Thursday, February 03, 2011

Protesters Continue Defying Mubarak's Regime

After yesterday's riots and skirmishes started when pro-Mubarak groups stampeded camels and horses through Tahrir Square and hundreds of people were injured, the Egyptian Prime Minister apologized for the violence. Gunfire overnight rang out through Tahrir Square and at least five people were killed. That was after hours of melee combat between the pro-Mubarak thugs and protesters included hurling rocks, Molotov cocktails and anything that wasn't firmly attached to the ground.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told state TV that the attack on the anti-government protesters which began late Wednesday was a "blatant mistake" and promised to investigate who was behind it. He said the actions of the pro-Mubarak supporters were "a million percent wrong."

In an attempt to quell the violence, Egyptian army tanks and soldiers cleared away pro-government rioters Thursday and deployed between them and the protesters seeking the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

The protesters accuse the regime of organizing the assault, using paid thugs and policemen in civilian clothes, in an attempt to crush their movement.

Government supporters charged central Tahrir Square Wednesday afternoon, sparking 15 hours of uncontrolled chaos, with the two sides battled with rocks, sticks, bottles and firebombs as soldiers largely stood by without intervening.
Video: Witness: Gangs roam Cairo with 'iron bars, knives' (on this page)

However, the military began to move with muscle to stop the fighting early Thursday after a barrage of automatic gunfire hit the anti-government camp before dawn.

Four tanks cleared a highway overpass from which Mubarak supporters had hurled rocks and firebombs onto the protesters.

Multiple journalists were assaulted by mobs of demonstrators, making it more difficult for reporting to get out. So, what has the Egyptian government/military done?

Well, the military has begun rounding up the journalists.
The Egyptian military started rounding up journalists, possibly for their own protection, on Thursday after they came under attack from supporters of President Hosni Mubarak who have been assaulting anti-government protesters.

The U.S. State Department condemned what it called a "concerted campaign to intimidate" foreign journalists in Egypt. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday that violence against journalists was part of a series of deliberate attacks and called on the Egyptian military to provide protection for reporters.

Foreign photographers reported a string of attacks on them by Mubarak supporters on Thursday near Tahrir Square, the scene of battles between supporters of Mubarak and protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power.

One Greek print journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver. A Greek freelance photographer was punched in the face by a group of men who stopped him on the street near Tahrir Square and smashed some of his equipment.

An Associated Press reporter saw eight foreign journalists detained by the military near the prime minister's office, not far from Tahrir Square

The Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Arabiya pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists.
Instead of capturing those who were assaulting the journalists, the military is squandering an opportunity to do the right thing to maintain the flow of information.

Despite the military's ongoing presence in Cairo, the violence continues as the pro-Mubarak thugs continue their ongoing assault on the protesters.

Meanwhile, jihadis are looking on and trying to figure out how they can take advantage of the situation to further their own agenda.
At, a Web site associated with Al Qaeda in Egypt, the call was for foreign youths to come to Egypt to join the jihad.

“Hey, brothers, the fall of Egypt’s tyrant is a fall of the earth’s tyrants,” it urged. “This is the time to slaughter the cow.”

That, one expert said, was about the most they could make of the crisis.

“Like always, Al Qaeda’s online movement is viewing this through consummately opportunist lenses,” said Jarret Brachman, a counterterrorism consultant and author of the book “Global Jihadism,” who monitors jihadi Web sites.

Elsewhere, Web postings urged jihadis in Egypt to attack the Arish-Ashkelon gas pipeline, which goes to Israel. “This is a chance to stop the supply to the Israelites,” urged a writer on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist Web sites.

In Yemen, where Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula is stronger, the group posted a videotaped speech by its deputy leader Abu Sufyan al-Azdi encouraging attacks on a Shiite group that it considered part of an Iranian advance on the country, according to SITE.

The jihadi groups, which created mayhem in Egypt in the early part of the last decade, were largely crushed by Mr. Mubarak’s government, and do not enjoy popular support. They face structural challenges in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative but nonviolent organization, forms the best-known political opposition.

Though many Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, began in the Muslim Brotherhood, the two movements have often contrary positions, and the Brotherhood on Tuesday announced its support of Mohamed ElBaradei, a liberal Muslim, to lead an opposition umbrella group in negotiations on a new government to replace Mr. Mubarak’s — a position that is antithetical to Al Qaeda, because it exalts human authority rather than divine.

