Fire in Cairo: Will the Army Hold?

Fire in Cairo: Will the Army Hold?

Mubarak names head of intelligence as “vice president.”


2 pm: I could be wrong, but when you name your hard-line chief of intelligence as your “vice president,” as Mubarak just did, it’s probably not a sign that you’re looking to make any deals. Omar Suleiman ain’t no softie. ABC News mined the Wikileaks cables for some dirt on Suleiman, and here’s one quote. The cable says:

[Suleiman’s] overarching regional goal was combating radicalism, especially in Gaza, Iran, and Sudan…. Radicalism in Gaza posed a particularly serious threat to Egyptian national security. Suleiman said Egypt must “confront” Iranian attempts to smuggle arms to Gaza and stop arms smuggling through Egyptian territory. “Egypt is circled by radicalism,” he continued.

10:40 am: The Times reports that military, in some places at least, is supporting the protests:

Egypt was engulfed in a fifth day of protests on Saturday, but an attempt by President Hosni Mubarak to salvage his 30-year rule by firing his cabinet and calling out the army appeared to backfire as troops and demonstrators fraternized and called for the president himself to resign.

10:30 am: My favorite passage from today’s New York Times:

By nightfall, the protesters had burned down the ruling party’s headquarters in Cairo, and looters marched away with computers, briefcases and other equipment emblazoned with the party’s logo. Other groups assaulted the Interior Ministry and the state television headquarters, until after dark when the military occupied both buildings and regained control. At one point, the American Embassy came under attack.

10:20 am: The king of the world’s largest kleptocracy, namely, Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is not only sick—he recently visited the United States for medical treatment and then settled into Morocco, for more care—but scared to death. Yesterday, the octogenarian ruler’s regime in Riyadh issued a vituperative statement condemning the Egyptian protesters and giving Saudi Arabia’s backing to Mubarak. The king called Mubarak to “reassure” him, which means that he’ll open his near-infinite checkbook to keep Mubarak solvent. Abdullah blamed “infiltrators” for the uprising, and said that protesters were “exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction…inciting a malicious sedition,” adding that outside agitators “infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt, to destabilize its security.… No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred.” A vicious, incoherent statement from the man most threatened by the ongoing Arab revolt in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen.

January 29, 7:30 am: A huge crowd, numbering in the tens of thousands, is back in central Cairo. President Mubarak has ordered the army to confront them, and they’ve deployed heavy tanks in and around Tahrir Square, which has been the scene of some of the largest protests. There’ve been shots fired and clashes in and around the square. More clashes, too, in Alexandria and other cities. Mohammad ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief and Nobel Prize–winner who’s one of the leaders of the opposition, told French television that Mubarak “must go,” and he rejected the the president’s Friday speech, in which he tried to mollify the uprising by ordering his underlings to resign. Said ElBaradei:“President Mubarak did not understand the message of the Egyptian people. His speech was totally disappointing. The protests will continue with even more intensity until the Mubarak regime falls. I will go back into the streets today [Saturday] with my colleagues to contribute to bringing change…and to tell President Mubarak that he must go.”

11:45 pm: President Obama and the US government are distancing themselves even further from Mubarak. Obama called Mubarak to tell him not to use violence against the protesters, and he said: “The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people.” That’s a good statement, but I don’t know about the word “continue.” The United States hasn’t stood up for the rights of the Egyptians since, oh, sometime around FDR. The White House, it seems—according to the Times, at least—has decided that Mubarak isn’t worth saving. Let’s see if anyone calls him Mubaraknejad.

7:45 pm: Though Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel, was reportedly slow in covering the protests in Egypt because of pressure from the government of Qatar, the Gulf kleptocracy that owns the station, it’s up to speed now, and they’re live blogging the crisis in Egypt, with lots of great video.

6:45 pm: Is Mubarak cracking under pressure? Late Friday night, in Cairo, Mubarak asked his prime minister and his government to resign. Reports Bloomberg: “In a televised address to the nation, Mubarak said the new government would fight poverty, speed economic and social changes, and promote civil liberties and democracy. Speaking just after midnight in Cairo, Mubarak said he had heard the protesters’ message and urged them to demonstrate peacefully.” It’s not likely that the tens of thousands of protesters who’ve thronged the steets of Egypt’s major cities will accept that. Meanwhile, the Washington Post editorial for its Saturday edition is headlined: “The U.S. needs to break with Mubarak now.” It ridicules Vice President Biden for questioning whether the protesters’ demands are “legitimate,” and it concludes: “Rather than calling on an intransigent ruler to implement ‘reforms,’ the administration should be attempting to prepare for the peaceful implementation of the opposition platform. It should be reaching out to Mr. ElBaradei—who Friday was reported to be under house arrest—and other mainstream opposition leaders. And it should be telling the Egyptian army, with no qualification, that the violent suppression of the uprising will rupture its relationship with the United States.”

4:50 pm: Three members of Congress, all Democrats—McDermott (D-WA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Jim McGovern (D-MA)—have issued a strong statement condemning Egypt’s shutdown of the Internet and use of violence against protesters. “We are deeply concerned with the Egyptian government’s use of security forces and violence against demonstrators throughout Egypt.  Egyptians are on the streets to address legitimate grievances.  Such heavy-handed response by the Egyptian Government will only exacerbate the frustration of these protestors, many of whom are young people that are fed up with the lack of political freedoms, as well as poverty and the lack of other opportunities.  We call on the Government of Egypt to stop using violence against its own people; allow the free flow of information over the Internet, phone networks and in the media; immediately release Mohamed ElBaradei and all others wrongly detained; repeal the Emergency Law; and, allow reforms toward a more democratic election process.” They also said that they will work to ensure that US weapons aren’t used in putting down the protests: “The U.S. Congress will carefully observe the situation in Egypt in the upcoming days, particularly in order to ensure that no U.S. assistance or equipment is used in the violent suppression of peaceful protests; and, in the weeks and months ahead, Congress will be evaluating U.S. assistance to Egypt in light of developments on the ground.”

