The reality of course has nothing to do with any of the above. The demonstrations and riots are about brutal economic oppression and the growing inequality between rich and poor, fueled by increasing outrage over unemployment, food inflation, corruption, freedom of speech, and poor living conditions.
Egypt is currently capturing the limelight, but this is bigger than Egypt, where what is happening would probably not be taking place without the recent development in Tunisia, which overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. Granted, Egypt is no Tunisia, but the events are connected and extend across the region. At least ten self-immolation attempts occurred in Algeria just in the week from January 12 to January 19, most associated with the lack of housing. In Jordon, protesters enraged over widespread hunger called for Prime Minister Samir Rifai to step down with cries, “Beware of our starvation and fury!”
Though small, protests in Jordon occurred today as well. In Yemen, protests occurred in multiple cities including Sanaa University where a slogan read, “Leave before you are forced to leave.”
Protesters have also set themselves on fire in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Sudan is facing a secessionist referendum, and across the Mediterranean, Albania is facing increasing pressure from its opposition parties.
Boston.com has a terrific sequence of photographs of the developments in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s grasp is slipping. Facebook pages called for January 25 to be a "day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption, and unemployment." Egypt has virtually shut down all Internet, all cell phones, all messaging, and it has brought in the army to clamp down on the crowds. Curiously, many of the protesters think the army is on their side.
From a Daily Beast article on Egypt:
Dalia Ziada, a popular 29-year-old Egyptian blogger, noted, "Men and women are standing side-by-side in calling for their rights."
You don’t see political flags [in the crowds],” said Ahmed Samih, an activist who directs an Internet radio station in Cairo. “You don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood. You see Egyptians. You see the flags of Egyptians all over the place."
Or as Ziada put it: "All you have is an idea."
Marco Vicenzino, director of the Global Strategy Project, is suggesting that Mubarak, 82, step down peacefully in a way the prevents additional bloodshed, including his own.
Of course, countries like Iran don't have to worry about anything like this.