CBC Toronto - Photo By Timothy Neesam

Tahrir in Toronto

Will Egypt become the region's economic superpower?

by Teenaz Javat

Ahdaf Soueif
Ahdaf Soueif (Stephan Röhl)

"We have been liberated and are now moving from silence to shouting and toward a conversation,' says Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian author, 1999 Booker prize finalist and activist, of the 18 days that changed Egypt forever.

How deep is this change and how quickly the move toward a democracy will play out in the Arab world, has consumed gigabytes of cyberspace and mountains of newsprint the world over.

With over 55,000 Canadians of Egyptian descent living in Canada, the majority in the Greater Toronto Area, the city's Yonge and Dundas Square morphed into a sort of Tahrir Square itself for many weekends in a row, but of course Toronto isn't Cairo.

The ongoing significance of Tahrir Square

Mohammad H. Fadel
Mohammad H. Fadel (Dwight Friesen/CBC)

"The sit-ins in Cairo's Tahrir Square are necessary and must continue," says Mohammad H. Fadel, Professor of Law at the University of Toronto.

"The 18 days of protest have it made it abundantly clear that Egyptians have rejected the post-colonial, Anglo-Saxon domination of Arab states," adds the soft-spoken Doctor of Jurisprudence. "The French in Tunisia and the U.S.A. in Egypt never really allowed democracy to evolve, or even take root, and these states grew into protectorates of corrupt self-serving dictators who stole the fruits of the public sector."

The government of Hosni Mubarak, under the watchful eye of his younger son Gamal, used repression by the police to crush labour strikes that had galvanized the country as far back as 2005.

"Socialism Mubarak-style never trickled down to the masses, so I think it is very important that the sit-ins at Tahrir continue, as if we lose momentum and people go back to work, then the gains made so far will be in vain," says Fadel.

Fadel has high hopes in organized labour and is clearly of the opinion that it will carry the movement forward. "The organized effort and collective bargaining tools used by unions is what will hold the government's feet to the fire."

Khaled Said
Khaled Said (Facebook)

We are all Khaled Said

The trigger to the January 25, uprising was the death of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in northern Egypt.

Said was beaten to death at the hands of two police informants - unofficial police officers with little training or accountability. He was uploading a cell phone video to Facebook that appeared to show informants dealing drugs. Police accused Said of being the drug dealer, and claimed that he had died from swallowing the drugs. It was only when his brother saw Khaled's battered body in the morgue that the truth was revealed. Pictures of Said's battered body spread from one website to another, shocking evidence of a corrupt system.

According to the Facebook page We are all Khaled Said, he has become the symbol for many Egyptians who dream of seeing their country free of brutality and torture.

Karama - pride and dignity
Adala - fairness and social, economic, political justice
Hurriya - freedom
Tahrir –liberation

Four words to remember

"This uprising is clearly not about Islam or Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), or even a western-type democracy. It is about Karama, Adala, Hurriya and Tahrir," says Nahla Abdo, Professor of Sociology at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Nahla Abdo
Nahla Abdo (courtesy Nahla Abdo)

She has written and published extensively on women, racism, nationalism and the State in the Middle East with special focus on Palestinian women. Abdo dispels the myth that democracy is not in the DNA of Arabs.

"This myth has its roots in Bedouin culture and this perception had all along kept Arabs within their cultural definitions. The last few weeks have shattered this myth once and for all."

"This hi-tech movement spearheaded by the youth is secular, organic and gender neutral. It is clear that the internet clearly outsmarted security forces," says Ahmed Khalifa an Egyptian who lives and works in Toronto.

"The blogs and websites all have the same message: corruption forced talented people to leave, as there were no opportunities for the youth. You cannot go back to the old order, that is for certain," adds Khalifa. "We have nothing to go back to."

Next: a strong political system

With over 40 per cent of Egypt's population of over 80 million living on less than $2 day, painful sacrifices will have to be made.

"It is easy to be giddy about the uprising, but for the revolution to be consolidated a lot of changes will have to be made not just in Egypt but also across the Middle East, " cautions Fadel.

"Mubarak's regime was like a slow moving train going off a cliff. This uprising has stopped the train and changed tracks. I do not exclude the possibility of a counter-revolution and for that we need a strong political system, which moves beyond free and fair elections," adds Fadel.

The odds in favour of Egypt are:

  • $10 billion in foreign direct investment in 2009
  • a relatively good education system
  • no insurgency
  • the uprising was secular in nature
  • output per worker $11,225 per annum (India's is less than half of that)
  • and, the country has reserves of $35 billion

Fadel is optimistic that Egypt will stimulate the Arab economies in just the same way as China did for East Asia.

Except this time round it will do so with Karama, Hurriya, Adala and Tahrir. And just like the spillover effect in economics, dignity, social justice and freedom do not stop at the border.

Your thoughts

Tell us your thoughts about the long-term consequence of the revolts.