“We have already achieved history”

A generation of Egyptians is rising up against the government in an attempt to oust Hosni Mubarak.

Mohammed will take to the streets today, come what may. He is among the first of 2,000 unsuspecting pioneers – youths who signed up to the Facebook event that brought thousands of anti-government protesters to the streets.

Today, as citizens gather for Friday prayers, is expected to be the biggest day in the movement to oust the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, from his 30-year rule. It may also be the most dangerous.

"If the police react violently this time, many people will be killed," says Mohammed. "But people now believe in change, they want Egypt to be a better place. They are afraid of what will happen, but they won't change. They will go."

In Cairo and Suez, violence flared as Egyptian security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon against the crowds. Over 1,000 protesters have been carted away, many beaten; seven so far are reported dead.

The atmosphere in Cairo is tense. Anti-riot vans patrol the boulevards. Armoured trucks stand parked near flashpoints in the city, and amin dowla – plain-clothes officers from the state security service – are everywhere.

Public gatherings have been banned. A football match was cancelled Thursday for fear of violence.

By Tuesday, more than 90,000 people had signed up to the Facebook event. This time around it looks set to be much bigger. "One social media outlet rallying people to the street has 381,000 supporters at the last count," says Hisham Kassem, a respected independent editor.

The main actors of the past few days are well-educated people, middle-class students. Critics have commented that this group remains a tiny minority of Egypt's population.

Mohammed fits the profile, but this protest is bringing together people from different social backgrounds, he says. "I went to the elections, to other events. But now, I am going to the protests with people who have never been before. There are people from all other backgrounds. I know factory workers who went and got beaten, but they and their friends are going again."

Unemployment levels among Egypt's youth are deplorable. It is estimated that 25 per cent of men and 59 per cent of young women are without work. If the poor choose to join the intellectual classes, the riots could reach a critical mass.

Driving a beaten-up vehicle through Cairo's streets, Raman, a taxi driver, smiles a crack-toothed grin. "Friday there will be huge riots. Everyone is going to take part," he says.

Professor Abdallah Alashaal was an employee in the Egyptian government's foreign ministry. Now he is a well-known figure of opposition. "This is a velvet revolution; it is an uprising of the youth," he says.

"There is a sense of anticipation and emancipation here. The people in the street are not ideologised: they are not Christians, Muslims, Marxists. They are Egyptians. It is not a political movement."

In a dark backstreet, away from the main roads lined with security, a key protest organiser meets me, eyes shifty, watching out for plain-clothes police. He is right to be afraid. Egypt has a bad record on torture. His activities are risking his life.

He walks beside me, talking in a low voice. "We don't need help, this is not organised by anyone outside. We are motivated by Tunisia, but this is Egyptians acting for Egyptians." He disappears round a corner and his phone cuts off as he changes his sim card, again.

The outcome of Friday's events and the actions of the security forces remains unknown. "I can't see that anybody can predict what [will happen] tomorrow or days to come. In a few days it could be over. It could also get bigger and bigger and at last with the military participating," says Kassem.

Even key participants don't believe that it will bring about the collapse of Mubarak's regime immediately. "Mubarak won't leave peacefully; his government is much stronger than Tunisia's," says Mohammed.

But experts agree that, even if today is followed by apparent calm, the political situation in Egypt has changed. "It has weakened the regime," says Alashaal. "They didn't expect that the Egyptian population can rise up like this."

This popular revolt is unprecedented in Mubarak's strong-handed rule. "Even with nothing else, we have already achieved history," Mohammed says.

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Why Theresa May is a smuggler's best friend when it comes to child refugees

Children prefer to disappear than trust the authorities.

On Monday, Theresa May abolished the post of minister for Syrian Refugees. On Tuesday, a House of Lords select committee report found there were 10,000 migrant and refugee children missing in the EU, of which Britain is still technically a part. And smugglers across the continent raised a glass.

Children do not stay still. In 2013, Missing Children Europe reported that half of unaccompanied children placed in reception centres vanished within the next 48 hours. One explanation is that they fall prey to the usual villains – pimps and gangs. 

But there is another explanation. Refugee and migrant children have so little trust in the authorities that they would rather disappear and put their faith in the underworld. 

One reason for this is that under EU law, asylum seekers are returned to their first point of entry, which is likely to be an overcrowded Greek port rather than a city with education facilities and job prospects. 

Children will go to extreme measures to disappear. The report noted:

“We were particularly troubled to hear of children in Italy and Greece burning or otherwise damaging their fingertips in order to avoid registration, in many cases because they were afraid of being detained or forcibly returned to transit countries having reached their final destination.”

Children are also desperate to find their families. The EU’s Family Reunification Directive should in theory reunite families who have successfully sought asylum, but the UK has opted out of it (and now the EU altogether). Other EU member states have moved to restrict it. The UK has opted into the Dublin Regulation, which allows for family reunification. 

This is partly due to a suspicion that family reunification acts as an incentive for families to send children first, alone. But the report found no evidence of that. Rather, it is usually a case of parents trying to protect their children by sending them out of a dangerous situation. 

The process can be achingly uncertain and slow. Smugglers understand how impatient children are. Two MEPs told the select committee about the port in Malmö, Sweden:

"Traffickers await the arrival of minors, telling them that: 'Well, we can get you to your family much quicker than if you go through the system here' and that 'Getting a guardian will take ages, and then they do the age assessment, which is intrusive. Don’t do that. Just go there, call this guy, take this mobile and they’ll take care of you.'”

In his brief time as Syrian Refugees minister, Richard Harrington brought the topic of unaccompanied minors to MPs again and again. He promised to improve the speed at which applications under the Dublin Regulation were processed. On 13 June he told MPs: “We are doing our absolute best to speed it up as much as we can.”

His role has now been absorbed into the Home Office. No. 10 described it as a temporary position, one no longer needed now the resettlement programme was underway. When the UK finally triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit, it can also leave its EU obligations behind as well. May, the former Home secretary, voted against allowing in 3,000 child refugees.

This does not bode well for asylum policy in Brexit Britain. Meanwhile, with no fast legal route to family unification, smugglers can look forward to the kind of bumper profits they enjoyed in 2015

The consequences can be fatal. Masud, a 15-year-old unaccompanied Afghan, travelled to Calais in the hope of reaching his sister in the UK under the family reunification rules. 

As the report put it: “Masud died in the back of a lorry while trying to reach the UK just before the New Year, having lost hope that his claim to join his sister would ever be heard.”