I am in receipt of an email from a friend's Dad, an Egyptian Copt living in America who is an active public intellectual in the Arab-language press. I've edited it slightly for spelling and punctuation, as he wasn't writing for publication, but has kindly agreed to my posting it. Seeing the issues through his eyes reminds me how complicated political protest is:
Mubarak has just ordered the army to help the police in Cairo and he ordered a curfew from 6 PM to 7 AM. The situation is very fluid and all bets are off.
Mubarak will give a speech soon, and I think he will take a few measures to placate the people by changing the government, blaming it for not implementing his wishes of helping the poor--but the problem is that he left this government of business people to rule for over 6 years, so if they were not implementing his policies why did he let them stay that long?
The problem is that the whole regime has not been responsive to the people for so long. People are tired of seeing the same old faces controlling everything for twenty and sometimes thirty years, while people's condition is getting worse. The regime was so arrogant--to the degree that in the last parliamentary election, they excluded all oposition of all kinds. This has angered so many people, yet the regime just kept celebrating its supposed victory, and ignored the feelings of everyone else. Many of the opposition leaders who were excluded because of "irregularities" (as they say), have established a "People's Alternate Parliament" a few weeks ago.
I just watched the demonstrators set fire to the regime's National Party's building on the Nile, a large building the government gave to the Party while not given the opposition parties any similar buildings.
The regime was bent on implementing ill-advised economic policies that many people felt to be favoring the rich, who got richer, and against the poor, who got poorer. In addition, many writers and opposition figures have long felt that the regime has caused Egypt to lose its position in the Arab world--and in the world in general--leaving the country with almost no influence in the area. The opposition to the regime has been increasing among the youth on Facebook for the past few years, while the regime was blind to it out of a combination of ignorance and arrogance that is unprecendented in Egypt's recent history.
It is sad that Mubarak who had in the past a reservoir of love and admiration from the people because of his role in the victorious 1973 war (he was the head of the air force that achieved the first successful and surprise attack against the Israeli forces occupying the east bank of the Suez Canal) that he has depleted most of this reservior in the past few years by insisting on staying in power for so long, and then talking about his son Gamal Mubarak inheriting the presidency from him.
This insistence on staying in power comes against the backdrop of widespread unemployment, corruption, high levels of poverty, high levels of illiteracy, and failure to provide the basic services--from decent transportation, to clean streets, to workable traffic, to basic education.
What is worse is that all this is coupled with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the streets, the schools, the offices, the mosques, and the increased number of religious TV stations to which the regime has turned a blind eye. This has led to sectarian problems and repeated violence against the Copts, the Christian minority in Egypt that numbers about 15% of the population according to a recent statement by the prominant writer Mohammad Hassanein Heikal. The regime failed in preserving the national unity between the Muslim majority and the Coptic minority, which was strong in the Nasser era and before it. This led to the increasing anger of the Copts against the regime who failed to protect them. At the end the regime had no support except among the few high profile business people who accomulated huge wealth.
Note: I've left his comments on the 1973 war in there because this is how the Egyptians see it. Obviously, many people think of it much differently, but this is not the forum to argue about it. Please don't make me delete your off-topic comments. This post is about the Egyptians, not about us, and not about Israel.