4:45 pm: The Guardian reports: “Talks between the Egyptian government and opposition have all but collapsed after the regime balked at surrendering power to a transitional administration in the hope that mass protests would die down this week.”
It could get ugly, fast, if the army decides to crack down hard. (See below on VP Suleiman's threatening remarks.)
2:00 pm: The neoconservatives—many of them, anyway—and the GOP’s hawks in Congress are hammering Obama for not backing their radical version of regime change, Egypt-style. At a hearing today, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, where Elliott Abrams demanded that Obama threaten to suspend US aid to Egypt, the new chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, thundered:
“In both Egypt and Lebanon, we have failed to effectively leverage US assistance in support of peaceful, pro-democracy forces and to help build strong, accountable, independent, democratic institutions as a bulwark against the instability that is now spreading throughout much of the region. Instead of being proactive, we have been obsessed with maintaining short-term, personality-based stability—stability that was never really all that stable, as the events of recent weeks demonstrates…. The administration failed to seize the opportunity to press for reform to address the demonstrators’ frustrations and prevent chaos and violence.”
Gary Ackerman, a Democrat in thrall to AIPAC, said: “In Egypt I fear we are snatching failure from the jaws of success.”
Note to Ackerman and Ros-Lehtinen: We don’t own Egypt, and we don’t control events there.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, cooler heads are prevailing.
12:10 pm: Egypt’s Vice President Suleiman, the former intelligence chief is making some threatening noises, talking about a “coup” and muttering about the “dark bats of the night” coming out to do violence. Exactly what he’s referring to isn’t clear, and in the quotes below, taken from an AP dispatch, Suleiman tries to explain what he meant.
Nevertheless, AP reports: “For the first time, protesters were calling forcefully Wednesday for labor strikes, despite a warning by Suleiman that calls for civil disobedience are ‘very dangerous for society and we can’t put up with this at all.’ ”
“We can’t bear this for a long time. There must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible…. We don’t want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools.”
He then referred to “the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people.” Bats?
Asked what he meant by a “coup,” he indicated that he was referring to any sort of extra-legal takeover of Egypt, by the protesters, by the army, by the Muslim Brotherhood: “I mean a coup of the regime against itself, or a military coup or an absence of the system. Some force, whether it’s the army or police or the intelligence agency or the Brotherhood or the youth themselves could carry out ‘creative chaos’ to end the regime and take power.”
Confusing, yes. But when he says “by the army,” does that mean that he’s worried that the military itself might move against Mubarak, Suleiman, Defense Minister Tantawi and other regime officials? Is there a chance that the military might side with the demonstrators and the strikes? There’ve been some rumors the Egypt’s chief of staff is not happy with the regime’s intransigence.
11:35 am: Fox reports: “A day after Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Egypt could become a new Iran, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Israel to avoid ‘belligerent’ language.”
11:15 am: And Moscow? While much media attention is devoted to the near-ultimatum delivered to Egypt by Vice President Biden, and to calls from the neoconservative-dominated Egypt Working Group to cut off aid to Egypt or else, the Russians are saying, in effect, “not so fast.” And apparently that message is being delivered in person. AFP reports: “Mubarak met Alexander Sultanov, deputy Russian foreign minister and special Middle East envoy, at the presidential palace in Cairo, as thousands protested in the city’s Tahrir Square and outside parliament.”
According to an Egyptian newspaper, Sultanov promised that Russia wouldn’t intervene in the Egyptian crisis: “We, in Russia, don’t want to give recommendations because we trust the wisdom of the Egyptian people and leaders as well as the government. Egypt will eventually surpass the current crisis in light of legitimate measures and dialogue.”
Mubarak, besides being an American ally, is a Russian-trained fighter pilot.
A few days ago, calling Egypt “our strategic partner,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia added: “We do not consider it useful to produce any recipes from outside or deliver ultimatums—it is political forces in Egypt who should speak out.”
Lavrov added that dialogue should include all political forces in Egypt, according to Russia media.
On February 4, President Medvedev of Russia called Mubarak.
10:50 am: Following its earlier report that Mubarak might seek “medical” treatment near Baden-Baden in Germany, Der Speigel reports: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will not travel to Germany for hospital treatment, Vice President Omar Suleiman said on Wednesday, quashing rumors that the 82-year-old ruler might make an honorable exit by spending time in a German luxury clinic. ‘We are grateful for the offer from Germany but the president does not require medical treatment,’ Suleiman said.”
Not clear if Suleiman was also ruling out psychiatric care.
10:00 am: Al Jazeera reports: “Egypt’s three independent unions are due to demonstrate at 11 am in front of the state-backed General Federation of State Unions. This move by the unions is a major boost for the pro-democracy activists.”
9:00 am: Tens of thousands of workers across Egypt have gone on strike and joined the protests, giving new energy to the anti-Mubarak movement. Protests have spread to many cities, including Egypt’s vast south, and “6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority” have walked off the job, according to the New York Times. Two thousand workers in Suez demonstrated, and in Mahalla, 1,500 strikes blocked roads. (It was the strike in Mahalla, by low-paid textile workers, in 2008 that led to the creation of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the leading forces behind the upsurge that began late last month.) Sanitation workers, government employees and others have left their jobs. And:
“In Port Said on the Suez Canal, about 300 slum dwellers set fire to some parts of the local government’s administration building and torched several motorcycles, protesting a lack of state-financed housing, Reuters reported.”
Demonstrators have started to gather in the hundreds at the parliament building, and according to Reuters:
“Protesters said the organizers were working on plans to move on to the state radio and television building on Friday, the day of the next big scheduled demonstration.”