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Crisis in Egypt: Blogger/journalist first-hand stories

The Egyptian government blocks Twitter after thousands of protesters took to the streets of Cairo to demand an end to the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

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Hossam el-Hamalawy
Monday, January 31, 2011; 12:00 PM

Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian blogger and journalist from Cairo who writes the popular blog Arabawy, was online Monday, Jan. 31, at Noon ET to take questions about what is currently happening on the ground in the Egyption capital.

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El-Hamalawy has been an editor at several Egyptian papers and is currently at Al Ahram English, a leading English-language daily.

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Boston, Mass.: How long before Mubarak steps down?

If he does, do you worry about a power vacuum?

Do you see ElBaradei as property interim leader until free and fair elections can be held?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: I see him stepping down pretty soon or else he will be taken into custody of the protestors and will be put on trial.

I do not worry about power vacuum because the people are already taking initiatives on the ground to fill any security or political vacuums as we saw in the case of the popular committee that are running security now in the Egyptian neighborhoods, following the evacuation of the police.

Regarding ElBaradei, I do not want to see him as an interim leader because he will diffuse the revolution, not take it forward.

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Sheffield, U.K.: Which are the opposition parties capable of replacing Mubarak and will they respect the call for elections?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: I don't see any of the current opposition groups capable of providing an alternative at the moment. And what I hope for is that we end up with direct democracy, not liberal democracy. Direct democracy is based on collective decision-making from below based on the committees that are springing up now in the neighborhoods and hopefully soon in the factories.

Liberal democracy is voting for rich fat cats once every five years.

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Bluffton, Ohio: As a university student interested in social justice and social change, what can American students alike do to help during this situation?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: They can protest in the front of the Egyptian embassies and consulates and pressure their own government into cutting the aid they give to the Mubarak dictatorship.

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Durham, N.C.: How much truth is there to rumors that police are behind the looting?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: These rumors are largely through many of those criminal thugs who work closely with the police who use them against political dissidents previously in elections and in protests.

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Coon Rapids, MN: Do you think the new government will be a secular one?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: At the moment it is very hard to say what the outcome of the uprising will be since it's not over yet. However, the Islamic forces are not running the show. Personally I'm hoping for a secular system.

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New York, NY: I am a Coptic Christian and would like to know if Coptic youth are taking part in the protests? And if you have spoken to any of them what are their hopes for Coptic rights if the regime leaves? Please give us some information. Thank you.

Hossam el-Hamalawy: Despite the call by the Coptic church in Egypt not to take part in the protests because the church is closely affiliated to the Mubarak regime but many of the Coptic youth are taking part in the uprising and the Muslim protesters largely welcome that and in demonstrations there are always slogans chanted by the demonstrators calling for unity between Copts and Muslims against the regime and denouncing sectarianism.

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London: What does "diffusing the revolution" mean for you? What is the aim of this revolution if not an interim leader and then a properly and freely elected new government?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: The revolution for me is about radical redistribution of wealth and a government that will represent the will of the Egyptian people when it comes to civil liberties in addition to a pro-resistance stand vis a vis the U.S. hegemony on the region and Israel. ElBaradei is not the man for that.

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Toronto, Canada: We see the size of the street protests but what types of organizations are springing up to organize these? For instance neighbourhood committees, factory committees, political parties. Or is it still primarily "spontaneous" and localized organizations?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: In many cases the protests are spontaneous but slowly there are grassroots organizations that are mushrooming to manage the protests, including the neighborhood committees, the few independent trade unions we have and hopefully soon factory committees.

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London: Do you see this as a popular, mass led, revolution? What chance do the Muslim Brotherhood have of hijacking it?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: It is a popular mass revolution indeed. However, history is full of previous cases where groups have hijacked the uprisings. Up until now the Brotherhood have not presented themselves as an alternative to Mubarak. But who knows about tomorrow?

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Washington, DC: If Mubarak steps down, is there a fear that a radical regime will take his place instead of a democratic one? How likely is that to happen?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: If you are taling radical, like in radical redistribution of wealth and active support for the spread of regional dissent against both the local Arab dictators and the western backers, then we welcome the radicalism. But if it was radicalism in the direction of religious fanatacism we definitely do not want that and I see no signs on the ground that religious fanatics are taking over.

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Barcelona, Catalonia: Was Tunisia a 'Berlin Wall moment' for the Arab world? Do you think it's likely that many other dictatorships in the region will fall in 2011?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: The real Berlin moment was the outbreak of the Palestinian interfabe (sp?) in 2000 that started a chain reaction all throughout the Arab world providing inspiration for street dissent. Having said that, the Tunisian revolution is indeed a catalyst in a process that has been brewing for ten years now.

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Austin, TX: We're only hearing about what is happening in Cairo, and to a lesser extent some other big cities. What's going on in rural Egypt?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: In rural Egypt ... if you mean the provinces which are not necessarily rural these protests continue on a daily basis and sometimes they are even more militant than the ones in Cairo.

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Newfoundland, Canada: What do you think Mubarak's strategy is, or are he and his Ministers just living in a bubble detached from reality?

It is very odd that the government would continually impose curfews and then do nothing to enforce them -it just emboldens people.

Hossam el-Hamalawy: I think Mubarak is confused and desperate so he is trying every trick in the book. But it's not working because the street pressure continues and escalates. Mubarak hoped for the end of the protests when he sent in the army expecting that people will be scared by the sight of the tanks and fighter jets. But it backfired.

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Bielefeld, Germany: Which country in the Middle East will be next? Do you think many more countries will experience such events like in Egypt?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: I think many countries in our region are about to embrace their own intefada. I think Yemen, Jordan and Algeria might be next.

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New York, New York: What incentive does Mubarak have to resign? What if he just decides to ignore the protests? Do you think the protesters can continue their momentum? Egypt is a country of over 80 million people - do you feel the protests are representative?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: No dictator has an incentive to leave and they only leave when they are forced to and I feel the tipping point to be coming very soon. And yes, the demonstrations are very much representative of the Egyptian people because you find men and women, Copts and Muslims, veiled and unveiled women, children and old men and women, so you have all the strats of Egyptian people.

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New York: Thus far, it appears that a very small percentage of Egyptians are demonstrating. Why is that? What percentage of Egyptians do you think the demonstrators represent?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: I think this is a mistaken idea and it's enough to tune in the TV stations to watch the hundreds of thousands basically in every province to understand that this has become a mass uprising.

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Sheffield, UK: Why do you think the West has been so hesitant and incremental in transitioning their support from Mubarak to the Egyptian people?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: Western governments like all other governments care about their own interests and do not put much value on what choices they make on who to ally themselves with except for their personal gains. That's why the Obama administration made foolish statements like those made by Joe Biden refusing to label Mubarak as a dictator simply because Mubarak is a friend of the U.S. government and Israel.

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Boston, MA: From your narrative it appears that you are supporting a socialist restructuring of Egyptian economic life in the post-Mubarak era, but there are also many in Egypt who would support something more akin to the European liberal social-democratic model. Are you qualified to give an accurate representation of what approach most protesters are agreeing upon?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: No one claims that there is an agreement yet among protesters about the post-Mubarak regime and I was very much clear in my previous answers that I was expressing my personal hopes towards what Egypt should look like. However, at the end of the day the majority of the Egyptian people will decide which direction to go.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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