2:55 pm: From Reuters: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in his capacity as military ruler, extended on Friday a curfew to all cities in Egypt, state TV reported, following countrywide protests calling for the president to step down. State TV had earlier said the curfew would be imposed in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.” 

2:50 pm: A full-scale nationwide insurrection is underway in Egypt, late Friday, with as many as 80,000 people in the streets of Port Said, at the end of the Suez Canal. According to one report, the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo is on fire. The city of Suez has fallen to protesters, the Guardian reports. And Alexandria, Egypt’s main port and the ancient center of commerce and learning, is under siege. Egypt’s army has been called out, but there are lots of questions about whether the army will hold together. As I reported yesterday (see below), protesters were told to being flowers to give to the army and police.

January 27, 2011: Will revolution topple Egypt next? We’ll find out tomorrow. A huge demonstration is set for Friday, January 28, following Friday prayers, intended to cap a week of growing street demonstrations against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, who’s been in power since he succeeded President Anwar Sadat after Sadat was assassinated in 1981. After building all week, the unrest in Egypt will peak tomorrow. Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize–winning Egyptian who headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, has flown back to Cairo, pledging to take part in Friday’s action, while the Muslim Brotherhood has said that it will also join the revolt.Meanwhile, it appears as if the Obama administration is distancing itself from Mubarak.Needless to say, a revolution in Egypt—unlike in far less consequential Tunisia—changes everything. The entire Middle East balance, the Arab-Israeli issue, the stability of the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, and the future of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are all tied to Egypt, which for a century has been the epicenter of the Arab world.Now, the revolution in the making not only has students, workers, and the middle class on its side but it has a potential unifying leader, and the country’s most powerful opposition force, the Muslim Brotherhood, is on board. But while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is joining in, as in Tunisia the leadership of the unrest seems mostly secular, led by the April 6 Youth Movement, a youth organization that emerged out of working-class strikes by Egypt’s labor movement. Street actions, some violent but mostly peaceful, have occurred in numerous Egyptian cities, including Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and throughout the Nile Delta.ElBaradei, who’d earlier suggested that he would run for president against Mubarak—although the regime would probably have blocked his campaign—stated that he’s “ready to lead the transition in Egypt.” He added: Tomorrow is going to be, I think, a major demonstration all over Egypt, and I will be there with them.… Change is not going to happen overnight. I am still hoping to continue and manage the process of change in an orderly way.” ElBaradei has called on Mubarak to leave office.”Egyptians have broken the barrier of fear. There is no going back.”ElBaradei has written a piece for Newsweek, addressing his return to Egypt—where he’d set up the National Association for Change—in which he blasts the United States for choosing stability in Egypt over political and economic rights of the people, adding that US policy explains why the United States is disliked so strongly. And he adds: “The Army has been quite neutral so far, and I would expect it to remain that way.”Thousands have been arrested, some killed, and many charged with trying to ”overthrow the regime.”According to the Guardian, the April 6 group has issued extremely well written leaflets and booklets that map out nothing less than a street-based assault on Egypt’s main centers of power, including the country’s broadcasting headquarters, the presidential palace, and various police stations, on Friday. It reports:

Egyptians have been urged to come out after Friday prayers tomorrow and demand the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s government, along with freedom, justice and a democratic regime.

Anonymous leaflets circulating in Cairo also provide practical and tactical advice for mass demonstrations, confronting riot police, and besieging and taking control of government offices.

Signed “‘Long Live Egypt,” the slickly produced 26-page document calls on demonstrators to begin with peaceful protests, carrying roses but no banners, and march on official buildings while persuading policemen and soldiers to join their ranks.

The leaflet asks recipients to redistribute it by email and photocopy, but not to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are being monitored by the security forces.

Protesters in Cairo are advised to gather in large numbers in their own neighborhoods away from police and troops and then move towards key installations such the state broadcasting HQ on the Nile-side Corniche and try to take control “in the name of the people.” Other priority targets are the presidential palace and police stations in several parts of central Cairo.

The leaflet includes aerial photographs with approach routes marked and diagrams on crowd formations. Suggested “positive” slogans include “long live Egypt” and “down with the corrupt regime.” There are no signs of slogans reflecting the agenda of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. It advises demonstrators to wear clothing such as hooded jackets, running shoes, goggles and scarves to protect against teargas, and to carry dustbin lids—to ward off baton blows and rubber bullets—first aid kits, and roses to symbolize their peaceful intentions.

Hillary Clinton, notably meeting today in Washington with the foreign minister of Jordan—whose king could very well be next on the chopping block—used her words to call for Mubarak to implement reforms. “We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” she said, in a statement not likely to convince Mubarak that he retained American support.

Worse, for the Egyptian autocrat, President Obama himself spoke mostly about “frustrations” among the Egyptian people, not support for Mubarak: “I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform—political reform, economic reform—is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt. You can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets.” Stay tuned.

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“[Suleiman’s] overarching regional goal was combating radicalism, especially in Gaza, Iran, and Sudan. … Radicalism in Gaza posed a particularly serious threat to Egyptian national security. Suleiman said Egypt must ‘confront’ Iranian attempts to smuggle arms to Gaza and stop arms smuggling through Egyptian territory. ‘Egypt is circled by radicalism,’ he continued.”


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