Friday, January 28, 2011

Mubarak's Regime Under Attack As Riots Continue

The Mubarak regime has engaged in a crackdown against the protesters who are seeking to overthrow the Egyptian regime. They're taking a page out of the Iranian regime's playbook by shutting down Internet access and unleashing the security forces against the protesters who are demanding that Mubarak step down and economic and social reforms.

The images that have gotten out show that the violence is far from contained. There are riots throughout the country, including in Suez, and there are reports that journalists have been attacked as well.

While Israel is looking on with a decidedly mixed view on what happens next door, US Vice President Joe Biden has said that Mubarak should not step down and thinks that the protests in Egypt are unrelated to those elsewhere in the region.
Vice President Biden, issuing the Obama administration's most definitive statement to date on the turmoil in Egypt, said President Hosni Mubarak should not step down and downplayed the protests spreading across the Mideast as generally unconnected.

He described the unrest as an expression of "middle-class folks" looking for "a little more access and a little more opportunity."

Though the administration says it's not taking sides, Biden said in an interview aired Thursday that Mubarak has been a U.S. "ally" on "a number of things," praising him for being "very responsible" in normalizing Egypt's relationship with Israel and aiding in Middle East peace talks.

"I would not refer to him as a dictator," Biden said on PBS' NewsHour.
I think that this is misguided as the same underlying problems are rampant through all the Middle Eastern regimes. They are autocratic regimes that are rotten to the core and a lack of social and economic opportunities has reached a breaking point.

The President's statements are better, in that he's calling for both sides to refrain from violence:
"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, and you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets." He added: "violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence. I think that it is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances. As I said in my State of the Union speech, there's certain core values that we believe in as Americans that we believe are universal: freedom of speech, freedom of expression -- people being able to use social networking or any other mechanisms to communicate with each other and express their concerns."

As I see it, the Mubarak regime is fighting for its very existence, and they're not going to hold back when the alternative is that they cease to exist. Still, there isn't much that the US can do about the situation in Egypt, or in the other Middle East regimes that are racked with riots and demonstrations over the horrid economic and social conditions.

Those associated with the Mubarak regime think that the regime will outlast the protests and thinks that the regime is on solid footing. The same thing could have been said of the Tunisian government under Ben Ali until the days right before he fled to Saudi Arabia in exile.
“My analysis is, the government will leave them until they reach a level of exhaustion,” said Abdel Moneim Said, a member of the president’s ruling party and the director of the government-owned newspaper and publishing house, Al Ahram.

The Egyptian leadership, long accustomed to an apolitical and largely apathetic public, remains convinced that Egypt is going through the sort of convulsion it has experienced — and survived — before.

The leaders see in the protest an experience similar to the events of 1977, when Anwar el-Sadat, then the president, announced plans to end subsidies of basic food items, setting off 36 hours of rioting across the country. They see a repeat of the threat the government faced from Islamic militants in the 1990s, which it violently suppressed. And so the leaders have fallen back on a familiar strategy, deploying security forces, blaming the Islamists and defining their critics as driven by economic, not political, concerns.

“I can’t think of anybody that I know that has any concern about the stability of the regime,” Mr. Said added. But the Egyptian playbook is not just calling for a strategy that runs on the fumes of history. Like the protesters, Mr. Mubarak and his allies appear to have learned lessons from Tunisia’s popular revolt.
The question will be whether the military continues backing Mubarak or there is dissent in the ranks that leads to the regime losing its support and security apparatus. If that happens, all bets are off as to who would gain power in that kind of power vacuum.

The Muslim Brotherhood lurks in the shadows as a force to be reckoned with and that would have a devastating effect on the Egyptian people in much the same way that the Islamic Revolutionaries in Iran have turned the Iranian economy into shambles all while depriving the people of religious, social, and political opportunities.

Apparently Mohamed El Baradei is under house arrest in Egypt. The Mubarak regime thought he was a sufficient threat to place him under house arrest. This may actually enhance his viability as an opposition leader - giving him more street credibility than he should otherwise obtain particularly since he's spent most of his life outside Egypt and isn't particularly connected with the frustration experienced by the majority of Egyptians who lack economic opportunities.
Egyptian security officials say Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is under house arrest, the AP reported. Police stationed outside his suburban Cairo home told him he cannot leave the house after he joined tens of thousands of protesters in the capital Friday.

Earlier, police used water cannons against Mr. ElBaradei and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after Friday noon prayers. Police also used batons to beat some of Mr. ElBaradei’s supporters, who surrounded him to protect him.

Mr. Elebaradei, who has spent much of his life outisde Egypt, returned to the country late Thursday, greeted by friends and some supporters. “It is a critical time in the life of Egypt,” he told reporters upon his arrival. “I wish we didn’t have to go into the streets to impress upon the regime that they have to change.”
The Egyptian military has taken to the streets to break up the protests. We're entering a new phase in the riots in Egypt, and bears close attention as to whether the protests continue or the military is capable of quelling in the riots. If the military is unable to stop the protests and riots, things could get ugly very quickly.

The BBC is running live updates from all around Egypt and has reported the following:
1623: A building that forms part of the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo has been set on fire, according to reports. Senior leaders, including the president's son Gamal Mubarak met there on Thursday.
That would also seem to indicate that the rumors that Gamal fled the country yesterday were wrong.

Internet traffic from Egypt has dropped to a standstill since Egyptian authorities blocked access, which makes getting reports from inside the country all the more difficult. There are unconfirmed reports that army personnel are clashing with police in Cairo, according to al-Jazeera TV. If that can be confirmed, it would be a huge blow to the Mubarak government since it suggests he's losing his grip on the security apparatus.

As is typical in these situations, the key will be who the military backs.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that government officials are mulling a transitional government to succeed Mubarak. Far more likely is that the military will seek to elevate one of its own leaders to supplant Mubarak. After all, Egypt has been led by a member of its military since Nasser - Nasser and Sadat were generals, and Mubarak was Sadat's Vice President when Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

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