EDITORIAL: Change in Egypt - Sunday, January 30, 2011

Source : www.dailytimes.com

“As long as there is in my chest a heart that beats and I draw breath”, that is how long Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to continue ruling the land of the Nile in a 2006 declaration to the Egyptian Parliament. However, the massive uprising that is the largest in the three decades of his rule, inspired by and following in the footsteps of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, looks set to prove the 81-year-old president wrong. Since January 25, youth from all walks of life in Egypt have been rallying against a system that has for too long given them nothing but unemployment, crippling price hikes, corrupt governance and police brutality to make it clear to Mubarak — and the world — that they are no longer prepared to put up with a dictatorship that has been seeking to inculcate a political dynasty through anointing Mubarak’s son as his successor (the son has fled in the face of the protests to London, complete with bag, baggage and family). Hosni Mubarak has been President since 1981, taking over after President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated. He had continually been re-elected to office in 1987, 1993 and 1999 in largely controversial elections as no one could really run as a candidate against the president. In 2005, a highly biased referendum was held in which Mubarak was once again re-elected. Although still clinging to power, rumours started buzzing that the ailing president was grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak to take over. For the people of Egypt — where 40 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day — to have a son of leisure and privilege represent them without their approval was perhaps finally too much to swallow. Emboldened by the successful ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s protesters, it seems, will not rest until they have rid themselves of a despot president.

So far, some 75 people have been killed and some 1,000 arrested in protests all over Egypt. On Wednesday, when the government saw the situation getting radically out of control, curfew was imposed and gatherings of more than five people were officially banned. The army was ordered in and the police rampaged with tear gas and water cannon. What started off as a peaceful demonstration of youth dissent quickly turned into an all out revolt by Friday. The government has sealed off most internet and media access inside the country. The headquarters of the National Democratic Party in Cairo were set on fire by the protesters on Friday after which President Mubarak, in a late night televised address, dissolved his government in an attempt to pacify the crowds. He has still not hinted at stepping down and the people seem inclined to settle for nothing less.

As can be seen in much of the Arab world, the US has always sided with rulers who serve its agenda best. Pumped up with some $ 2 billion in military and economic aid annually, Mubarak was the US’s trump card to keep the ‘Islamists’ away from power — the Muslim Brotherhood is perceived by the West as Egypt’s biggest Islamist threat — and keep Egypt within the fold of Arab states who have made peace with Israel. Throughout the Arab world, the US has aligned itself with despots who refuse to vacate power, making a mockery of the ‘democracy’ it otherwise advocates so fiercely. Even now, President Obama is urging “democratic reforms” in Egypt but not the ouster of an unpopular president, while at the same time withholding $ 1.5 billion in military aid, perhaps as a signal to the Egyptian generals to intervene if they want the money.

Considering the momentum of events and the unrelenting protests on the streets, it looks like President Mubarak’s days are numbered. With the Muslim Brotherhood remaining silent so far, it is yet to be seen what character this impending change will take. Any regime changes in Tunisia and possibly in Egypt will set the tone for whatever comes next in the Arab world. The entire world watches and waits. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Floods — six months on

After intensive coverage in the first few weeks, survivors of the floods that devastated vast tracts of land along the Indus River, and affected all the four provinces as well as Gilgit-Baltistan, have almost completely disappeared from the media scene. The public too seems to have forgotten what was being dubbed as the ‘biggest flood disaster’ in history in terms of the directly affected populace, about 20 million. Once in a while one might hear an oblique reference to the devastation caused and how it has jolted our economy, but little do we know how the survivors are faring in winter. How has the aid that was pledged and collected been spent? Did all of them manage to get a roof over their heads before the severe cold threatened to take away whatever little life was left in their malnourished bodies? It seems not.

In its six-month review of the post-floods situation in Pakistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has revealed alarming details of malnutrition among children in the flood-affected areas, particularly in Sindh. According to Sindh government estimates, 90,000 children (aged six months to five years) are malnourished. Unicef says about seven million people are still dependent on monthly rations. The situation in Balochistan is particularly bad, as 166,000 flood survivors have yet to go back to their homes and are living in 240 camps in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in desperate need of help.

Unfortunately, as the media spotlight has shifted to the daily din of politics, public sympathy and even the attention of the authorities appears to have waned. But the survivors are waiting for relief and succour from both the government and the people. The extent of the damage is so severe and widespread that it cannot be handled by one agency alone. While the government should focus on rebuilding infrastructure, there is so much that non-government organisations and public groups can do to help the victims, not only in terms of collection of finances, but also volunteer work. After the receding of the floodwaters, roads have opened and the affected areas are approachable. There is a large space for volunteer work to help rebuild collapsed houses, provide medical aid, run awareness campaigns, etc, among the people in coordination with government and non-governmental agencies. It our duty as responsible citizens to not turn a blind eye to this massive tragedy and keep working on rehabilitation of the affected people till their lives return to something resembling normality.

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