We speak to Issandr El Amrani, an independent political analyst and writer based in Cairo who writes the popular blog Arabist.net. He says the revolution in Tunisia is having an electrifying effect throughout the Arab world. "The first lesson from Tunisia is that revolution is possible," says El Amrani. "You have to remember that there hasn’t been anything like this in the Arab world for decades." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We move on now to Issandr El Amrani, independent political analyst, writer, based in Cairo. He runs the popular blog Arabist.net.
Issandr, thank you for joining us. I know you’re on deadline. We are hearing reports of not only one self-immolation, but another man setting himself on fire. What effect is the Tunisian revolution having in Egypt right now in this period leading up to the election?
ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Hi, I’m glad to be here.
What’s happening in Tunisia is having an electrifying effect, not only in Egypt, but throughout the Arab world. And, you know, I think we’re seeing a lot of positive sides of this — people getting energized, people getting excited, organizing protests of their own. There’s a major one scheduled now for 20th of January across Egypt. We’ll see how that works out. The situation in Tunisia was different than Egypt; it doesn’t necessarily have to go the same way.
Unfortunately, we’re also seeing some rather sad effects of it — the now two, maybe three — there’s just a report that came out about perhaps a third person — that set themselves on fire. So it’s three people in two days, two of them in front of parliament, one of them in Alexandria. This is what we’re hearing now. I mean, that’s clearly an act of desperation, just like Mohamed Bouazizi, the man who started the Tunisian uprising, was driven by desperation and humiliation. A lot of the same circumstances exist in Egypt and other Arab countries.
AMY GOODMAN: And the effect? How is it being understood, this revolution in Egypt, where — the revolution in Tunisia, the effect in Egypt, where President Mubarak has reigned for decades?
ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Absolutely. President Mubarak will be — later this year, will have ruled have ruled for 30 years. That’s seven more than Ben Ali did. And there’s a lot of frustration, frustration not only about him being in place for so long, about the political stagnation and lack of democracy — Egypt just held last month elections that were a farce, that returned basically over 90 percent of parliament to the ruling party — but also about the uncertainty over their future, the possibility that he’s placing his son Gamal as his heir to replace him, and perhaps as early as the presidential election that’s scheduled for September.
I think a lot of people — the first lesson from Tunisia is that revolution is possible. You have to remember that there hasn’t been anything like this in the Arab world for decades, perhaps, you know, if it does, if democracy does take hold in Tunisia, perhaps ever. And a lot of people would have said that Tunisia would have been the last country where it would happen, because it was such a tightly policed state. And this is what a lot of people have felt we needed. There’s been protests in Egypt for the last five years now. But this could really give a sense that change is a real possibility. It could really drive away some of the cynicism that’s dominated a lot of — even in activist circles, about the impossibility of change, of democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: And how are people organizing in Egypt as a result?
ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Well, as I mentioned, there’s existing activist groups that are organizing a protest later this month. There’s campaigns that you’re starting to see online to see about, you know, what can be done, what can be — how can the Tunisian model be replicated. Of course, it’s hard to plan a revolution. You have to remember that what happened in Tunisia was spontaneous. And currently, the feeling in Egypt is one of tremendous hope.
At the same time, just because there’s such a political vacuum, such an absence of leadership, people aren’t sure how to go about it. You’re seeing leaders, like opposition leaders like Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel laureate, say, well, what can — you know, Tunisia shows that change is possible and that Tunisia should be a lesson to the government, they have to mend its ways, they have — they shouldn’t let things get to revolution and potential chaos, but actually implement reforms first.
We’re also seeing a reaction from the government. The government, if you read the state press in the last few days, is coming out with assurance upon assurance that food prices will be kept under control, that the government is working for the benefit of citizens. I doubt that’s going to convince people. This government has been in place a long time. The situation on the ground is really not great, especially for the large number of Egyptians who live under the poverty line. But to see how it develops, I think it’s still a little bit early.
AMY GOODMAN: Issandr El Amrani, I want to thank you for being with us, independent political analyst, writer based in Cairo, runs the popular blog Arabist.net. Video we were showing on our broadcast was from last April in Egypt. And you can go to our website to see that video at democracynow.org. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, and we’re also going to go to the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times based in Baghdad and Beirut, has been reporting from Lebanon.