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For Expert Comment: MU Professor Concerned for Egypt’s Future, Antiquities

Feb. 02, 2011

Story Contact(s):
MU News Bureau,, 573-882-6211

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Despite the governmental response of police, rubber bullets, live ammunition and death, millions of citizens have taken to the streets to call for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Joseph Hobbs, chairman and professor of geography at the University of Missouri, fears that the magnitude of this protest is dangerous.

Joseph Hobbs, chairman and professor of geography at the University of Missouri.

Joseph Hobbs, chairman and professor of geography at the University of Missouri.

“I have always thought that Egypt was a time bomb,” Hobbs said. “It’s a populous and mostly poor country, and so many Egyptians have not seen their lives improve. Egyptians are famous for their patience, faith and good humor. But their patience has finally run out.”

For Hobbs, the political unrest in Egypt is very familiar. Hobbs was studying in Cairo in 1977 when he saw protesters take to the streets after the government lifted subsidies on bread and other basic goods. The government responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. The protestors backed down when people began dying.

“I don’t expect today’s protests to evaporate as they did in January of 1977,” Hobbs said.

Since his first visit to the country in 1971, Hobbs has spent six years in Egypt, studying Arabic and doing research on the Bedouin peoples and environments of the Eastern Desert and Sinai Peninsula. He currently has a three-year grant to do research in Egypt and other parts of the eastern Sahara. He was most recently in Egypt last October, and said the political climate three months ago was not that different from decades ago. There has long been an undercurrent of resentment toward the government.

Hobbs hopes that the revolt will end peacefully, but is fearful about the country’s security. He says the potential for looting and destruction remains high. Government offices, shops of all kinds and Egypt’s priceless antiquities are especially vulnerable.

No matter what the outcome, these protests will be a big blow to the economy of Egypt, Hobbs said. Tourism – one of the country’s three leading revenue sources – will be set back for many months, at least.

Hobbs is not as worried yet about the country’s other leading revenue earners – oil and the Suez Canal.

“Egypt’s geopolitical assets are the Suez Canal, its importance in the shipment of Persian Gulf oil, and its role as broker between Arab and Western interests,” Hobbs said. “These items bear watching because their disruption would impact not only Egyptians, but people around the world.”