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Tags: Egypt Watch

Dramatic Regrets



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One of the more amusing stories in recent days is that of Tamer Hosni, an Egyptian pop-music star (search his name on Google to hear some of his cheesy melodies). Last week, he had appeared on Egyptian state T.V. urging protesters to go home. He evidently felt bad about this, switched sides, and, this weekend, tried to give a speech to protesters expressing his support in Tahrir square. The protesters did not so easily forget his past support for the regime, and booed him down. This, evidently, made him feel very sad, as expressed in this video which has become an internet sensation:

 

 

Heck, with capricious celebrities melodramatically inserting themselves into political affairs, maybe the Egyptians really are ready for liberal democracy.

Death in Wadi al-Jadid



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Today protests were sustained and calm in Tahrir square, but spread to new locations, including Wadi al-Jadid. For the past two hours there have been reports of violent confrontations there, and now, a death: 

Al Jazeera reports: 

Attributing the information to Egyptian security officials, Reuters reports that several protesters suffered gunshot wounds and one was killed when 3,000 protesters took to the streets.

AFP news agency reportes three dead and 100 are wounded in the clashes that have been going on for two days. The protesters, said the report, retaliated:

The furious mob responded by burning seven official buildings, including two police stations and a police barracks, a court house and the local headquarters of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party.

Iran’s PressTV, meanwhile, [reports] that three protesters have been killed and hundreds have been wounded.

A Night in Tahrir Square



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In video: 

 

Interview with Suleiman



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A bad case of the flu delayed my notice of this important interview with VP Omar Suleiman, conducted by Christiane Amanpour. Suleiman says, among other things, that the Egyptian people are not ready for an immediate transition to democracy. Watch the whole thing: 

 

 
Here is Robert Gibbs’ response: 

Interview with the Brotherhood



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I recommend this vivid piece from the Guardian which relates an exclusive interview with current Muslim Brotherhood members, and recounts the group’s history. Some highlights: 

 

But placating foreign powers was not what Hassan al-Banna founded the movement for in 1928. It was Britain’s presence in Egypt that led to the brotherhood’s creation. Six Egyptian workers employed in the military camps of Ismailiyya in the Suez Canal Zone visited Banna, a young teacher who they had heard preaching in mosques and cafes on the need for “Islamic renewal”.

“Arabs and Muslims have no status and no dignity,” they complained, according to the brotherhood’s official history. “They are no more than mere hirelings belonging to the foreigners … We are unable to perceive the road to action as you perceive it …” Banna later wrote that the Europeans had expropriated the resources of Muslim lands and corrupted them with “murderous germs”: “They imported their half-naked women into these regions, together with their liquors, their theatres, their dance halls, their amusements, their stories, their newspapers, their novels, their whims, their silly games, and their vices … The day must come when the castles of this materialistic civilisation will be laid low upon the heads of their inhabitants.”

 

“There can be no question that genuine democracy must prevail,” Mohammad Mursi, a brotherhood spokesman, wrote in an article for Tuesday’s Guardian. “While the Muslim Brotherhood is unequivocal regarding its basis in Islamic thought, it rejects any attempt to enforce any ideological line upon the Egyptian people.”

Although the Brotherhood appears to have firmly embraced democracy, the means for reconciling that with its religious principles are not entirely clear: the issue of God’s sovereignty versus people’s sovereignty looks to have been fudged rather than resolved.

Main takeaway from the article: there is a mismatch between the Muslim Brotherhood’s current words and its history. That doesn’t prove anything, but it should at least make us wary.

The American Dilemma



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Over at Politico, Ben Smith does a fine job capturing the dilemma faced by the Obama administration. With Mubarak looking increasingly secure and increasingly unlikely to step down before the September election, the U.S. may need to improve relations after perhaps alienating him in the past weeks, in order to enjoy a productive relationship with the Egyptian regime until the elections come. Ironically, however, the U.S. needs to do so without also alienating the protesters who will — at least if the U.S. and other world powers can effectively guarantee that Mubarak will go through with allowing elections in September — choose the new regime next September. We’re in, to put it mildly, a tight spot. 

