Answering kids' questions on Egypt

Wednesday, February 2, 2011; C12

Mummies, pyramids, camels and the Nile River.

If you asked most kids what they think when they hear "Egypt," those would probably be the most common answers.

But in the past week, that Middle Eastern country has been in the news not for its rich culture and history or its unique geography, but because of protests against its government. Yesterday, in response to the protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced he would not run for reelection.

The protests are disrupting the lives of just about everyone in Egypt, including kids.

Teymour Pourcines, 13, has not been to school since the demonstrations began. In Teymour's neighborhood, about 45 minutes west of the country's capital of Cairo, the neighbors have hired security guards. Teymour is having a tough time communicating with his friends or playing some of his favorite games online because the Egyptian government has shut down Internet service.

"I cannot go into the streets because my mom won't let me," Teymour said. "When I wake up every morning, the first thing I do is turn on the television to see how Egypt is doing. I see tear gas and soldiers and people who are trying to talk freely about the changes they want."

KidsPost answers some questions you might have about all the news.

Why are people in Egypt so upset?

Mubarak has been Egypt's president for almost 30 years. But his government has not given the Egyptian people much freedom. Although some Egyptians are very rich, many more are poor and unemployed. The protests come weeks after demonstrations in the country of Tunisia drove its president from power.

Don't they have elections in Egypt like we have in the United States? Can't they just vote Mubarak out?

Mubarak has put tough limits on people and groups who oppose him, making it difficult for them to organize and win elections. Elections are scheduled for September, and in a speech to the Egyptian people last night, Mubarak said he would not run again. He said he would work for a "peaceful transfer of power."

Why do people in the United States care about what's going on in Egypt?

There are many reasons. Here are a few:

l Egypt has long been a friend of the United States (called an ally) and a very important country in the Middle East. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 (with the help of U.S. President Jimmy Carter). That sent a message to other Arab countries that they should try to get along with the Jewish state of Israel.

l Egypt is a country of 80 million people, and almost all of them are Muslim, making it the largest Muslim country in the Arab world.

l Egypt cooperates with the U.S. military in helping to make sure that oil continues to come from the Persian Gulf.

l Egypt controls the Suez Canal, a major transportation route that connects the Mediterranean and Red seas and is the quickest way to get goods from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.

Have any of the pyramids or other ancient relics been damaged?

Protesters have broken into the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, which is where the treasures of Tutankhamen (the boy king sometimes known as King Tut) are kept. Some damage was done to several mummies, but museum directors say that can be repaired. Soldiers are guarding the museum. Archaeologists are worried about possible damage at tombs in the countryside. The famous pyramids of Giza have been closed.

What's likely to happen next?

That is unclear, but many of the protesters are angry at Mubarak. It is unclear if his decision not to run for president again will end the protests.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company