Your Ad Here

Top secret: Egypt: The January 25 Revolution and Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy part2/4

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top secret: Egypt: The January 25 Revolution and Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy part2/4
The People’s Revolution: A Timeline

In perhaps the most unexpected development in modern Egyptian history, a purely popular revolution that started only 10 days ago has forced President Hosni Mubarak to announce his intention not to stand for reelection for president this fall after 29 years in power. Although for years experts have described simmering discontent among the urban Egyptian masses and a host of socio-economic factors that may breed instability, none had predicted what has transpired over the last two weeks. Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” has inspired popular protests against entrenched dictatorships across the Arab world, and it resonated strongly in Egypt, where recent sectarian violence, an apparently rigged parliamentary election, and the uncertainty surrounding succession all combined to bring unprecedented numbers of Egyptians into the streets.

Since late January, the balance of events in the streets of Cairo has tipped back and forth between opposition protestors and the weight of the political status quo. Events in other major cities have indicated broad dissatisfaction with the status quo and President’ Mubarak’s response to the protests. At the same time, the Egyptian government’s limits on media and Internet, the international media’s focus on central Cairo, and the relative opacity of events in the broader Cairo metro area, the Nile Delta, and the rural governorates make it difficult to accurately represent the scale or likely trajectory of the unrest. Egypt’s U.S.-funded and equipped armed forces have heeded U.S. calls for restraint thus far. However, their apparent acquiescence to violence between opposition protestors and pro-government forces has raised questions about the military’s intentions. As of February 11, its leaders, by all accounts, remained loyal to President Mubarak. Observers have examined the durability of that loyalty closely since the protests began

January 25 to January 28, 2011: Protests and Police Confrontations

Beginning with a day of protest on January 25, young protestors using social media to organize came out in far greater numbers than initially envisioned, creating a self-sustaining momentum that culminated in ever larger nationwide protests. On Friday, January 28, hundreds of thousands of protestors throughout the country clashed with riot police and central security forces controlled by the widely unpopular Ministry of Interior. An estimated 100,000 people turned up in Cairo alone. Although people were largely peaceful, crowds burned several symbols of Mubarak’s rule, including the National Democratic Party headquarters’ building. Police units appeared to have used a disproportionate amount of force against protesters who at times used violence themselves, although police largely avoided the use of live ammunition.3 Ultimately the police were overwhelmed, and by early evening crowds began to dissipate as the army took to the streets to try and instill a sense of calm. Since the army’s deployment, soldiers have largely refrained from firing on crowds and many protestors initially embraced the army

January 29 to January 30, 2011: Concessions and Chaos

In the early morning of January 29, President Mubarak made what some described as a desperate attempt to cling to power in a televised speech to the nation in which he defiantly insisted that he would remain as president to protect the nation. During the speech, President Mubarak announced that he was dissolving the government and, later that day, he appointed national intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his Vice President,4 the first time anyone has held that office under Mubarak.
He also appointed Civil Aviation Minister Ahmad Shafiq as Prime Minister. Both men are considered military figures with close ties to the President. The moves failed to calm public anger, and the weekend of January 29-30 witnessed looting, protests, and near-total chaos, with the army remaining the only authority in the country. The army was also deployed to protect important national sites, such as the Central Bank, Ministry of Information, and the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

Many Egyptian observers have speculated that the withdrawal of police from urban areas was a deliberate policy by the government, a scare tactic intended to sow chaos in order to remind Egyptians that a strongman like Mubarak is needed. Some Egyptians are even accusing the police themselves of terrorizing the country. Throughout the weekend of January 29-30, there were numerous reports of looting, and many Egyptians banded together to protect private property and businesses from armed gangs. Inmates escaped or were released from four main prisons, and state-owned television broadcasted images of burned infrastructure and disorder in what appeared to be an attempt to disparage the protest movement by linking it to the ongoing insecurity.
Some human rights groups have alleged that undercover police loyal to the government were among the looters.

