Politics & Policy

Protesters Enter Week Three


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


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