In Egypt, where burning buildings and running street battles between police and civilians have become a familiar sight this year, reaction to the violence in Britain has been sharply divided.
On social media sites Egyptians started intense debates over the underlying causes of events in London and asked whether any links could be drawn between the unrest in England and their own dramatic political upheaval.
“Many people here seem to see the riots as a revolution of sorts, but anyone expressing that sentiment online quickly gets chastised by Egyptian-Brits or Arab-Brits who tell them that it’s anything but,” said Mohamed el-Dahshan, a writer and economist.
Mosa’ab Elshamy, tweeted in frustration at those likening the British riots to the Arab Spring. “Egyptians and Tunisians took revenge for [police brutality victim] Khaled Said and [Tunisian street vendor Mohamed] Bouazizi by peacefully toppling their murdering regimes, not stealing DVD players.”
But others hit back, arguing that police brutality and social depravation were universal and that looters should not be instantly condemned.
As happened during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February, the role of state television came under scrutiny. One commentator, Mostafa Hussein, wrote: “[The] BBC is making it sound like young people have a single aim that’s to loot and vandalise. Nothing or very little on why they are doing so.”
For Simon Hanna, a London-born Egyptian journalist who reported on, and participated in the anti-Mubarak protests, the clashes in London were fundamentally different from those of 25 January, the day Egypt’s grassroots revolt began.
But he thought some of the root causes could be similar. “I think it’s insulting to compare the Egyptian uprising, which was entirely political with clear goals, to a bunch of angry poor youths in London stealing trainers. But there’s no escaping the fact that on some level they are both fuelled by inequality. I joined the Tahrir [Square] protests but I would never dream of joining the London riots.
“Yet if a protest movement that targeted inequality arose out of this unrest then I would be on board … these rioters are mindless opportunists but through their actions they might actually get British society thinking.”
Many Egyptians with experience of living in Britain highlighted the varying conceptions of community in each country, arguing that in Egypt young people felt more closely rooted to their local areas and did not share a sense of alienation from those around them.
“People in Cairo have a deeper connection to their neighbourhood and so at times of protest they were more focused on governmental and police institutions,” claimed Omar Robert Hamilton, a film-maker. “In Egypt everyone is still held together by an idea of being Egyptian, whereas I would argue in London that people not only don’t feel British but that their un-Britishness is used constantly as a tool against them.”
Hanna agreed, adding that the actions of looters in London compared unfavourably to the way Egyptians behaved when police were beaten off the streets. “On 28 January [when Mubarak's security forces had to withdraw from the streets] there were no police anywhere and yet there was still less looting than we’ve seen now in Britain. If the police were completely withdrawn on any given day in the UK the country would probably implode. That raises tough questions … the issue isn’t just economical, it’s societal.”
For many, theorising over the social context of the riots took a backseat to just sitting back and watching the remarkable images.
“People here that I’ve spoken to seem most interested in both the scale of violence, how fast it’s spreading around London, and whether the places affected are synonymous with such violence,” said Ayman Farag, who added that Tottenham was a particular source of interest as the area’s football team was well-known.
Article source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/09/uk-riots-egyptians-swap-views