By Sunday January 30, it appeared that all sides (President Mubarak, the military, and the opposition) were trying to reach a solution in order to stabilize the country and extricate Egypt from falling further into chaos. Since protests began, media sources are citing unconfirmed reports of at least 300 people killed, the Egyptian stock market has crashed (fallen at least 18% in 2011) and trading has halted, and some are predicting that Egypt’s tourist industry (its main source of foreign exchange) has been severely damaged. It is clear that, the longer chaos persists in Egypt, the more lasting damage will be done to the country as a whole, no matter which government rises in Mubarak’s place. To date, the Suez Canal continues to operate normally

Who are the protestors and what do they want

Images and footage from the early days of the protests suggest that the crowds who flocked to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Damietta, and other major Egyptian cities represented a broad and unexpected cross-section of Egyptian society. While most of the protestors were young men, media accounts showed a significant number of women, children, and older Egyptians who appeared to represent various social classes joining in their demand for President Mubarak’s ouster.
Clashes with security forces and battles between protestors and pro- government forces have been dominated by young men, although women have been active participants in many cases. The disparate elements of the crowd largely outshone the cast of expected opposition organizations. At present, Dr. Muhammad ElBaradei is leading a committee of opposition groups/figures that has said that it will negotiate with the government over the demands of the protestors once Mubarak leaves office. Their goals, aside from Mubarak’s immediate resignation, are as follow:

To form a more representative interim national unity government.

To amend the constitution or form an assembly to rewrite it entirely.

To remove corrupt Egyptian leaders responsible for repressing protestors.

To dissolve parliament and hold new free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.

Members of the Opposition’s Steering Committee

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei: Former head of the IAEA, leader of Egypt's National Association for Change
Mohammad Baltagi: Head of Muslim Brotherhood bloc of lawmakers from 2005 to 2010
Hamdeen Sabahy: Head of the Karama Party, a secular, left-wing Arab Nationalist party
Abdel Galil Mustafa: The coordinator for the National Association for Change
Mahmoud Al-Khudairi: Former vice president of Egypt's appeals court
George Ishaq: Former head of the Kefaya protest movement
Abdel Ezz Hariri: Formerly of Tegammu, a secular leftist party
Ayman Nour: Head of the liberal secular Ghad party
Magdy Ahmed Hussein: Head of the pro-Islamist Labor Party
Osama Ghazali Harb: founded the secular and liberal National Democratic Front
Youth Movements: These groups have been asked to send 3-5 members to the committee: 6 April Youth Facebook,
Pro ElBaradei Youth, Al Ghad Youth, Muslim Brotherhood Youth, and National Democratic Front Youth

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been conspicuously under the radar throughout the last week of protests, has deliberately deferred to secular opposition leaders and groups, especially Dr. ElBaradei. According to one Brotherhood leader, “we’re supporting ElBaradei to lead the path to change…. The Brotherhood realizes the sensitivities, especially in the West, towards the Islamists, and we’re not keen to be at the forefront.” Despite ElBaradei’s prominence, it is unclear whether he commands much popular support beyond the educated middle- and upper-class opposition. He has lived outside of Egypt for decades and was out of the country when protests began. Much of the grass-roots organizing of demonstrations has been carried out by activists several generations younger than the traditional leadership of Egypt’s opposition

January 31, 2011: A New Cabinet and Clearer Positions

On January 31, 2011, the army said that it would not use force against Egyptians, a claim that Vice President Omar Suleiman has since repeated in public interviews. The army further added that, “your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.” Many observers initially interpreted this statement as an implicit indication of the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, as it appeared at the time that the use of force by the army against civilians was the only method available to stop demonstrations and restore normalcy.

On the morning of January 31, President Mubarak named a new cabinet, though it is entirely unclear for how long it will remain standing. Of note, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi remained Defense Minister and was also elevated to the position of deputy prime minister. Mahmoud Wagdy, a retired general, was appointed Interior Minister, replacing Habib El Adli who was widely vilified by the Egyptian public and responsible for police repression against demonstrators. Among others, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit remained in the cabinet.
The cabinet shifts, coupled with the announcements of January 29, gave the impression that the leading figures in the Egyptian military establishment had asserted control and moved to preserve key elements of the status quo while giving the appearance of substantive change. Vice President Omar Suleiman, Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, Defense Minister Tantawi, and Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan are all current or former high ranking military officers with close ties to Mubarak. Some observers have pointed out that these figures have been among the closest of
President Mubarak’s interlocutors with the United States and Israel and are thus probably more likely to favor a continuation of partnership and the maintenance of the prevailing regional order.

