Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Pressure Mounts

Pressure continues building in Egypt as the protests show no sign of abating despite Hosni Mubarak's attempts to placate Egyptians by firing his entire cabinet, installing a vice president, and a new prime minister.

Nothing short of Mubarak's removal is going to quell the anger, and the crowds keep coming back to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

The security situation, aside from the protests, is going to get a whole lot worse for the average Egyptian as prisons were attacked, prisoners revolted, and thousands of prisoners were released in the chaos. While some were political prisoners, no one can know for sure how many weren't. Those that escaped included members of Islamic terror groups, including Hamas:
Bodies littered the road outside a Cairo prison and troops with bayonets fixed moved into another facility after thousands of convicts broke out of jails or were abandoned by guards in protest-hit Egypt. Soldiers set up checkpoints along the Nile in the upmarket Maadi district, near the notorious
Tora prison, searching cars for escapees, as protests against President Hosni Mubarak raged into a sixth straight day.

Troops took a man from a car, threw him on the ground and tied his hands with a scarf as they did not have handcuffs. Asked why the man was detained, a soldier told an AFP correspondent: "He's just escaped from prison."

At Tora prison, where many Islamist militants have in the past been detained and tortured according to rights groups, an AFP correspondent said that shots could be heard coming from inside while soldiers with bayonets fixed moved in.

The army blocked access to the prison and an armoured personnel carrier fired its heavy machine gun in the air to clear civilians from the area.

Dozens of bodies were seen lying on a road near Abu Zaabal prison in eastern Cairo after rioting there killed at least eight prisoners, a security source told AFP.

Heavy gunfire was heard overnight at the prison with many prisoners escaping during the rioting.

Eight members of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas also escaped from Abu Zaabal, with at least two of them back in the Gaza Strip via smuggling tunnels on Sunday, a Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity.
At least 34 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were among those that escaped the prisons.

Protesters are dominating central Cairo as Mubarak's security forces and the police are not out and about. The Egyptian army has taken up positions around the city and the country , including around priceless crown jewels of Egyptian history and culture such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, the city of Luxor, and the Cairo Museum, which did suffer some damage from looters that attempted to break in and steal away some priceless artifacts.

Mubarak's regime is also attempting to shut down news outlets that are reporting on the situation in the country, and that includes Al Jazeera's bureau.

Meanwhile, the US has to walk a very delicate path here, as the US has backed the Mubarak regime for 30 years (and Sadat before him), including foreign and military assistance stemming from Egypt's peace deal with Israel. Some Egyptians are blaming the US for the ongoing misery and the Egyptian security forces have been using US military systems to attempt to quell the rioting. While much of the anger is directly solely at Mubarak, there's going to be a spillover effect.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows and she's got to address the situation extremely carefully - and her comments are informative as to what President Obama is thinking as well. Clinton speaks of an orderly transition, which suggests that the Mubarak regime will end. The only question is when and just how much further bloodshed Egyptians will endure.
1419 The full quote from Mrs Clinton to Fox News, reported by Reuters: "We want to see an orderly transition so that no one fills a void, that there not be a void, that there be a well thought-out plan that will bring about a democratic participatory government."

1417 In what appear to be some of the strongest US comments yet on the situation in Egypt, Mrs Clinton has also called for "an orderly transition", according to reports.

1411 As yet, Mrs Clinton tell US network ABC, there has been "no discussion" about cutting off aid to Egypt, stressing that Egypt's rulers need to refrain from violence against protesters.

1407 Meanwhile, in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken of her concern over events in Egypt. According to extracts of interviews given to US TV networks on Sunday, Mr Mubarak's reforms are the "bare beginning" of a much-needed list of reform.
Some former US officials are calling on President Obama to suspend financial assistance to the Egyptian government and that the President should take a far stronger stand in calling for Mubarak to step down and otherwise prepare new elections and a new political structure that provides for more political and social freedom.

Egyptian protesters are also calling for the US to take a far stronger stand.

There isn't much that the US can or should do here as it has to balance its competing interests and how it can avoid being seen as interfering. If the US acts too strongly to topple Mubarak (including giving too strong a statement in support of the protesters), they will again be seen as meddling in the Middle East, but if they don't give enough support to protesters, they'll be seen as backing a autocratic regime that does not tolerate any dissent.

Clinton's statements are a signal to the Mubarak regime that they're on their last legs and that US support is waning. The Administration is hoping that Mubarak takes the hint and that calls for elections will be heeded. I think that's a step in the right direction.

The Administration is worried about a power vacuum if Mubarak leaves without a government in place to replace him. That's why they haven't called for his resignation as yet.

ElBaradei is now openly propagandizing on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. He would have everyone ignore the Brotherhood's connections to terrorist groups that it has spawned over the decades, including al Qaeda.
"I mean, to ask a dictator to implement democratic measure after 30 years in power is an oxymoron," he said. "So they need to let go of [President Hosni] Mubarak. They need to side with the people. They need to go for, you know, transition, smooth transition, through a government of national salvation. This is only way out."

ElBaradei brushed aside the concerns of the administration and many on Capitol Hill that an opening for the banned Muslim Brotherhood to take greater power in the country could result in an Islamist state. One of the Brotherhood's former members, Ayman al-Zawahri, is al-Qaeda's No. 2.

"This is total bogus that the Muslim Brotherhood are religiously conservative," he said. "They are no way extremists. They are no way using violence. They are not a majority of the Egyptian people. They will not be more than maybe 20 percent of the Egyptian people.

"You have to include them like, you know, new evangelical, you know, groups in the U.S., like the orthodox Jews in Jerusalem," ElBaradei said.

He said the Islamists were "not at all" behind the uprising. He advocated that Mubarak leave immediately and that the army be negotiated with on a national unity government.
While I think most everyone would agree that Mubarak leaving would remove a autocrat whose rule has been ruinous, ignoring who might take his place is troublesome.

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