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Mubarak Strikes Back: Thugs Attack | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Mubarak Strikes Back: Thugs Attack

11:00 pm: President Obama’s envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, was utterly rebuffed it seems. He met with Mubarak and with Oman Suleiman, the vice president, but as far we know didn’t persuade either one to get the transition started “now,” as Obama demanded. And, of course, after meeting the two Egyptians, Wisner unceremoniously departed Egypt. At Tuesday’s press briefing by P.J. Crowley at the State Department, Wisner’s visit provoked some hilarity when his departure was connected to the U.S.-assisted evacuation of American citizens: 

QUESTION:  P.J., is there any other countries have asked any kind of help to get their citizens out from the U.S.?  

MR. CROWLEY:  Well, in fact, as on Monday, we were grateful that we could move some Americans on a Canadian flight.  In succeeding days, we have been able to assist other countries who have identified citizens to us and have moved them out on airplanes along with our American citizens. 

QUESTION:  Is Ambassador Wisner one of them?  (Laughter.) 

MR. CROWLEY:  Ambassador Wisner is on his way back to the United States.  

Later, there was this exchange: 

QUESTION:  You said he saw – that while he was there on the ground he saw Mubarak and Suleiman.  Were those additional meetings to the ones he already had, or did he have new meetings with them today before he left? 

MR. CROWLEY:  I’m only aware of two meetings. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then my last one -- 

QUESTION:  Just one meeting?  

MR. CROWLEY:  Hmm? 

QUESTION:  When was the Suleiman meeting? 

MR. CROWLEY:  I believe they were both on Monday. 

The crackdown was Tuesday.

 

9:30 pm: Two pieces in the Wall Street Journal on Mohammad ElBaradei, making it clear that the leaders of Egypt’s result see the Nobel Prize-winning former IAEA leader as a transitional figure, not a future leader of Egypt. The first piece outlines his biography, and the second piece describes his role in the current unrest. It says: 

“To the seasoned opposition leaders inside Egypt who have been at the center of the country's mass demonstrations, Mr. ElBaradei may be little more than a transitional figurehead. … These people say they see Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace-prize winner of international standing, as less of a future president than a fair and non-partisan figurehead and an arbiter capable of refereeing their discussions. Because he has spent much of his life outside the gritty world of domestic politics, he is also seen as posing little threat to these parties should they begin the hardnosed business of vying in earnest for power.”

9:20 pm: Writing for McClatchy and the Miami Herald, Nancy Youssef, Warren Strobel, and Jonathan Landay, one of the best reporting teams in Washington, report that the Obama administration has concluded the Egypt’s military won’t push Mubarak out: “The Egyptian military's failure Wednesday to keep pro- and anti-government forces from clashing violently in Cairo's Tahrir Square provided persuasive evidence that the army has no intention of helping force President Hosni Mubarak from office, U.S. officials said.” 

“American officials acknowledged Wednesday that President Barack Obama's special envoy to Egypt, former U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner, was firmly rebuffed when he tried to persuade Mubarak to leave government before elections scheduled for September, “ they report.

4:45 pm: Omar Suleiman, the CIA-connected former Egyptian intelligence chief who is Egypt’s new vice president, says that he won’t start talking to the opposition until the protesters stop, reports Al Jazeera.

4:30 pm: The Muslim Brotherhood has urged protesters to keep putting pressure on Mubarak, reports the Los Angeles Times:

In a report on the organization's website Ikhwononline, the country's largest organized opposition group called the demonstrations demanding that Mubarak step down the bold actions needed “to activate the wheel of change and to break the barrier of fear in the hearts of the Egyptians.”

Citing political experts and analysts, the report said the 9-day-old challenge of Mubarak's rule was incited by decades of state-sponsored repression and economic inequities. The political group urged Egyptians to “stand in one trench against the ruling autocratic regime.”

“The Egyptian regime has become an addict in its dependence on the security services and therefore it cannot have a dialogue with the people,” the report cited former Assistant Foreign Minister Abdallah al-Ash'al as saying. “In fact, it is seeking to suppress the legitimate grievances of the people. The revolution of the Egyptian people has started and cannot be silenced.”

3:55 pm: An Obama administration official, speaking on background, says that the White House is hoping that Egypt’s military thinks it over and then takes action to convince Mubarak to step down, despite today’s violence. Here’s the exact quote:

“We think there are debates going on within President Mubarak's inner circle on that question—or on that reality—that they have moved but they haven't moved far enough or fast enough. The violence on the streets, and the difficult position it puts the army in, could very well convince the army that something more has to be done and it could apply its own pressure on President Mubarak.”

