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Egypt's people polarized

[Editor's note: The Tyee received another email this morning from Capilano University instructor Dr. Azza Sedky, who spends her winters in Cairo. This dispatch was written Friday morning, Cairo time.]

This time round what got me going was the phone call conversation I had with my daughter in Vancouver. Midway through the call, she said, "Now that the Internet is back up again in Egypt, it is shocking to see how different the comments on Facebook are." This is very true. Friends, classmates, colleagues, peers, and people from the same sects and backgrounds are not thinking alike. How can that be?

Listening to the protestors' demands, and all the prominent figures who give themselves the right to speak out and condemn Mubarak, you would think that all Egyptians must be thinking in a similar fashion. "Mubarak must go," they exclaim. Listen to the pro-Mubarak group, and you would do a double flip; "Mubarak must stay," they exclaim. Are these people talking about the same leader? If so, what makes these people so different?

I haven't been in Tahrir Square, and I have limited my goings and comings quite dramatically, but I'm coming up with the following conclusions from what I see on tv mainly and what I hear from friends and family members. And, of course, because I know Egyptians well. Some of the protesters in Tahrir Square are young and educated. I cannot generalize but many of them speak perfect English, which means they went to good private institutions. Their sound education strengthens them and makes them capable of articulating their concerns. Then again the middle class, the family oriented, and the ordinary Egyptian are represented, too. However, very few older people in their fifties, sixties, or seventies stand amongst the protesters.

Then there is the pro-Mubarak group. These represent the older Egyptians, the poorer Egyptians, the moderate Egyptians, and the easy-to-reason-with Egyptians. And they also represent many religious leaders—whether Muslim or Christian—prominent society figures, artists, and film stars. But most importantly they represent those who fear for their lives and for their belongings.

The last group watched looters ransack stores and loot huge malls. They saw destruction of hospitals and police stations. They also watched their sons stand all night in front of apartment buildings to protect the folks upstairs from similar dangers. They don't want to lose what they had worked hard to build be it a property, a business, or a simple but decent livelihood. And they don't want a ruined Egypt. And now they are scared.

Many other hardworking Egyptians work on a day-to-day basis. In Egypt, tradespeople don't belong to companies or associations. They work for themselves, so they wait to be called on every day to do a particular task. These groups have not worked for 10 days and have had no source of income for that long. Others wake up in the morning, head to the local coffee shop and wait for a contractor to call on them for a day's job. These again have not worked in 10 days. And they are scared, too.

This last group may not care for Mubarak that much; they may even believe that Mubarak has overstayed his welcome, but they care for the good of Egypt more than Mubarak's stepping down. This last group is in the millions—I would estimate them to be the majority and not the minority.

The bottom line is that the Tahrir protesters don't represent the majority. The protesters have legitimate demands, but they are not Egypt; they are a voice amidst other voices.

Where does this scenario take Egypt? It's anybody's guess. And this is why this article is outdated already. It is 11 a.m. on Friday morning. In two hours' time, the Friday worshippers will leave thousands and thousands of mosques. They don't need to head to Tahrir Square to voice their concerns or shout their support to this group or that. They only need to step outside the mosque and there you have it.

If Egypt is lucky, then those in the mosques today will be the moderate and the willing to negotiate. If Egypt is lucky, they will leave the Tahrir folks alone and not go after them with a mob-like mentality. Only if Egypt is lucky.

If Egypt is not lucky, then by midday Egypt as we know it will have tumbled, and neither group will have won. A clash of human beings and a clash of ideologies will prompt a spiral downfall. This is a no-win situation. Both groups will ultimately lose.

I really hope I'm wrong in my predictions.

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