A few highlights from Smith’s analysis: 

The White House has sought to walk a tightrope, projecting general support for protesters without humiliating Mubarak, alienating Egypt’s powerful military leaders or unduly alarming other Arab autocrats. But the administration has slipped several times over the past two weeks, and the missteps have pretty uniformly betrayed a bias for Mubarak and the regional stability he brings. The most striking example came when diplomatic envoy Frank Wisner — sent to push Mubarak aside — declared several days later that he felt the Egyptian president should stay…

The U.S., he said, has displayed a caution that will endear it more to the regime than to the protesters. The administration “bet on the house – and it was a safe bet,” Stachers said.Other observers said the administration’s hedging had preserved, at least, a remnant of the once-warm Mubarak alliance.“They haven’t burnt the bridge to Mubarak,” said David Rothkopf, a National Security Council official during the Clinton administration foreign policy aide. “But if the Egyptian regime remains fairly intact, the relationship with the United States is not going to be what it was. They are always going to wonder who in the administration was seeking to replace them, and if they can trust the U.S.”

Day 16



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Far into the uprising, protesters and sympathizing doctors are literally camping out in Tahrir square:

Laboring Against Propaganda



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The Times this morning has a very useful summary of the latest developments among the Egyptian protesters. Two new developments include fresh labor strikes, and a organized push-back against state propaganda. 

On the labor front: 

 

Increasingly, the political clamor for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster seemed to be complemented by strikes in Cairo and elsewhere.

In the most potentially significant action, about 6,000 workers at five service companies owned by the Suez Canal Authority — a major component of the Egyptian economy — began a sit-in on Tuesday night. There was no immediate suggestion of disruptions to shipping in the canal, a vital international waterway leading from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But Egyptian officials said that total traffic declined by 1.6 percent in January, though it was up significantly from last year.

More than 2,000 textile workers and others in Suez demonstrated as well, Al Ahram reported, while in Luxor thousands hurt by the collapse of the tourist industry marched to demand government benefits. There was no immediate independent corroboration of the reports.

At one factory in the textile town of Mahalla, more than striking 1,500 workers blocked roads, continuing a long-running dispute with the owner. And more than 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in the city of Quesna went on strike while some 5,000 unemployed youth stormed a government building in Aswan, demanding the dismissal of the governor.

And, a journalists’ revolt: 

 

While state television has focused its coverage on episodes of violence that could spread fear among the wider Egyptian public and prompt calls for the restoration, Al Ahram’s coverage was a departure from its usual practice of avoiding reporting that might embarrass the government.

In the lobby of the newspaper, journalists on Wednesday were in open revolt against the newspaper’s management and editorial policies.

Some called their protest a microcosm of the Egyptian uprising, with young journalists leading demands for better working conditions and less biased coverage. “We want a voice,” said Sara Ramadan, 23, a sports reporter.

The turmoil at the newspaper has already changed editorial content, with the English-language online edition openly criticizing what it called “the warped and falsified coverage by state media” of the protests in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

Another article described how “more than 500 media figures” issued a statement declaring “their rejection of official media coverage of the January 25 uprising and demanded that Minister of Information Anas El-Fikki step down.”

Members of the Journalists Syndicate moved toward a no-confidence vote against their leader, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, a former Mubarak speech writer, the daily Al Masry Al Youm reported on its English-language Web site.

Several of the dozens of protesters occupying the lobby on Wednesday said the editor of the English-language division heads to the square to join the protests every night, joined by many of the staff.

Political Prisoners Released



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Al Jazeera has the story

Thirty-four political prisoners, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were released on Tuesday, according to Egyptian state television.

 

The government seems to be scrambling under pressure from international governments and pro-democracy supporters, Al Jazeera’s reporter in Cairo said. She added however, that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists who took part in the recent protests.

BREAKING: Muslim Brotherhood says it will not Field Presidential Candidate



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“We are not seeking power,” a representative says. CNN.com has the story: 

 

 

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) – The Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday it will promote democracy in Egypt but does not intend to field a candidate for president.

“The Muslim Brotherhood are not seeking power,” Mohammed Morsi, a member of the group’s media office, said at a news conference. “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.”

The Islamist umbrella group also sought to dispel fears that it would push for an Islamic state in a post-Hosni Mubarak era.

