Protests in Egypt on Tuesday were like none others before, and it was not simply the number of citizens involved that made the protests notable. A range of factors made Egyptians’ “Day of Anger” distinct.

First, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia sparked the momentum. Many anticipated that ripples throughout the Arab world could fracture the authoritarian order in other countries in the region. Egyptians had been prompted to break through their fear of dissent.

Another distinguishing factor was the purely domestic nature of the demands that drove the protests. The repetitive and ambiguous denunciations of globalism, Zionism and U.S. policy in the Middle East were nowhere to be heard.
Similarly absent was the ideological context in which Egypt’s political and public space is typically framed.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood participated, for example, but the religious tone was nonexistent. The Jasmine Revolution effectively turned Arabs’ priorities from the banal rhetoric and distractions on regional politics toward pressing socioeconomic issues effecting daily life. By shifting focus, the movement in Egypt attracted citizens not typically involved in politics.

Also, because of the virtual world of social networking, young people free of any political affiliation mobilized in an unprecedented and dynamic expression of their rights. Their demands were simple and their language clear: stop state corruption; we need jobs; end torture now.

The most critical of factor distinguishing these protests from any other, however, was the one that fundamentally changed the rules of the game for the regime. Previously, economic and political demands were separated. As of Tuesday, bread and butter are issues have been integrated with — even fueled — the calls for democratic reform. The ruling establishment will now find it difficult to return to the logic of separate and divide.

To avoid the prospect of chaos, it is crucial that the regime respond to Egyptians’ legitimate demands.