On Hanein, a Qaeda Web site, a poster using the name Citizen of the Village called jihadis to join with the Muslim Brotherhood because both supported Islamic revolution, whatever their differences.

“You have printed the exact truth,” another replied. “We have to sacrifice for our religion and not let titles hinder us.”

From their weakened position, some jihadis struggled to figure out their role in the protests in Cairo.

In a post on the Ansar al-Mujahedeen forum, translated by SITE, an anonymous writer noted many jihadis’ objections to the demonstrators’ “mistakes and distance from religion.”

But he added, “it is nevertheless our duty not to ignore the benefits that may come about,” including an empty throne. “Jihadists may then leap on that throne.”

Yet, the writer also acknowledged that within the jihadi movement many felt that replacing Mr. Mubarak with a secular, democratic leader might mean simply exchanging one tyrant with ties to the United States with another. “So we wait and do not care for those revolutionaries against injustice, and we continue our jihadi path and the support of our jihadi brothers.” Ultimately, “separating the jihadi movement from the popular Muslim movement is the end of this movement,” he wrote.
Perhaps most ominous are the calls for the jihadi groups to come under the Muslim Brotherhood umbrella to help topple the Mubarak regime.

There are reports that the Egyptian Central Bank is imposing limits on how much depositors can withdraw. That would suggest that the Bank is contemplating a possible bank run - except that the news of those limits might itself bring on a bank run not just in Cairo, but around the country. That's going to upset the already delicate economic situation even further and would suggest that the government is even more worried about the financial picture than they're letting on.

Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that the Egyptian Constitution will be amended to impose term limits and who can or can't be elected to the presidency.
1457: More from Vice-President Suleiman, as reported by state TV: He says articles 76 and 77 of the Egyptian constitution will be amended, and other articles are open to amendment as well. Article 76 specifies who can or can't run for president, and article 77 says the president can be re-elected, without specifying a term limit.
That's not sufficient to placate the protesters.

The BBC is also reporting that at least one employee at the state-run television network has quit over the propagandizing nature of the network's reporting:
1450: Shahira Amin, was until yesterday a journalist with the state-run Egyptian channel, Nile TV. She told the BBC World Service that she had to leave her job because she no longer felt able to report the state view when what she saw on the street was so different: "We were basically showing the pro-Mubarak rallies all day long, as if that was the only thing that was happening. I couldn't show what was happening here in Tahrir. I couldn't even report the figures as they were. So no thank you. I feel liberated."
NYT Lede coverage continues here.

Mohamed ElBaradei has given Mubarak 48 hours to leave the country, but that's an idle threat since ElBaradei doesn't exactly have the power to make that happen. It's just a strong statement made in the hopes of currying favor among the disparate opposition groups.

The regime is systematically attempting to thwart reporting of the protests, the riots by pro-Mubarak thugs, and otherwise getting the news out about the ongoing conditions in the country.
Many journalists covering the protests in Egypt were detained and attacked on Thursday, and human rights groups were also a target, in what appeared to be an escalating effort to block reports on the violence.

The Egyptian security forces were rounding up workers for human rights groups as well as foreign journalists, witnesses in Cairo said. Security police raided the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, where many nongovernmental organizations operate. They ordered people there to lie on the floor and disabled their mobile phones. Two people were being interrogated. The state news agency Thursday has asked foreign press to evacuate all the hotels near Tahrir Square.

The Committee to Protect Journalists was investigating at least 10 cases of reporters being detained on Thursday. The government told the journalists that they were not being arrested but rather taken into "protective custody," according to the group.
There are protests in Gaza to support the anti-Mubarak protesters, but similar protests were disbanded by Hamas in Gaza and Fatah has prevented similar gatherings in the West Bank. The PA Prime Minister says that the Egyptian situation is blamed on the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Thursday during a visit to Paris that he thinks the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is playing into the unrest in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Fayyad said he thinks protesters' complaints stem partly from the internal situations in countries hit by unrest, but also from "a frustration, a desperation because of the failure of efforts to solve the Palestinian problem."
Ah, when all else fails, blame Israel. Never mind that the situation in Egypt is directly related to with the failure of Mubarak to provide socioeconomic opportunities and allow a political process to develop and flourish that was open - high food costs, high unemployment, and lack of political participation have nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the autocratic regime in place whose economic policies have led to more than half the population of Egypt living on less than $2 a day.

And you wonder why I have no expectation of success in a peace process when Israel is demonized its so-called partners in peace at every opportunity.

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