’s safety, families gather and wait. No one knows how long it could take to complete a rescue.

A few poems

Perfection
The white and blue and grey mixed and separated
Mixed again, lighter, darker, not quite there
With the smell of turpentine burning
Dabbed onto canvas – doesn’t go;
Sent back for refinement, swish, blue
The sky remains white for now
No one has the bravery to fill it
To make a whole of the tiny test blotches
To be certain that the shade is right

Untitled
The glass panes of the half open window glistens as clangs and clongs
And tings and bangs rush in and through and up and down,
The clawing of a quill on paper sends chills as the bell tolls and the hum rises
Cool wind echoes, fresh, new, strange and the clouds wonder, lost
Clock hands are yet to turn
Days only a second – all of a year
When rain splatters, making puddles on the land

Aung San Suu Kyi free at last

Having spent fifteen of the last twenty-one years under house arrest, Burma’s most famous opposition leader walked free yesterday. Thousands of supporters had been gathering outside her home as her sentence came to an end, but it was not certain that the military junta would permit her release. Rumours ran wild until she appeared at the gates to her house to great the crowds.

Suu Kyi was the leader of the NLD (the National League for Democracy) party, which won elections in 1990. These were the first elections to be allowed by the junta since it came to power in 1962. Before they could take power, the military staged another violent coup and annulled the election results, therefore retaining power. Many opposing parties have been excluded from the governing council ever since. The junta has ruled harshly and any protests are violently put down. The country faces widespread international condemnation.

The first elections since those won by Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990 were held last week. The NLD refused to participate in what the international community has labelled ‘a sham’, and was therefore disbanded. The largest party which supports the junta won by a clear majority. Many speculate that Suu Kyi’s release was an effort to legalise the elections.

So what now for the woman who has endured so much and is the hope of millions? She has held her first meeting with NLD leaders in seven years, and has said that she would be happy to meet with the junta to discuss how to improve Burma’s human rights legislature. She must tread carefully or she may find herself back in confinement before she has the chance to change anything.