On Monday evening, newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman read a statement on Egyptian state television that called for new parliamentary elections to be held in districts where appeals were submitted prior to the recent unrest.9 Suleiman indicated that President Mubarak had tasked him “with carrying out immediate contacts with all political factions in order to start a dialogue around all issues at hand with regard to constitutional and legislative reforms, which will lead to a clear definition of proposed amendments and the specific times for their execution.”

February 1, 2011: The “March of Millions” and Mubarak’s Second Speech

On Tuesday, February 1, an estimated quarter of a million protestors turned out in downtown Cairo for the 8th consecutive day of public protest against the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Large demonstrations also reportedly took place in Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, and Luxor. The army maintained some semblance of order, and protestors and soldiers refrained from any violent confrontation. Observers reported that the scale of the demonstration was unprecedented.

Other reports emphasized that diversity of the crowd, which was made up of a large number of women, children, and Egyptians of all socio-economic backgrounds.

Late Tuesday night February 1, President Mubarak gave a speech in which he said he would not run for reelection in the fall of 2011 and wants to oversee a “peaceful transfer of power” at the end of his current term. He added:

Husni Mubarak, who is speaking to you today, holds dear the long years he has spent serving Egypt and its people. This beloved homeland is my country, as it is the country of each Egyptian man and woman; I have lived in it and fought for it, and defended its land, sovereignty, and interests. And on its land I shall die; and history shall judge me and others in terms of what we owe and what we are owed

After the president’s speech, the crowd in Tahrir Square reacted with rage, chanting “leave! Leave!” and “we are not leaving!” Supporters were reported to have welcomed the announcement. Opposition activists have said that Mubarak’s timetable is unacceptable, and his departure must be immediate. This timetable remains the primary point of contention

February 2 and 3, 2011: The Battle of Tahrir Square

On Wednesday, February 2, an iconic struggle unfolded on live global television in the center of Cairo. Supporters of President Mubarak went on the offensive against opposition protestors in Tahrir (Liberation) Square, and the army, while not deliberately hurting anti-government demonstrators, did little to help them. In fact, the army had earlier called on protestors to leave the streets in an appeal for calm, a move that some observers believe was really intended to deflate protestors’ momentum.

In what appeared to be an orchestrated show of force, a huge crowd of pro-Mubarak strongmen, some riding on horses and camels, stormed Tahrir Square on Wednesday morning and attacked anti-government protestors with metal rods, stones, and sticks. A storm of stones rained down on both sides of the battle, as participants tore metal sheeting from nearby construction sites and shops for protection. Some of the men appeared to be activist supporters of the embattled president, while eyewitness accounts from Egyptians and international journalists suggested that others were drawn from the ranks of a group known in Egyptian Arabic as Baltagiya,11 or gangs, many of whom were reportedly paid $10 to break up the demonstrations. Some reports even suggest that plainclothes police officers were among them. Army units posted at Tahrir Square initially did nothing to stop the pro-Mubarak crowd. As the day wore on and clashes intensified, the army positioned itself between the two camps, with each side setting up barricades in the square and hurling projectiles and Molotov cocktails at each other well into the early morning hours.

On the political front, Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq promised in a televised news conference to bring to justice those responsible for instigating violence while denying the government had any part in it. Egypt’s attorney general also issued a travel ban on former government ministers and NDP party officials, such as former Interior Minister Habib al Adly and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz.12 In addition, Egypt’s new government, as laid out in President Mubarak’s February 1 speech, promised to amend constitutional provisions dealing with presidential elections. The government also suspended parliament until a judicial panel reviews the results of 2010 parliamentary elections. Vice President Omar Suleiman stated that the president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, would not stand for president in future elections. Suleiman also promised to engage in a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood13 saying, “we have contacted the Muslim Brotherhood and invited them, but they are still hesitant about the dialogue…. I think that their interest is to attend the dialogue.” Suleiman also asked the nation for time to reform the political system. The government stopped blocking the Internet.

