The Tunisian people have taken to the streets and succeeded in deposing a dictator, and the popular uprising in Egypt has forced the modern pharaoh to make three consecutive concessions within a week. For the first time in 30 years he appointed a vice-president (we do not have one in Eritrea yet) and promised to step down in a few months time and introduce reforms; but the pressure of the masses kept increasing on him to step down. One of the most corrupt and oppressive dictators was finally deposed on the 18th day of the massive demonstrations, just less than 24 hours after he stated that he will stay in power until the end of his term. His position showed how much dictators are detached from reality.
The ambitions of his son Gamal, whom he has groomed to replace him vanished in thin air. He and his repressive regime have been exposed worldwide. We have seen the beauty and civility of the Egyptians of all walks of life in their peaceful and orderly demonstrations and taking care of their neighbourhoods. We also saw the ugly face of the regime on February 2 unleashing hooligans and plain-clothed security personnel on the peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir (liberation) Square– a manifestation of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea. Time will tell to what extent Egypt will be democratized and if all the demands of the democratic movement will be fulfilled.
It is estimated that the secret service in Egypt has more than one million people working for it. Anyone who has visited Egypt senses their presence everywhere—as guards, newspaper vendors, taxi drivers and what have you. There are too many in the secret service in Eritrea, too. Nothing could save the dictator, neither the brutal police force, nor the secret service or the thugs and hooligans who were always ready to do the dirty jobs for a pay.
The Egyptian revolt was initiated and organised by the youth whom the regime had made indifferent to politics. The torture and brutal killing of a young Egyptian man, Khaled Saeed, exposed the corruption of the police and gave momentum to the rallying of youth for change. The Internet, facebook and the satellite Television stations have helped rally the youth; yet, it is worth remembering that the Sudanese people had ousted their dictators through civilian disobedience in 21 October 1964. There was no Internet or facebook when they deposed the dictatorship of General Aboud, and again the Numeiri regime in 1985.
The regime’s apparatus is not confined to the police and secret service only. The regime waged a consorted effort through the official media: TV, radio and newspapers to discredit the demonstrators describing them as foreign agents who wanted to destroy Egypt. A few days earlier, all those editors, writers and professors who used to write in pro-government papers such as Al Ahram and Al Akhbar, praising Mubarek and his family day and night , changed tone and started to write in support of the demonstrators. Interestingly enough, on February 12th, Al Ahram carried a leaed story on its frontpage: ‘The People toppled the regime’. Al Jazeera Arabic was particularly targeted for being the voice of the demonstrators and other foreign journalists were also harassed.
The official religious establishment also backed the regime: the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Orthodox Church, called on the people not to participate in the demonstrations, though some religious leaders defied the calls. It is not clear how the Mufti and the Pope will explain their stand at this moment.
Similar to other dictatorships in the region, the dictatorial regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt maintained good relations with western countries and were heavily supported by the US and European countries on the pretext that they defend western interests. When the regime in Egypt started to crumple, those countries were sending different signals: on one hand they tried to show their support for the people and the ideals of Western democracies, while on the other, they tried to defend their faithful allies. The events portrayed the hypocrisy of the Western countries who have been silent about of human right abuses and the rigging of elections just because the dictatorial regimes defended their interests. It is time for governments, such as the Norwegian Government try to dialogue with the regime in Eritrea and other dictatorships, on the belief that dialogue brings change, to re-evaluate their strategies not undermine the power of the people.
The relationship between the Egyptian and Eritrean people runs deep though recently it has been overshadowed by the plight of Eritrean asylum seekers in Sinai. Egypt played a big role since the early forties in hosting thousands of Eritreans and providing them with free scholarships. Many of them completed their higher education there. It also provided refugee and support to the veteran leaders of the Eritrean independence struggle such as Idris Mohamed Adem, Ibrahim Sultan and Woldeab WoldeMariam. The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was established in Egypt which also supported the Eritrean struggle for independence. The Eritrean student club in Sharif Street is a symbol of Eritrean resistance and it is a testimony to the good relationship of the two peoples.
The Mubarek regime maintained a very close relationship with the Eritrean regime and Eritrean student club on Sharif Street was given to the Eritrean Embassy in Cairo. We hope in a new and democratic Egypt, the club will be returned to its right owners. Most importantly, I hope the new regime will resolve the issue of Eritreans in the Sinai.
While other people in the Middle East are also taking similar initiatives, and the dictators are promising reforms and to limit office terms to avoid being ousted, the so-called YPFDJ is planning to hold a European conference in Oslo to do exactly the opposite (show their support to the dictatorial regime in Eritrea.) It is a paradox that those some Eritreans who have grown up and studied in democratic Western countries are brainwashed by the PFDJto support one of the worst dictatorships in the world.
What happened in both Tunisia and Egypt is an important lesson to the people of the whole region, as well as to all dictators and their supporters. However invincible the dictators may seem, and how long they maintain their rule with sheer brutality, or by faking winning by rigging votes, they cannot withstand the power of the people. Isaias has lost two of his best friends and he will be more cornered than ever as the power of the people unleashes everywhere—his rule is nearing its end.
Africa and the Middle East have lost two dictators in less than a month; and the whole world feels much safer without them. Somewhere, the people will decide who the third one will be.