“We reject the religious state,” said Mohammed Katatny, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc. “We are not responsible of the speeches and statements of external forces. The regime have been using the Muslim Brotherhood scarecrow to tell the world that the regime is the only one who can safeguard the country, but this is wrong and it is their way to try to ignore the people’s demands.”

Another Big Friday?



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El Arabiya reports that protesters are planning a “march of two million” (i.e. double last Friday’s protest) for this Friday. The protests lately have calmed and slowed, but not disappeared. Friday will evidently be an attempt to increase the temperature once more.

A Thousand Words



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Protesters Enter Week Three



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It was two weeks ago today that the first protests broke out in Cairo. Although things have slowed slightly — for example, more businesses are open today than last Wednesday and Thursday — there are still many protesters in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, and they show no signs of abandoning the streets or their demands. Last week, many expected the conflict to come to a dramatic head. And though there were sensational clashes between the anti-Mubarak protesters and a mix of plainclothes police officers and Mubarak supporters, the military’s restraint and the protesters refusal to march on the presidential palace (there were reports that the young, secular protesters wished to do so, but that the older Muslim Brethren were worried about a slaughter) have kept Egypt simmering rather than boiling over. 

Barring a second wind for the protesters, what matters most now is what’s going on behind the scenes. The Obama administration has remained intentionally obscure about its demands for Mubarak. The administration line, repeated by everyone from Ambassador Crowley, to Secretary Clinton, to Obama himself, is that an orderly transition must begin now. Whenever they are asked what exactly that means they dodge the question by saying that the form of the transition must be determined by the people of Egypt. Mubarak and his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, have made some symbolic gestures to appease the protesters, but neither shows a sign of budging from his office and power. Mubarak has promised that neither he nor his son will run in the presidential election in September. But up to now Mubarak has expressed every intention of remaining in office until then. Both the protesters and the Obama administration have signaled in the past that they would consider that unacceptable — but it’s not evident that there’s anything they can plausibly do to stop him. 

Meanwhile, speculation and unconfirmed rumors abound about various possible scenarios. Some have said that Mubarak will use his yearly medical visit to Germany as his chance to smoothly transition into exile. Others say there is a plan in the works to keep Mubarak on in a purely symbolic function while Suleiman wields all of the actual power until September elections. 

The media has turned away from Egypt in recent days, and the more sensational events — the images of the burning NDP headquarters, and opposing factions throwing Molotov cocktails — have ceased. But the important question of who will actually emerge with power has yet to be determined. The story continues to unfold. Follow updates here, on Egypt Watch, and, for faster and pithier updates, follow me on Twitter

Obama with O’Reilly



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Pres. Barack Obama sat down for an interview with Bill O’Reilly last night. Here’s what he said about Egypt

Only he knows what he’s going to do. But here’s what we do know is that Egypt is not going to go back to the way it was. The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, they want a responsive government. So what we’ve said is you have to start a transition now — Mubarak’s already decided he’s not running for reelection, his term is up this year. Let’s make sure you get all the groups together in Egypt, and let the people in Egypt determine what’s the process for an orderly transition, but one that is a meaningful transition, and that leads to a government…. [crosstalk]

The United States can’t absolutely dictate what happens. What we can do is we can say the time is now for you to start making those changes. 

The United States and Egypt have been partners for a long time. He has been a good partner when it comes to the peace with Israel. There’ve been counter-terrorism efforts that he’s been supportive of. But we’ve said to him publicly and privately is that trying to suppress your own people is something that is not sustainable.  And part of the message that we’re seeing all around the world is that when you resort to suppression, you resort to violence, that does not work.

What we can do, Bill, is we can say that the time is now for you to start making those changes.

 

I think the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don’t have majority support in Egypt. But they are well-organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S. — there’s no doubt about it. Here’s what we have to understand. There are a whole bunch of educated people in Egypt, there is civil society Egypt, that wants to come to the fore as well. And so it’s important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people.

What I want is a representative government in Egypt. And I have confidence that if Egypt moves in an orderly transition process, we’ll have a government that we can work with. 