To date, various reports indicate that at least 10 Egyptians have died in the vigilante-instigated violence that started on February 2. On February 3, numerous reports streaming out of Egypt indicated that mobs were targeting foreign journalists. Some reporters were pulled from their hotel rooms, beaten, and had their equipment confiscated or smashed. Meanwhile, in the streets of Cairo, government-backed strongmen continued to fight hand-to-hand with demonstrators, in an attempt to further sow a climate of fear. Vice President Suleiman even blamed the news media for “sending the enemy spirit.” As Egypt faces more protests on Friday, February 4, the goal of the pro-Mubarak forces were clear: intimidate the demonstrators and break their will to sustain mass protests.

The role of the military has become clearer. Although it is impossible to gage the sentiment of all senior officers, clearly the high command has sided with the President.14 Robert Springborg, an Egypt expert and professor at the Naval Postgraduate School argued:

The threat to the military's control of the Egyptian political system is passing. Millions of demonstrators in the street have not broken the chain of command over which President Mubarak presides…. The military high command, which under no circumstances would submit to rule by civilians rooted in a representative system, can now breathe much more easily than a few days ago

For now, the key question is whether or not demonstrators will overcome the climate of fear and intimidation, and turn up en-masse for demonstrations in the days ahead. On February 3, President Mubarak claimed that if he resigned now, chaos would ensue, and clearly some Egyptians believe him.16 Many others apparently want him to depart sooner rather than later, but fear that continued unrest will breed extremism, discord, and cause lasting economic damage. President Mubarak’s government has calculated that the political concessions he has made combined with brute force and suppression of all news coming out of Egypt could be enough to maintain the regime in power, a government that is now entirely dominated by the military.
Should this government stand in the months ahead, most Western observers doubt that it would embark on an ambitious reform program that would transform Egypt into a genuine democracy

February 4 to February 7: Negotiations Begin, Protests Continue

On Friday February 4, after two days of violence and uncertainty over the turnout for planned demonstrations and the army’s response to them, hundreds of thousands of people again filled Tahrir Square for peaceful protests. The army continued to stand aside and allow demonstrations to continue, though media reports suggest that the army has tightened its control over downtown Cairo by erecting checkpoints, installing coils of razor wire, and limiting media access to Tahrir Square.

On the morning of February 4, Defense Minister Tantawi appeared in the square to review his troops and counsel non violence from all sides. Amr Moussa, Arab League President and former foreign minister, also appeared in the square later in the day to show solidarity with the opposition. Observers consider Moussa a potential presidential frontrunner due to his popular persona.

With the momentum returning to the opposition, an unexpected development occurred over the weekend. Some opposition groups/figures, including the Muslim Brotherhood, agreed to meet with Vice President Suleiman to discuss a democratic transition despite earlier pledges not to do so until President Mubarak resigned. At the same time, the Obama Administration refrained from earlier calls for an immediate transition (i.e. Mubarak’s resignation), and instead stressed that Egyptians themselves must negotiate over the details of reform. On Sunday February 6, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that “we are putting a lot into making sure the dialogue process that has begun is meaningful and transparent and leads to concrete actions…. But ultimately, we are not the arbiters. It's the people of Egypt who are the arbiters. And a number of voices that are now being heard recognize there has to be some process. And there is a desire to test this, to see how it unfolds, and we support that.” Many media reports indicated that street protestors were distraught by the tacit U.S. approval of a negotiated transition with President Mubarak still in power.

After the Suleiman-opposition meeting, the Vice President released a statement that was partially disputed by the opposition, saying that “consensus” had been reached on, among other things, allowing President Mubarak to complete his term, amending the constitutional provisions that govern eligibility for candidacy for the president, and lifting the state of emergency “based on the security situation and an end to the threats to the security of society.”17 Dr. ElBaradei, who did not attend the meeting, denounced some of these concessions as insufficient, and some street protestors denounced opposition politicians for even negotiating prior to Mubarak’s resignation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, like the larger opposition, remained divided. Mohamed Saad El Katatni, a member of Muslim Brotherhood’s Executive Bureau, said that keeping Mubarak in power while changes are made is a “safer option” to win implementation. Yet, Mohammed Morsey, another spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said that Mubarak should leave Immediately

Clearly, the President and his allies believe that they can outlast the protestors and methodically chip away at the opposition by dividing them through offers of concession and political reform while maintaining the primacy of the military in power. However, on Sunday February 6, another
100,000 people returned to Tahrir Square to continue their demonstrations.

