A throng of about one hundred Montrealers gathered in front of the Egyptian consulate Friday afternoon to celebrate the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier that day.
Mass protests have taken place in Cairo and throughout the rest of Egypt since January 25 – ten days after a similarly widespread protest movement led to the resignation of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“Today is an incredible day,” said Mostafa Henaway, a member of the local Palestine solidarity group Tadamon! “Nobody expected this so soon after yesterday’s speech by Mubarak. … The mood is euphoric. This was something that was considered impossible.”
Mubarak has sat in the president’s office since 1981. Discontent has been mounting in recent years as a result of rising food prices and unemployment rates among the under-thirty demographic. Approximately half of the country lives below the poverty line.
Ehab Latoyef, a member of the Canadian Arab Federation, was among those attending Friday’s rally.
“There was a lot of discontent in Egypt for many years whether financial, respect for human rights, dignity, employment, prices – all that was accumulating,” he said. “But for it all to come to closure in two weeks like that was unexpected for everybody.”
Latoyef added that in his opinion the recent release of U.S. diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks, as well as the Palestine Papers, has galvanized the demonstrations. Documents revealing Egypt’s complicity with Israel’s 2009 attack on the Gaza Strip, killing 1,400 Palestinians, are now available to the public as result of these sources.
Mubarak’s executive powers were handed over to the military Friday morning. Despite the military’s close connection with the U.S., their handling of the uprising has thus far been sensible, Latoyef said.
“The army is acting in a respectable manner today, and it is not showing any signs of greed to power. Of course, on the other hand, when you taste power, you want to keep it. That’s human nature,” he said.
“What’s needed now is to put the army in check all the time – not to make it feel that it has the right to make decisions. It’s just a caretaker,” he added.
Latoyef noted, as many others have, that there is no obvious successor to the current provisional government, nor does Egypt have any well-organized political parties at the moment.
“It’s a problem, but I think it’s also a safeguard – meaning that the fact that there is no one dominant party in Egypt at this point is part of the road to a healthy growth in the Egyptian democratic process,” he said.
Henaway commented on the broader impact the Egyptian revolution will have on the Arab world.
“Tomorrow in Algeria there is a national day of action; we see ongoing demonstrations in Jordan, Yemen, and all over the Arab world. A movement is really, really burgeoning at this moment and I think is taking everybody by surprise.”
Dina, who grew up in Cairo, also attended the demonstration.
“Me and my husband left Egypt and came here because we [didn’t] find a good job, and there is no security there – a lot of problems in Egypt,” she said. “I’m so happy he’s gone, because a lot of people are suffering from poverty and a lot of people don’t have an opportunity to have work.”