Do we sense a slight change in tone and emphasis. “Orderly transition now” have been the three words the U.S. government has repeated throughout the crisis; it seems like a week ago the emphasis was on “now,” and has since migrated to “orderly transition.”

See the whole thing here:

Ghonim Released



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El Aribya is reporting that Wale Ghonim, the Google executive arrested on January 28th (see video below) has been released:

Egyptian telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris said on Sunday that authorities had promised him a Google Inc executive missing in Cairo would be freed on Monday.Sawiris told a television satellite channel he owns that he had asked for Wael Ghonim’s release during talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman on Sunday, alongside opposition groups, to try to end the country’s political turmoil.It was not immediately clear who might be holding Ghonim, Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, who the company said had not been seen since Jan. 27.

Sawiris said he had been promised Ghomin would be released at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), said a spokeswoman for Orascom Telecom, which Sawiris is chairman of, confirming his comments to the television station.Google began a public search for Ghonim last week, giving out a telephone number for information about him.On Jan. 27, Ghonim was apparently circumventing a government shutdown of the Internet – a post on a Twitter account listed under his name said: “Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die.” Ghonim showed solidarity with protesters rallying against President Hosni Mubarak.A YouTube video of a street protest shows the detention of a man resembling Ghonim. In the footage, men in plainclothes approach a line of protesters and grab the man identified as Ghonim, hustling him through a gap in a squad of riot police.Google launched a service for Egypt to allow people to dial a telephone number and leave a voice mail which would then be sent on Twitter and could be heard on telephones to try to work around Internet restrictions imposed by the government when the protests gathered pace.

I can’t understand the regime’s tactics here. They seem to be detaining journalists, human-rights activists, and protesters just long enough to induce complaints of human-rights abuses, but no long enough to actually effectively shut anybody up. Same with the police: they’ve been just brutal enough to galvanize the opposition, without being able to actually suppress the opposition.

Wisner: “Mubarak’s Continued Leadership Is Critical”



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Frank Wisner, the top U.S. diplomat sent to negotiate with Mubarak last weekend, was quoted yesterday as saying “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical — it’s his opportunity to write his own legacy.” This is a step away from the line the administration has repeated so far.

Sitting Down



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Omar Suleiman sat down with the Muslim Brotherhood for talks yesterday. The MB had initially said it would do no such thing until Mubarak was out. 

The protesters in Tahrir square are authentically ecumenical. Today, some Muslims joined in celebrating the Coptic Christian mass in a display of solidarity. But when it comes time to actually negotiate, the parties involved are “the Muslim brotherhood, and other opposition groups.” That is to say, the protesters may well be good liberal democrats. But the group most well positioned to actually politically oppose Mubarak is Islamist. 

Sec. Clinton at Munich Security Conference



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Her complete remarks are here. Some highlights: 

There are risks with the transition to democracy. It can be chaotic. It can cause short-term instability. Even worse – and we have seen it before – the transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime. Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception, and rigged elections to stay in power or to advance an agenda of extremism.

So the transition to democracy will only work if it is deliberate, inclusive, and transparent. Those who want to participate in the political system must commit to basic principles such as renouncing violence as a tool of political coercion, respecting the rights of minorities – ethnic and religious minorities, participating in a spirit of tolerance and compromise. Those who refuse to make those commitments do not deserve a seat at the table. We will continue to champion free and fair elections as an essential part of building and maintaining a democracy.

But we know elections alone are not sufficient. They’re not even sufficient to secure lasting change. So we also must work together to support the institutions of good governance, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, transparency and a free press, strong political parties, protection for the rights of minorities and more, because those, indeed, are the building blocks of a true democracy.

The transition to democracy is more likely to be peaceful and permanent when it involves both the government in power and a broad cross-section of the citizenry. So in addition to supporting institutions and free and fair elections, we are committed to supporting strong civil societies, the activists, organizations, congregations, intellectuals, reporters who work through peaceful means to fight corruption and keep governments honest. Their work enriches the soil in which democracy grows.

Day 13



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Al Jazeera summarizes where we are: 

Egypt Remembers



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A new blog devoted to collecting the names and the stories of those killed in the Egyptian uprising so far. The U.N. estimates they number more than 300.

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