3:45 pm: Shots, including automatic weapons fire, are being heard at night in Cairo, Meanwhile, the Washington Times has issued a blistering editorial accusing President Obama of having “blood on [his] hands” for having tried to “toss Mr. Mubarak under the bus.” And the Washington Times blasts the president for seeking to include the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in a new government:

President Obama is signaling the Egyptian opposition that their time has come.… Today the formerly peaceful protests in Egypt turned violent. It turns out that words do have consequences.

Egypt is at a crossroads, a time of suspense when change could come gradually and peacefully, or quickly with maximum instability. The White House has chosen to back the latter course, which will play into the hands of the best organized, most radical factions, which in this case is the America-hating Muslim Brotherhood.

The Obama administration is strangely adamant that Muslim religious parties have to play a key role in the new government, and U.S. officials reportedly are reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood behind the scenes. White House wishes aside, an Islamist government is not in Egypt’s interest and certainly not in the interest of the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to increase the influence of sharia worldwide and reverse the progress Egypt has made in becoming a more Western, more secular state. Its foreign policy was succinctly summed up by brotherhood leader Muhammad Ghannem, who said the Egyptian people should “be prepared for a war against Israel.” None of this will be good for America, the Mideast or the world.…

Pushing for immediate regime change in Egypt is not in American or Egyptian interests. Cutting the legs out from an already tottering regime could easily lead to widespread violence. If so, some of Egypt 's blood will be on Mr. Obama’s hands.

The Washington Times explicitly backs Mubarak’s decision to remain in power and to oversee the “transition.” Expect that to be the Republican line, if indeed Mubarak manages to hold on to power.

3:15 pm: Egypt’s top religious leader, who’s dependent on Saudi Arabia for financial support, has issued a statement that will be influential with traditional, religious Egyptians, backing Mubarak and telling protesters to go home. Ali Jomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, said:

“I greet President Mubarak who offered dialogue and responded to the demands of the people. Going against legitimacy is forbidden (Haram). This is an invitation for chaos. We support stability. What we have now is a blind chaos leading to a civil war. I call on all parents to ask their children to stay home.”

1:15 pm: Supposedly, talks are going to be held between Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief appointed by Mubarak this week, and representatives of the opposition groups opposing Mubarak. But I’ve seen nothing to indicate that any talks have started. Meanwhile, Mohammad ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief who’d lead the talks for the opposition, said that he has proof that the thugs attacking protesters are police. And he called on the army, which has so far stood by idly as the thugs went on the attack, to intervene.

“"I ask the army to intervene to protect Egyptian lives," he told Al Jazeera.

And, according to a report in the Arab press, the opposition has issued a series of demands, including the resignation of Mr. Mubarak, the government and the parliament; the appointment of an interim president; and a six-month process leading to elections. And they’ve proposed four candidates for the ballot: ElBaradei, Suleiman, Amr Moussa (the head of the Arab League) and Sayyid al-Badawi Shahatah of the opposition Wafd party.

I’ve written a piece for The Guardian on Who’s Who in Egypt’s Revolt.

1:05 pm: The forces of reaction are mobilizing across the board to prevent revolution in Egypt. Not only is Mubarak, apparently with military support, ordering a violent crackdown, while John McCain warns darkly of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy, but now Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is pretty much accusing Iran of behind behind the Egyptian revolt. Said Netanyahu:

“Is there freedom in Iran? Is there democracy in Gaza? Does Hezbollah promote human rights? They (Iranians) want an Egypt that goes back to the Middle Ages. They want Egypt to turn into another Gaza, that will be run by radical forces that are against everything we want, everything the democratic world stands for.”

12:55 pm: The State Department does a little better than the White House in condemning the attacks on peaceful protesters in Egypt, but still it avoids mentioning what appears to be police and army complicity. Said P.J. Crowley:

“After days of peaceful protests in Cairo and other cities in Egypt, today we see violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. The United States denounces these attacks and calls on all engaged in demonstrations currently taking place in Egypt to do so peacefully. These attacks are not only dangerous to Egypt; they are a direct threat to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The use of violence to intimidate the Egyptian people must stop. We strongly call for restraint.”

