…so that’s why the internet has been turned off in Cairo?

‘Remarkable scenes’ at Cairo protests

Anti-government protests have broken out in Egypt after an internet campaign inspired by the uprising in Tunisia.
Thousands of protesters are marching through Cairo chanting anti-government slogans, after activists called for a “day of revolt” in a web message.
Riot police have tackled protesters in the capital, using tear gas to try to disperse them.

Further BBC reports say three have been killed in Cairo and Suez in the riots, which were organised via a Facebook page, which today had just under 20,000 supporters, a mere drop when you consider Cairo alone has a population of 20 million. But then, so many of those 20 million are unemployed, illiterate or not even registered with the state as being in existence. Mobile phones are, however, commonplace.

For those out of the ME loop, the demonstrations were inspired by similar riots last week in Tunisia, where the President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has held power for 23 years, was finally ousted, sparked by scenes of citizens setting themselves on fire in protest over corruption that makes their lives unbearable.

In comparison, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, has lead an army-supported rule since 1981, three decades that have seen him unshaken by elections that continue to return him with support in the high 90s percentile, belaying widespread opposition. Egypt was taking notes and has copied Tunisa’s tactics, with people setting themselves alight daily: their actions of course blamed on mental health issues, rather than sheer desperation at their limited, and seemingly unchangeable lives.

Hosny, who is 83 this year and held together possibly only by sheer resolve, army support and a lot of black hair dye, presides over a country riddled with corruption, high unemployment (reflected in no way by the official figures) and sharply rising food prices.

I hate to be pessimistic, but general malcontent, however, seems doomed in the face of solid police and army support for the regime which has afforded these two institutions seemingly limitless powers over the decades since Hosni came to power. On his succession, he immediately put the country on a State of Emergency, following the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, 30 years ago, and the ban has not been lifted since.

This is a big year for Egypt, as Hosny, dogged by ill health, hints he may step down, to be replaced by his son and career bureaucrat, Gamal, a move that must be undertaken while not endangering Egypt’s considerable foreign aid support from the West. We can only hope for a peaceful resolution.