Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Way Forward in Egypt?

From the UK Guardian newspaper site that has a live feed of events in Egypt:

It appears that the opposition parties now have a strategy. Put Mohammed ElBaradai forward as a "unity" leader:
Sensational political developments in Cairo, with reports that five opposition movements, including the key Muslim Brotherhood, have mandated Mohammed ElBaradei to negotiate over the formation of a temporary "national salvation government."

Osama Ghazlai Harb of the National Democrsatic Front told BBC Arabic that this would be a transitional administration that would oversee the cancellation of the emergency laws and the release of all political prisoners.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which has kept a low profile so far, said it was backing the demand along with other four groups.

It seems unlikely at this stage that the Mubarak government will agree to negotiate with to ElBaradei, but the publication of the demand adds a significant new element to Egypt's rapidly unfolding political crisis.
It also appears that the US is positioning itself in support of this move by calling for "free and fair" democratic elections via interviews with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. This is echoed by ElBaradai:
The New York Times's Lede blog has more ElBaradei comments from that CNN interview:

"The next step, as everybody now agrees upon, is a transitional period a government of national salvation, of national unity and that prepares the ground for a new constitution, a free and fair election, these are the three basic demands."

"Egypt needs to catch up with the rest of the world, we need to be free, democratic and a society where people have the right to live in freedom and dignity.... That's what you get after 70 years, Fareed, of utter brutal dictatorship, supported by everybody in the name of pseudo-stability."
It appears that Mubarak will fight to the bitter end. He has cut off Al Jazeera just as ElBaradai arrived at Tahrir square in Cairo. This would be a move by a regime desperate to hang on to control by suppressing news of any event it doesn't like. Here is a comment from the somebody on the scene:
The infuential Egyptian blogger Issandr El Amrani is suspicious about the absence of police.

He managed to get round Internet restrictions to post this on his Arabist blog.
Something very fishy is taking place — the Egyptian people are being manipulated and terrified by the withdrawal of the police yesterday, reports (some of them perhaps untrue) of widespread looting, and yesterday's (during the day) relatively low military presence in the city.

I can only speak about central Cairo, I suspect the situation is much worse in the Suez Canal cities, Alexandria and the Delta, and perhaps most of all the Sinai. I spoke to my former bawaab (doorman) who is near Aswan, where is he the police is still out and there is no military, although the local NDP office was ransacked and set on fire. So the situation is different from place to place, and there is very little national-level visibility.

There is a discourse of army vs. police that is emerging. I don't fully buy it — the police was pulled out to create this situation of chaos, and it's very probable that agent provocateurs are operating among the looters, although of course there is also real criminal gangs and neighborhoods toughs operating too.

For me, Omar Suleiman being appointed VP means that he's in charge. This means the old regime is trying to salvage the situation. Chafiq's appointment as PM also confirms a military in charge. These people are part of the way Egypt was run for decades and are responsible for the current situation. I suspect more and more people, especially among the activists, are realizing this.

I hope to have more steady internet access later. For now, the questions are:

• Why was the NPD building fire not put out even though it risks spreading to the Egyptian Museum?

• Why is Egyptian state TV terrifying people with constant pictures of criminal gangs?

• Why was there such a small military deployment during the day yesterday?

• Why were all police forces pulled out, and who made that decision?

• What is the chain of command today in the military? Is Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Enan still in position?

• If the reports about prison breakouts are true, how come these facilities have not been secured?

• Why are we getting reports of intelligence offices burning documents, CDs and tapes?

The situation is obviously very confusing at the moment. All I can say is that I have a hard time believing that Mubarak is still in charge, and that the hard core of the regime is using extreme means to salvage its position.
The only thing clear is that things will get exceedingly bloody over the next few days. Only if large portions of the military break ranks and join the unity government can widespread bloodshed be avoided.

Remember the Green Revolution in Iran. It is fully possible that Mubarak and/or his newly appointed henchmen can retain control by a bloody crackdown on people in the street.

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