On Monday, February 7, 2011, though demonstrators remain in Tahrir Square, the government tried to convey the appearance of a return to normalcy. Banks reopened, and the new cabinet held its first meeting. Some workers returned to their jobs, though the stock market remained closed.
The Egyptian government also announced that it was raising public salaries and pensions

February 8 to February 9: Protestors Inspired and Demonstrations Apex

After a weekend during which the government appeared to gain the upper hand, protestors significantly expanded their uprising against President Mubarak and his government between Tuesday, February 8 and Thursday, February 9. Sparked by the release of Wael Ghonim, a young Google executive who had been detained by authorities for 12 days, demonstrators flooded Tahrir Square in record numbers. Ghonim revealed that he was the creator of the Facebook group, “we are all Khaled Said,” the protestors’ main social networking site named after a 28-year-old man murdered by police in Alexandria last year. Ghonim gave a number of emotional television interviews in which he said, “I apologize to every father and mother and every person who lost his life for his country. For 12 days, I’ve been isolated. I saw the people who died. These are the heroes, and you are the heroes.” He also appeared before the crowds in Tahrir urging them to expand the movement and not fear the government. In another televised interview, he remarked:

This president needs to step down because this is a crime. And I am telling you, I'm ready to die. I have a lot to lose in this life...I work in the best company to work for in the world. I have the best wife and I have, I have - I love my kids….But I'm willing to lose all of that for my dream to happen. And no one is going to go against our desire. No one. And I'm telling this to (Vice President) Omar Suleiman. He's going to watch this. You're not going to stop us. Kidnap me, kidnap all my colleagues. Put us in jail. Kill us. Do whatever you want to do.
We are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years. Enough. Enough. Enough.

Although Ghonim’s words struck an emotional chord with many Egyptians, widespread labor strikes across Egypt also gave the movement renewed strength. Several deaths were reported in smaller Egyptian cities, and reports also surfaced that demonstrators burned government buildings and police stations. Some Suez Canal workers also heeded calls for a nationwide strike.
Journalists, postal workers, bus drivers, doctors, steel workers, weavers, pharmaceutical workers, and sanitation workers also joined the strike. In addition, demonstrators physically began moving outside Tahrir Square and, by Wednesday night, had camped out in front of parliament effectively blocking all access to it. As an indication of how quickly labor strikes spread to all of Egypt, protesters asked railroad workers not to go on strike because people in distant provinces wanted to travel to Cairo to join rallies in Tahrir Square.

In response to Western fears that the Muslim Brotherhood would “hijack” the protest movement to seize power, a spokesman for the group issued a statement on February 9 stating that, “the Muslim Brotherhood are not seeking power. We want to participate, not to dominate. We will not have a presidential candidate, we want to participate and help, we are not seeking power.”

Thursday, February 10: Mubarak’s Defiant Speech

On Thursday night, February 10, (the 17th day of protests) President Hosni Mubarak announced that while he was delegating certain powers to Vice President Suleiman, he would not resign until September 2011, upholding his earlier pledge. He added “this will be the land of my living and my death. It will remain a dear land to me. I will not leave it nor depart it until I am buried in the ground.” Earlier in the day, Egyptian officials had warned that if protestors didn’t disband, the military would “intervene to control the country.”

Friday, February 11, 2011: Mubarak Resigns

On the 18th day of peaceful protests, Vice President Suleiman announced that President Mubarak has resigned and the Supreme/Higher Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces has taken control of the country.19 Hosni Mubarak and his family departed for the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh where he maintains a residence. As of Friday morning, it is unclear what steps President Mubarak took prior to his resignation toward a democratic transition, or whether the military would take over indefinitely. In statements to the public, the military has said that it would end the emergency law “as soon as the current circumstances are over.” Earlier in the morning, Gen. Hassan al Roueini appeared in Tahrir Square and told protesters that “all your demands will be met today.” General Sami Hafez Enan, the chief of staff of the armed forces, also told the protesters that Friday would be a decisive moment.


Post a Comment

  © Blogger template The Professional Template II by 2009

Back to TOP