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Cover Story North Africa


for its water from the Nile with its sources in the Great Lakes region and Ethiopia. Africa, as far as Mubarak’s government was concerned, was


a remote backwater not worthy of the respect of the powers in Egypt. Tousands of black African women worked as domestic servants in the homes of wealthy Egyptians in the most oppres- sive conditions, which graphically drives the point home. To the Egyptian elite, black Africans were destitute slaves devoid of cultural refinements. Te irony is that the Egyptian elite, with Mubarak’s henchmen


at the helm, treated ordinary Egyptians with similar contempt. Tose on the underside of history, the impoverished millions of Egyptians, Sudanese and other Africans from Africa south of the Sahara, were persecuted and their civil rights were denied. A country of 85 million people, and an illiteracy rate of 50%; Egypt was ripe for revolution. Te rich got richer, the elite got more Westernised, and the


poor Egyptians, who constituted over 90% of the population, got poorer and more desperate as their living standards declined and job prospects disappeared. Egypt never suffered systematic racial segregation like South Africa or the US, but it was crystal clear to any resident of the country that the economic and political elite was lighter in complexion than the proletariat and peasantry. Te darker-skinned Egyptians occupied the lowest strata of society. Te Westernisation of its economic and political elite ultimately and inevitably led to the militant Islamist backlash. With political Islam in the ascendancy, key demands for economic emancipation and social justice rose to the fore. Egypt also has a large Coptic Christian minority that constitutes 20% of the population. Te Christians also came under tremendous political and


social pressure and many of them were forced into exile, flee- ing to countries such as the US, Canada and Australia where large Coptic émigré communities expressed solidarity with the Egyptian revolution. Impoverished Muslims too were subjected to the most brutal


repression. Militant Muslims were imprisoned and tortured in the name of the US-led War Against Terror. Te youth of the country, Muslims and Christians, were becoming increasingly frustrated with their lot. Unemployment, poverty, lack of basic educational facilities and healthcare enraged the masses. It is against this dismal backdrop that the young people who


spearheaded the revolution are rallying support for their call for a secular, civil society based on democracy and the respect of citi- zenship and human rights regardless of race, gender, or religion. Tey are also concerned that their key demands for economic emancipation and social justice are not sacrificed in the name of a smooth transition which is now in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the real powerbrokers and keepers of law and order in the aftermath of the collapse of Mubarak’s government. It is in this context that several key intellectuals, writers and human rights activists called on the army to safeguard the rights of the masses. Tey also called for the promulgation of new laws under a new constitution to recognise the right of the minorities. Nubian languages spoken in southern Egypt and the Ber-


ber languages of the Bedouins of the Western Sahara, as well as the Coptic language, the liturgical language of the Chris- tians of Egypt, and the heir to the Ancient Egyptian lin-


10 | March 2011 New African


guistic heritage, are all to be accorded official status. It is widely noted in the Egyptian intellectual and cultural


establishment that the country is not as homogenous as was supposed by the Mubarak government. Egypt, like many North African countries, is ethnically, religiously, culturally and even linguistically diverse. Distinct identities are to be respected in the New Egypt created in the aftermath of the people’s revolu- tion. Te question of citizenship rights has also emerged as one of paramount importance. Te pivotal position of Egypt, its po- litical weight and influence in the Arab world and North Africa, means that whatever happens in the country will have tremendous impact in the rest of the region. Already, it is regarded with much regret that the lack of interest


of the Mubarak government in African affairs led indirectly to the splitting up of neighbouring Sudan. Egypt and Sudan were one nation before Sudan gained its independence from Britain in 1956. On 9 July 2011, a new South Sudanese state will be cre- ated. Te sorry state of affairs in Sudan is partly due to the utter disinterest expressed by Egypt under Mubarak about what hap- pens to Sudan and other African countries. In Egypt, too, many Muslims are secular and want to see a


complete separation of religion from the state. Religion is a pri- vate matter, they argue, and must not be the overriding factor


The day of reckoning: Mubarak (below) vs the people in Tahrir Square (right). The people won!


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