by Zoe Pollock

After reporting from Egypt last year, Adam Shatz explains the lead-up to the protests this week:

Leftist militants, reformist politicians, Muslim Brothers and human rights activists had been telling me for the previous two weeks that, for the moment, the regime had been reasonably successful in neutralising dissent, that Egyptians were too caught up in everyday worries to mobilise politically, and that the hopes raised by the Kifaya protests of 2005 had collapsed.

But that was before the murder of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Alexandrian beaten to death last June by plainclothes officers for asking whether they had a warrant when they searched him. That was before the flagrant rigging of the parliamentary elections in December, which left the Muslim Brotherhood – the country’s largest opposition movement – without a single seat. That was before the New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, in which 23 died, followed by the usual official claims that there are no sectarian tensions in Egypt. And that was before the popular uprising against the regime of Zine Ben-Ali in Tunisia.

He pinpoints what this uprising is all about:

Despite the Mubarak regime’s efforts to invoke the spectre of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptians aren’t demonstrating for an Islamic government any more than the Tunisians were; they’re demonstrating for an honest government – one that will improve education and infrastructure, reduce poverty and inflation, end the Emergency Law, stop torturing people in police stations, stop doing the bidding of the US and Israel in Palestine, stop rigging elections, and, above all, stop lying to them. And whatever their differences, they are united in the conviction that neither Mubarak nor his son Gamal, who is being groomed to succeed him, is capable of meeting these demands. As one young activist said to me last year, ‘We need a radical shake-up. We have a saying in Egypt that you can’t make a sweet drink out of a rotten fish.’

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