Forum explores Egyptian turmoil

Dr. Yosr Bouhlal discusses the protests in Tunisia as Nagla Anees of the Sanford School of Medicine and Ben Hausman, a USD economics student who just returned from a three-week study tour of Morocco, listen. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

Since the last week of January, the world has watched as images of a protest-torn Egypt have been broadcast on national news networks.

As part of an international forum held Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Farber Hall on the campus of the University of South Dakota, a panel discussed the causes and implications behind the revolution both in Egypt and Tunisia.

Since the panel was held, Egypts president Hosni Mubarak resigned, and this past Sunday the countrys parliament was dissolved, suspending the constitution and promising elections.

All these people are asking for is to see their country (become) better. We want to seen an end to corruption, Nagla Anees of the Sanford School of Medicine said last week.

Anees, a native of Egypt, said the protests in that country began because people wanted to see an end to government corruption and an end to emergency law.

Emergency law had been the rule in Egypt since 1967, except for one 18-month period more than 30 years ago. It extends the powers of the police, suspends the constitutional rights of the populace and allows government censorship of the media.

In the first days of the protests, Anees said, The entire time the Nile News Network had a picture of an empty bridge. And at the same time in the days following Jan. 25 they started making allegations about the protestors, that they were supported by Iran, they were supported by the United States, they were supported by Israel.

Ben Hausman, a USD student who recently returned from a three-week study tour of Morocco, said the idea behind emergency law ran counter to the nations constitution.

Going over the Egyptian constitution, it states many times in there that the purpose of government is justice, the purpose of government is sovereignty of the law, he said. And watching whats happened there on TV, there are things happening that are blatantly against the constitution.

Egypts constitution gave its citizens the option to peaceably assemble without security personnel, as well as a free press.

These arent in play right now because of the emergency law, but they are in the constitution. They are not foreign concepts, Hausman said.

Anees said that Mubarak made some changes after the protesting broke out, but they were not substantial: He appointed a new cabinet, and chose a vice president.

The country has been asking for a vice president for a very long time, Anees said. Finally he did that, but he hired the person who was in charge of the Central Intelligence Services, a 76-year-old man.

At the same time, he also allowed police to attack and kill protestors.

The death toll now is close to 500, Anees said. They have injured close to 5,000 people. In addition to that, they opened up all the jails in order to create chaos in the country.

The same thing happened in Tunisia, where protests were sparked in December after a man burned himself to death in protest. Tunisias president resigned 28 days later.

Dr. Yosr Bouhlal, instructor of computer science at USD and a native of Tunisia, was in the country on vacation when the revolution started.

It was the most horrible week of my life, she said.

Bouhlal said Tunisia was similar to Egypt in that it was difficult for citizens to criticize the nations leaders. One of the few outlets they had, she said, was social networking sites like Facebook.

Anees said the same is true for Egypt.

This is the venue where they can express themselves, she said.

The long-time government corruption of Egypt has made it hard for change to take place, she said, even though human rights groups compiled lists of government abuses each year.

Its ignored by the government, Anees said. The allegation is, We just dont do these things. The numbers are there, the stories are there.

Sometimes the government will make a show for the international world, she said. They will say, Were sending in our officers to take training that is sponsored by the U.N. in order to teach them not to use for in interrogation, for example. They will show up just because they have to, and then they go back and its business as usual. The way these academies are run, the teach them to violate their rights. They teach them methods that are just illegal and inhuman everywhere else, but its just the way it is.

The feelings of the people could easily be seen in the protests through their treatment of the police vehicles, Anees said.

These are the ones the protestors attack because they are a symbol of the system, she said. Just seeing one of those vehicles drive by brings fear to the people. Because they dont trust that system.

A question was put to the panel in regard to the nations possible takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, as happened in Iran. Anees said she didnt think that had a chance of happening due to the size of the group in Egypt, as it has been outlawed by the government for decades.

Its a completely different situation than Iran, she said.

The media loves using them as a boogeyman because it gets people watching, it gets people riled up, Hausman said. The West is kind of programmed to not like them, but the Muslim Brotherhood has been a recognized party in Syria for years. Syria is not a paradise, but its definitely not cats and dogs living together in mass hysteria.

We dont even know what kind of government is going to take place, Anees added. Theyre talking about changing the constitution. Its a revolution. No one can actually predict whats going to happen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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