Monday, January 31, 2011

Mubarak's Security Forces Can't Quell Protests: UPDATE: Army Refuses To Fire On Protesters

Protests, demonstrations, and riots continue throughout Egypt as Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's security forces are incapable of quelling them. The Egyptian Army has had more success in keeping the calm - they're not nearly as confrontational and protesters seem more at ease with the military and keeping things peaceful than they are with the police and the security forces. The police had withdrawn from central Cairo, but it now appears that they're gearing back up for yet another confrontation.

That's a key factor going forward. The military is the key to the crisis. If the military gives up its support for Mubarak or throws its support behind the protesting opposition or other military leaders in the country, Mubarak's time is over. It hasn't mattered that Mubarak has fired his cabinet and installed a bunch of new ministers. They all suffer from the same problem - they're all beholden to Mubarak and are part of the same decrepit regime.

The ongoing violence has led numerous countries to arrange to have their citizens flown out of the country. The US is no exception as the US government is arranging charter flights to help American citizens flee the country. Those that are unwilling or unable to leave have been warned to stay away from the centers of protest and that the US Embassy is not easily accessible.

It should go without saying that the Obama Administration is quietly preparing for an Egypt without Mubarak. What kind of government takes his place is open to debate - and the Egyptian people will have to thrash that out themselves. They'll be the ones to decide whether they're going to give the Muslim Brotherhood the power that the Brotherhood has been craving for generations, or whether the Egyptian people will seek a moderate political course of action that preserves individual rights and religious freedoms.

Still, the US has repeatedly called for the government and the people of Egypt to exercise restraint and shun violence all while respecting the people's right to be heard:
Obama gave a much-publicized speech in Cairo in 2009 warning that governments cannot suppress people's rights. With protesters massing in the street demanding Mubarak's ouster, Obama would be hard-pressed to side with a repressive leader.

Obama administration officials "recognized that change was coming and they needed to be on the right side of history and not try to keep Mubarak in power against all odds,'' the former official said. "It's a very difficult balance to be struck. Mubarak is, after all, a friend of the United States for the last 30 years. A lot of our allies in the region -- the Saudis, Jordanians and Kuwaitis -- will be particularly nervous if it looks like the U.S. is doing in one of their friends.

"The administration understand this. But the most important thing they understand is that they have to get in front of this and not behind it.''

The former administration official spoke on condition of anonymity so that he could be more candid about sensitive diplomatic issues.

The White House is trying to deliver a consistent message on fast-moving events in Egypt, dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one of the more disciplined speakers in American politics, for a round of Sunday talk-show appearances.

Obama is monitoring events through regular briefings with staff and close consultation with regional allies.

On Saturday, he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said.

Obama received a briefing on the Egyptian crisis at the White House on Saturday and Sunday and also spoke to Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain on Sunday.
Six al Jazeera reporters have been arrested. Mubarak's security has been trying to clamp down on al Jazeera's reporting operations since the crisis began a week ago. More than 150 have been killed accord to that report, while other reports put the toll at at least 125 killed in the rioting.

It's understandable then, that some Egyptians are finding media reports that focus on the destruction and looting of Egypt's priceless antiquities somehow demeans the deaths of those protesting the Mubarak regime.

My own reporting is not meant to demean the loss and sacrifice of the Egyptians who are standing and defying the Mubarak regime, but it shouldn't ignore that there are those taking advantage of the crisis to loot and pillage Egypt's priceless heritage. Egyptians should rightfully protect and cherish their long and distinguished history and damage to these treasures means that future generations of Egyptians, who may breath more religious and social freedoms in a post-Mubarak Egypt will be able to enjoy and learn from those treasures and antiquities.

BBC live blogging again (and still among the best live coverage). They've reported the following:
1623: Professor David Kelly of Sydney's University of Technology tells the BBC it has been widely reported that searches for the word "Egypt" in Chinese have been blocked on microblogs (such as Twitter).rr"You can search for the English word 'Egypt' and apparently find discussion [of the unrest]. But the average user would probably be put off by not finding it in Chinese. The government feels threatened by the parallels it has seen in China in connection with 'colour revolutions'. r"The authorities in Beijing are in my mind quite insecure, and signal this constantly… even very minor expressions of discontent can be treated as threats to the stability of the regime."
The Chinese must be real worried about political upheaval at home if they're blocking any and all references to Egypt's turmoil as though it might spark something similar in China. The list of grievances would be all too familiar to those in China - lack of economic opportunities, lack of political participation, higher food and energy costs, unemployment, etc.
Also, the NYT Lede live blogging is providing regular updates.

The Egyptian Army has come out with a strong statement about the use of force to stop the protests. It will not use force on the protesters.
As anti-government demonstrations persist across Egypt and the country's military firmly puts its boots on the ground to establish order, the army said it won't deploy "violence" against the people.

A military spokesman said on state TV Monday that "freedom of opinion in a peaceful manner is allowed for all" and the "armed forces are aware of the legitimate demands of the honest citizens."

"The presence of the armed forces in the Egyptian streets is for your benefit to protect your safety and peace," said the spokesman for the army, which has been regarded favorably by many protesters who despise the police and see that institution as an ally.

The armed forces "will not use violence against this great people which have always played a significant role in every moment of Egypt's great history. And we reassure the armed forces are a force of stability and security for this great nation. The protection of the people is one of its core values," the spokesman said.
The military may well be the vehicle that is used to transition between Mubarak and whatever government coalesces as his replacement. This is a significant piece of news and is likely to bolster the crowds of protesters calling for Mubarak's resignation.

Is there a plan to replace Mubarak in the works? NPR is reporting exactly that:
Two of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's closest allies, his new vice president, Omar Suleiman, and his defense minister, Hussein Tantawi, are quietly working on a plan under which Mubarak would step down from power, according to a U.S. scholar who has been staying in regular touch with the Egyptian political and military leadership.

"They want to be sure that Mubarak is going to cooperate," said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development and a longtime confidant of Egyptian and Israeli leaders.

The two-part plan, according to Cohen, would involve the immediate removal of 100 members of the Egyptian Parliament whose election this past fall was seen as illegitimate. They would be replaced by 100 candidates who were barred from running in the election or who were defeated because of government meddling in the election process.

A second possible step would be the organization of new parliamentary and presidential elections. The plan, according to Cohen, "requires [Mubarak] to give up his office." Asked whether Mubarak would do that, Cohen answered, "He is getting ready to do so."

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