Amnesty International got it right: “The army has failed in its commitment to protect peaceful protestors. The fact that such violence is allowed to continue as they stand there begs the question whether they have orders not to interfere. The Egyptian authorities cannot simply sweep the board of demonstrators. The protestors' right to peacefully demonstrate must be upheld.”

11:55 am: Egypt’s defiance of both the protesters and world public opinion is now complete. The foreign ministry has issued a statement rejecting calls by President Obama and others for a “transition.” Reports VOA: “The ministry released a statement Wednesday saying the aim of the calls from ‘foreign parties’ has been to ‘incite the internal situation in Egypt.’ ”

11:45 am: The White House has issued the following, rather lame, statement on the violence perpetrated by Mubarak’s thugs: “The United States deplores and condemns the violence that is taking place in Egypt, and we are deeply concerned about attacks on the media and peaceful demonstrators. We repeat our strong call for restraint.”

Notice that it didn’t say who, exactly, is responsible for the violence.

Among the media attacked was Anderson Cooper, who was punched in the head numerous times, chased by a mob, and his crew threatened.

10:30 am: Clearly entering the fray on the side of Mubarak’s thugs is John McCain, according to Fox News, when McCain appeared on Sean Hannity’s gabfest: “ElBaradei is not a friend of the United States. [He] could be a figurehead for the Muslim Brotherhood, since he has no real following in Egypt, he’s lived most of his life outside of Egypt.”

McCain warned that Islamists are trying to “hijack” the revolt against Mubarak, and he called the Muslim Brotherhood—which is not leading the demonstrations—“by any definition, a radical Islamic organization, although they may be portraying themselves as somewhat different.”

10:25 am: In his brief address last night, President Obama declared that a key principle going forward in Egypt must be nonviolence. Said Obama: “First, we oppose violence. And I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it has shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people. We’ve seen tanks covered with banners, and soldiers and protesters embracing in the streets. And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.”

But the bloodshed today in Cairo makes a defiant mockery of Obama’s call to avoid violence. By all accounts, both the police and the army are standing by as thousands of thugs—as many as 3,000, according to one report, in an organized phalanx—attack protesters. Just as Prime Minister Netanyahu thumbed his nose at Obama when the president asked Israel to stop its settlements in the West Bank, Mubarak is thumbing his nose too, at Obama.

10:10 am: Opposition figure Mohammad ElBaradei, who’s been designated by a ten-member committee of the opposition to Mubarak as its leader, blasted the regime for its “scare tactics” by a “bunch of thugs” after gangs attacked protesters in several Egyptian cities: “I’m extremely concerned, I mean this is yet another symptom, or another indication, of a criminal regime using criminal acts. My fear is that it will turn into a bloodbath.”

9:20 am: CNN reports that Egyptian media is calling the thugs who attacked protesters in Tahrir Square “pro-stability forces.” In his speech last night, in which he defiantly promised to stay on as president, Mubarak said that the choice for Egypt was a “choice between chaos and stability,” and he added: “I am absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures its safekeeping.”

According to the New York Times, an Egyptian military spokesman issued the equivalent of “nothing to see here, move along” in telling anti-Mubarak protesters to go home. For at least forty-eight hours, it’s been clear that Mubarak’s strategy—no doubt developed in conjunction with the army—is to confront Egypt with chaos, and then seek to restore order.

Reports the Times: “Earlier, on state television, a military spokesman had asked the government’s foes: ‘Can we walk safely down the street? Can we go back to work regularly? Can we go out into the streets with our children to schools and universities? Can we open our stores, factories and clubs?’”

To the protesters, he said:

“You are the ones able to restore normal life. Your message was received and we know your demands. We are with you and for you.”

But the Times added: “The signs on Wednesday suggested that any gap between it and Mr. Mubarak was narrowing.”

9:00 am Reports AP: “Several thousand supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, including some riding horses and camels and wielding whips, attacked anti-government protesters Wednesday as Egypt’s upheaval took a dangerous new turn. In chaotic scenes, the two sides pelted each other with stones, and protesters dragged attackers off their horses.”

 

8:45 am: Things got ugly in Egypt today: the Egyptian army, which has so far held off on any actions against the protesters in the streets, told the demonstrators to go home. President Mubarak, who listened politely to President Obama for 30 minutes yesterday, simply ignored Obama’s advice that he ought to leave “now,” saying that he’ll stick around to oversee the “transition” though he won’t run again. And in the streets, in Tahrir Square, gangs of thugs armed with knives and clubs, some on horseback, have charged into the assembled crowds, with countless casualties.

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