MU professor reflects on riots in Egypt

Friday, January 28, 2011 | 7:43 p.m. CST; updated 3:24 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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Protesters in Egypt continue to clash with riot police.

COLUMBIA — In response to the chaos in Egypt, Joseph J. Hobbs, professor and chairman of the MU department of geography, said he has mixed feelings about the outcome of the protest.

“I always thought it was a time bomb,” he said of the political climate in Egypt. However, Hobbs said he hopes for change to benefit the people.

“Egyptians may have a future in which they can express themselves,” Hobbs said. “It would be great if Egyptians could finally be heard.”

He said the country is in major need of democracy, and there is a very close connection between the government and the upper class. "They might have a vested interest in the survival of the Mubarak regime," Hobbs said.

Hobbs first went to Egypt in 1971 with his mother and became obsessed with the culture and the people.  He said his master’s thesis focused on the environment of ancient Egypt. He later spent a year studying Arabic intensively, after which he completed his doctorate fieldwork in the Eastern Desert of Egypt through the University of Texas at Austin.

In 1977, while studying abroad in Cairo, Hobbs said he curiously observed and followed the crowds in a protest in Egypt when the government had lifted subsidies on bread and other goods.

“We all got tear-gassed,” he said.

During this protest, when they began marching through the side streets, Hobbs said the protesters were confronted with police and rubber bullets. This quickly changed to live ammunition, leading to several deaths. Hobbs said that he fears the extreme magnitude that this riot could reach considering protesters are not backing down.

“I don’t expect it to just evaporate like it did in January of '77,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs is concerned that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s headquarters is completely engulfed in flames directly next to the Egyptian Museum.

The museum holds the artifacts of King Tut’s tomb, among many other Egyptian relics and historical treasures, he said. Fire trucks have been unable to reach the headquarters due to the massive amount of people in the area, and there is fear of the museum possibly catching fire, Hobbs said.

“It would be a cultural catastrophe. It would be a loss for all Egyptians and all of us, really,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs was in Egypt last October and said the political climate was the same as it has been for so many years.

“There has always been an undercurrent of resentment toward the government,” Hobbs said. He had planned to go back in the spring but doesn't think that will happen now.

One repercussion of this situation could be a decrease in tourism, which is a major source of income for the country.

“This is going to be a big blow to their economy,” Hobbs said.  

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Ellis Smith January 29, 2011 | 7:21 a.m.

The problems which have lead to the current riots were present when I was working in Egypt in 1990, and as Professor Hobbs suggests they were present before that. The present regime is an obvious police state. Whether Egyptians will be better off with a new government is problematical; Egypt has no shortage of economic and social problems.

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Paul Allaire January 29, 2011 | 1:11 p.m.

The police state is supported by the United States because it sometimes helps uphold the actions of another police state that is supported by the United States when told to by the United States. We the sheeple are told that the United States is seeking to have "friends" in the Middle East. So would anyone feel comfortable standing in the middle of one of the riots taking place?

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