New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) The former head of the American University in Cairo says the “important ingredient” of the popular uprising in Egypt and the region is youth who have mobilised in unprecedented numbers to give “political expression” to their simmering discontent.
“The important ingredient has been the young people,” David C. Arnold, who was president of the American University in Cairo for seven years till December, told IANS during a visit here. Established in 1919, the American University with over 6,000 students is Egypt’s second oldest university. Arnold is currently president of The Asia Foundation.
He pointed out that the Arab world had a young population of about 100 million, which is about a third of the 350-million-strong citizens in states stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea. There has also been a sharp increase in education levels, with youth more literate than the overall population and technologically empowered and connected through the internet and mobile phone.
The rising aspirations of the young population, fuelled by social networking tools, had led to the sudden movements in Tunisia and Egypt, whose rapid spread has taken most observers by surprise.
The irresistible domino effect of the people’s movement that started with Tunisia and toppled the Hosni Mubarak-led Egypt government has also seen protests in Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.
“It is very difficult to predict how things will pan out in Egypt,” said Arnold, pointing out that there were still no strong opposition leaders standing for elections.
He also noted that there was still no consensus on the best way forward, with different parties and factions giving their opinion on the formation of a new regime.
The Muslim Brotherhood, he said, will be part of the mainstream, but its actual support levels may be only about 20-30 percent of Egyptians, as reflected in various polls.
He noted that while the Egyptian army is and will remain a powerful player in the country, it will not take a front-line seat. “There is not a tradition for the army taking over….. in this country,” said Arnold.
At the same time, he pointed out that during the Mubarak regime of the last few years, there had been loosening of controls. “In the last seven years, I have seen a dramatic opening up of the press and other sections of society,” he said.
While the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have been relatively free of bloodshed, the story may not be the same in Libya, where Muomar Gaddafi has been in absolute power for over four decades. At least 233 people have been killed in Libya since protests broke out Feb 15 against the autocratic Gaddafi’s rule, according to US-based group Human Rights Watch.
“The situation is different from country to country,” said Arnold, and it is difficult to predict the turn of events. But there is no doubt the region is in the cusp of change powered by a people’s movement.