Quick guide to the uprising in Egypt
1.) What are the roots of the Egyptian uprising and why is this happening now after all these years?
Egypt has for almost 30 years been ruled by autocrat President Hosni Mubarak, despite citizens’ calls for free and fair elections. The majority-youth population has been long saddled with a weak economy, leaving legions of college graduates jobless and homeless.
Witnessing Tunisians topple their 23-year president in revolts there has “burned away the apathy that bound Egyptians — and revealed decades’ worth of smoldering rage,” Egyptian expert Mona Eltahawy wrote in the Washington Post.
2.) Can Mubarak survive? If not, what could replace him?
Though Mubarak made a gesture to protesters by firing his cabinet and appointing his first-ever vice president, he’ll cling to to power for as long as possible, said Middle East expert Hind Rassam Culhane, of Mercy College. “He believes he’s Egypt, that without him Egypt can’t survive. He’s a megalomaniac,” she said.
Since many feel it’s just a matter of time before he falls, here are three successor scenarios:
— Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a democracy-seeking Nobel laureate who could lead in a transitional government and would be most cooperative with Obama administration.
— The Egyptian military, which has been vacillating between supporting the protesters and backing Mubarak.
— The Muslim Brotherhood, the controversial Islamic organization that could upset Egypt’s relatively healthy diplomatic relations with the West.
3.) With what appears to be a domino effect at play, what are the implications for the Middle East at large and what other regimes are vulnerable?
“No one could have guessed that a regime as powerful and deeply rooted as Egypt’s could be subjected to such public humiliation,” said Georgetown University Arab affairs expert Adel Iskander. “Egypt is the center of the Arab world” and its leadership status means it could inspire similar revolutions in additional countries in the region. Sudan, Gaza, Algeria and Yemen are among the areas seen as vulnerable.
4.) How does this impact U.S. relations with the region?
If Mubarak falls and more tyrannical leadership takes its place, the U.S. would lose one of its most important allies in the Arab world and Israel could be more vulnerable to the wrath of surrounding Islamic states, experts said.
The economic unrest is “symptomatic of the entire Middle East,” Culhane said. “If we don’t do something it’s not just bad for Egyptians, it’s bad for the entire globe.”
The U.S., however, must tread lightly, as some experts said democracy in the region could destabilize Western-backed regimes, however autocratic, that the U.S. needs to battle al-Qaida and stand up to Iran.
Toward a new Middle East
How the spreading revolution is poised to reshape regimes once seen as untouchable and what this could mean for the United States.
The latest: Thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square yesterday to acclaim Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the U.N. nuclear agency, as the man to lead a transition to democracy -- a change President Hosni Mubarak’s U.S. and European allies also demanded in uncertain terms. “Change is coming in the next few days,” Baradei told the crowd. As chaos gripped Cairo and a communications blackout continued, Mubarak spoke with his defense minister, chief of staff and newly installed vice president in a move that, for the first time in public, gave a hint at an eventual successor.
The latest: The nation that inspired protests across the Arab world by ousting President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in the Jasmine Revolution weeks ago has an interim government in place, but yesterday, exiled Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi returned, possibly with his eye on ruling the country.
What's the underlying issue? Ben Ali ruled for 23 years and lived in luxury while much of his country lived in poverty.
What could happen next? The country is still unstable politically and is working to organize elections, and though the uprising could bring democracy, a militant Islamic leader voted into office could threaten the West much more than Ben Ali ever did.
What's the underlying issue? The country has a complex ruling class organized by religion. Working-class protesters enraged by economic hardships and wary of sectarian rule argue they have more than a dozen dictators to deal with.
What could happen next? With the West-friendly prime minister Saad Hariri’s government toppled in recent weeks, a replacement government is still being formed and militant group Hezbollah’s heavy influence in the process may not bode well for the U.S.
What's the underlying issue? Oil wealth has largely buffered Saudi citizens from the same economic woes as the rest of the region, but with rampant human rights abuses and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud denouncing the Egyptian protests, Saudis may not tolerate a monarchy for much longer.
What could happen next? If Mubarak falls in Egypt, Saudis could also take to the streets and the U.S. could lose two dependable ally governments in the Arab world. Oil stock prices could also be affected negatively worldwide.
What's the underlying issue? Prime Minister Samir Rifai has only been in office since 2009, but his policies are blamed for rising food prices and poverty.
What could happen next? Rioting Jordanian citizens and opposition groups, including one with connections to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, want elective government, not leaders appointed by King Abdullah II. Elections, however, could put an anti-Western Islamic group in power.
What's the underlying issue? Algerians are suffering under a 19-year state of emergency, high food and oil costs and unyielding unemployment. Tens of thousands took to the streets over the weekend, inspired by Tunisia’s revolt.
What could happen next? A march supporting the “departure of the regime” organized by a coalition of opposition leaders and civil rights groups is set for early February, but the government has banned marches. Protesting that had turned deadly in early January may simmer down in upcoming weeks after the government lowered some food prices.
What's the underlying issue? Inflation and poverty plagues this African country as the southern portion prepares for succession from the north. Sudan citizens feel a kinship with Egypt protesters and hundreds rioted in major Sudanese cities yesterday.
What could happen next? Though the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, who is charged with genocide, would be welcome by the West and human rights activists, it’s unlikely to happen soon and the government and police are not shy to use violence on protesters.
What's the underlying issue? Protesters turning out against 32-year ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh face an enormous wage gap and endemic poverty. Saleh is unsuccessfully battling al-Qaida and separatist movements and uses security concerns as reasons to put off political reform.
What could happen next? Experts said the Yemen protests won’t likely yield the same success as Tunisia’s. The population is poorer, less-educated and doesn’t have the power of Twitter and Facebook at its disposal. The military, loyal to Saleh, will continue using violence.
What's the underlying issue? The Palestinian territories are watching with rapt attention what happens to Gazan neighbor, Egypt, friendly to Israel and the U.S. Decades of cripplingly economic conditions and border disputes with Israel could fuel rage and resentment.
What could happen next? The ouster of Mubarak and the potential role of the Muslim Brotherhood in a new Egyptian government could benefit militant Islamic group Hamas and mean more violence toward Israel. On the other hand, protests in Egypt, which have meant choked-off supplies to Gaza across the border, could spill into Gaza and topple the Islamic leadership now in place there.