About 300 people took to the streets on Tuesday in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and a couple of other hundred did the same in Alexandria.
The protests came on a historic day. In 1882, Ahmed Orabi – an army general – stood up against the then-Khedive (ruler) of Cairo to repeal a new law that was issued to prevent peasants from becoming officers.
He declared that Egyptians should no longer be slaves. Orabi succeeded in having the law overturned and unleashed the wave of anti-colonialism that eventually led to European powers leaving Egypt.
A century later, protesters were making similar calls, but this time against what they see as a hold over the country’s power by the family of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.
In a country of nearly 80 million people, fewer than a thousand people demonstrating should have gone unnoticed.
But it is big news here because the protestors voiced what many Egyptians say quietly: no to inheritance of power.
Protesters do the ‘unthinkable’
Demonstrating in Egypt is not a matter for the faint-hearted. Security forces – in full riot gear and plain clothes – always outnumber protestors in Egypt.
Every participant takes the huge risk of unleashing the wrath of the state security apparatus, which often leads to detention, humiliation and in some cases excessive use of force (torture) by those on the side of power.
The demonstrators on Tuesday did the unthinkable: publicly burning the pictures of Gamal Mubarak, son of the president, who is suspected of being groomed to succeed his father. The issue is so sensitive that security forces rushed to confiscate footage shot by the cameras of Al Jazeera and the BBC. Nevertheless, the news spread like wildfire and some still photographs made their way to cyberspace.
No one doubts – protestors and public alike – that the culprits behind such a gesture of defiance will pay a very, very high price for their arrogance. It’s a given.
It is what they did that is not a given and may signal that, some Egyptians at least, are not intimidated by the system anymore. And what is even less clear is how the government will adapt with the rising voices of opposition.
It is clear, however, that the old tactics of muzzling public opinion may not be as efficient anymore.
This comes at a time when public discontent is fuelled by rising food prices, power cuts and water shortages.
And as Egypt heads towards parliamentary elections next November – elections that are widely viewed as a stepping stone towards the much more sensitive presidential elections in 2011 – some opposition parties have already called for a boycott.