January 16, 2011 / 6:24 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Arab web users say Tunisia shows time up for leaders

* Internet awash with forecasts of Arab regime change

* Egypt Facebook page calls for protests on Jan. 25

* Web demands show pent-up frustrations

* Blogger says labour unions hold real key to change

(Adds details on illiteracy, Internet usage in Egypt)

By Dina Zayed

CAIRO, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Emboldened democracy activists and bloggers in the Arab world used the internet to celebrate the downfall of Tunisia’s authoritarian president and warn other leaders they face a similar fate.

In Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for three decades, one Facebook page was entitled “Project to prepare a plane for each president” and several pages called on the 82-year-old leader to start packing his bags.

“Enough is enough. We are fed up and we will not let our country slip from our hands any longer,” said one Facebook user. Another called on Tunisia’s exiled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to “tell Mubarak a plane is also waiting for him”.

“Make it one plane to fly around and pick them all up,” said Facebook user Maha al-Gamal.

Rights campaigners have latched onto the Internet’s potential to circumvent tight media restrictions — Tunisia’s draconian firewall failed to stop images of wounded demonstrators reaching the Web and sparking wider protests.

However, there are limits to the reach of such campaigning in places like Egypt where more than 30 percent of the 79 million people are illiterate and, according to a 2008 World Bank report, only 16 percent use the Internet.

“All countries in the Arab World (are) sitting on a volcano that might erupt anytime!” wrote Twitter user Abu Ahmad.

“The coming days will be full of surprises. We may see what we never thought could be... All of the Arab regimes are dictatorial and illegal,” said a Facebook user from the United Arab Emirates who identified himself as Bin Khaimawi Khaimawi.


Egypt has partly liberalised its airwaves but emergency powers in force for more than three decades allow the authorities to break up street protests and the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood is barred from official politics.

That leaves factory strikes and Web activism as the most direct challenges to the government of former army officer Mubarak, who is likely to run for a sixth term in September.

“We want the emergency law to be lifted... We don’t want oppression in Egypt .. We want to be free,” said one Facebook site set up on Friday when Ben Ali stepped aside. The site had 25,000 members within 24 hours.

“I want to express my opinions freely in my country. I don’t want to be afraid of state security or of a police officer,” said another.

Many Facebook users changed their profile pictures to the Tunisian flag as a mark of solidarity.

In the United Arab Emirates, a comment signed Hab Reeh (Gust of Wind) on discussion forum UAE Hewar ran: “Tyrants don’t last forever... This is a clear message to every dictatorial regime that rules by iron and fire.”


In a poll on the Web site of Egyptian paper al-Masry al-Youm asking if the Tunisia and Algeria riots will spread to other Arab states, 69 percent of respondents said yes, 17 percent said no and 15 percent were unsure.

Bloggers demanded the arrest of corrupt officials, dissolution of parliaments, the lifting of emergency laws and higher minimum wages.

Others called for governments to be disbanded and replaced by coalitions that included opposition groups. Some Egyptian commentators said Mubarak must not seek a sixth term in office and none of his family should try to replace him.

Many believe his son Gamal is being groomed for the presidency, something both he and his father deny.

Some bloggers were sceptical of the flurry of revolutionary demands, seeing them as a release of pent-up frustration by people who prefer to remain anonymous and might not turn thoughts into direct action.

“Those on the Internet are not necessarily those on the streets,” said blogger Hossam Hamalawy, who said Tunisia’s stronger trade unions were a major catalyst for the revolt.

“Free unions are always the silver bullet for any dictatorship, like what we saw in Poland, South Korea, in Latin America and also in Tunisia,” he said.

One Egyptian Facebook group called for street protests on Jan. 25, calling it a “Day of Revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment”.

“We will all wake up, go down and walk the streets in protests all over Egypt, demanding our rights,” said the site. “The 25th will not be the end of the story, but if we all unite it could be the beginning.” (Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh, Ulf Laessing, Asma Alsharif, Cynthia Johnston and Erika Solomon; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Peter Graff)

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