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Rural Egyptians add voices to demand for change

Revolution message spread by satellite TV - analyst.

February 9, 2011 2:45 by



Beyond Tahrir Square, beyond the boundaries of the sprawling capital, beyond even the provincial cities where protesters joined the call to topple President Hosni Mubarak, rural Egypt is restless for change.

Scraping a meagre living from the land, farmers and rural workers in Egypt’s agricultural heartland have watched the largely urban uprising that has shaken the ruling system and many back the web-savvy youths who galvanised the nation.

A few have turned up in Cairo in their galabiyas, the robes worn in the fields, although most are too busy trying to feed their families. But many believe it is time for a new era, even if some think Mubarak should stay on a few months more.

“The revolution is good … It will give us stability but the protest should stop and the president should be allowed to stay until the end of his term,” said farmer Fawzi Abdel Wahab, working a field near the Nile Delta city of Tanta.

“If the president doesn’t do as he promised, Tahrir Square is still there and the youth will not die, they can go back,” he said, his wife and daughter nodding in agreement.

The protesters want Mubarak to quit now. Mubarak has said he will step down at the end of his term in September.

The protests may have begun with an educated youth and liberal, urban elite, but a tour of the Nile Delta suggests discontent is more widespread. Mubarak’s government needs to do more than meet the aspirations of the middle class.

“The ideas the youths called for in their revolution express those of all Egyptian people, including farmers and residents of rural areas who, like the rest of Egyptians in big cities, face the same needs and suffering,” said analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

Satellite dishes that litter roof tops of small country dwellings or village coffee shops spread the word far and wide.

“New media, mainly satellite channels, have managed to spread the message of the revolution everywhere, including rural areas,” said Abdel Fattah of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

“YOUTH REVOLUTION”

In the countryside the poverty is often grinding. About 40 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people live on less than $2 a day.

The provinces have often been seen as backwaters where the status quo was accepted and the demands of a subsistence existence trumped any call for change.

Farm owner Rafeat Suweilam, in his 50s, suggests otherwise.

“The youth revolution is a great thing. They want the whole system to leave and so do I. This system only included thieves and bribed people, they should all go away — and now,” said Suweilam, who has a second job working for Telecom Egypt, the mostly state-owned landline monopoly.

In the nearby city of Tanta, thousands have taken part in the protests. Hundreds were on the streets on Tuesday in front of government offices, their message the same as that of their compatriots 100 km (60 miles) to the south in Cairo.

The capital and its central Tahrir Square has been the epicentre of protests, but cities across the Delta north of Cairo, those far to the south and others to the east have also had streets filled with demonstrators demanding Mubarak go.

“I want Mubarak to leave, I want all this system to leave, this system has all kinds of corruption,” Mohamed Sabaie, a jobless 25-year-old, said in Tanta.

Two-thirds of Egypt’s population is under 30. That age group accounts for 90 percent of the jobless. Protesters want wealth from economic liberalisation, promoted by the former cabinet, to spread beyond a business elite linked to the ruling party.

Habibah, a university student, 20, who said she came to shop from a nearby village, hailed the protesters: “They don’t stand in the way of life moving on, on the contrary, they make life better, bring change and create hope.”

The downmarket high street, where the most prestigious restaurant was a fast food outlet, was busy with shoppers trying to stock up with sweet treats ahead of celebrations to mark Prophet Mohammad’s birthday next week.

On the edge of town, where the horses and carts plodded along the roads, there was also some backing for Mubarak.

Salah Ghoneim, dressed in farmer’s overalls and who introduced himself as a retired policeman, said: “Mubarak’s system is the best system. Those who call for the change of Mubarak do not understand anything.”

But the broad message was that Mubarak’s time was up.

Ahmed Mahmoud, who works for a state-owned petroleum company, said: “The system has to change. It is enough to have 30 years of unfairness and abuse.

“I have seen the police hitting the protesters. I have seen them firing gunshots at the protests. What kind of government would do such a thing and why should we accept such a government staying?”

(Writing by Alison Williams, Editing by Edmund Blair and Janet Lawrence)



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