Following up one some questions asked yesterday about the progress of reform and democratization in Egypt, some news. The combined opposition is asking for the replacement of the current cabinet, backed by the army and led by former Mubarak minister Ahmed Shafiq, by a ‘technocratic government’ during transitional period to elections. In addition, they’re asking for an end to the state of emergency, and the release of political prisoners. And they want to stage a demonstration for that (even though the army has indicated no more protests are allowed).
In Egypt, an opposition coalition — including the Wafd Party, the Nasserist Party, the Tagammu Party, the newly founded al-Wasat Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and youth representatives — has called for the replacement of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s government with a technocratic government during the transitional period to elections.
The coalition also demanded a new Constitution for a parliamentary state, the dismantling of the state security apparatus, the ending of the state of emergency, the release of all political prisoners, and the dismantling of the National Democratic Party and of corrupt local councils.
With all the attention focused on Libya, let’s not forget about that other revolution we so happily cheered on: Egypt. Because what happens after the departure of Mubarak might be more important than his departure itself.
How are things going in Egypt? Has the state of emergency already been lifted? Are constitutional reforms underway? Are political prisoners released? Does the opposition play a role? How’s the army Supreme Council communicating with the people?
The answer to those first four questions today: no, or not really, or unsure. Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books (which I recommend to read entirely!):
The fate of Egypt’s revolution – brought to a pause by the military’s seizure of power on 11 February, after Mubarak’s non-resignation address to his ‘children’ – remains uncertain. Mubarak is gone, but the streets have been mostly cleared of protesters and the army has filled the vacuum: chastened, yet still in power and with considerable resources at its disposal. Until elections are held in six months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will be ruling by decree, without the façade of parliamentary government. The parliament, voted into office in rigged elections, has been dissolved, a move that won wide support, and a new constitution is being drafted, but it’s not clear how much of a hand the opposition will have in shaping it. More ominously, the Supreme Council has vowed to punish anyone it can accuse of spreading ‘chaos and disorder’. The blunt rhetoric of its communiqués may be refreshing after the speeches of Mubarak, his son Gamal and the industrialists who dominated the ruling National Democratic Party, with their formulaic promises of reform and their talk of the nobility of the Egyptian people but ten days ago in Tahrir Square the protesters said – maybe even believed – that the army and the people stood together. Today the council’s communiqués are instructions, not proposals to be debated, and it has notably failed to answer the protesters’ two most urgent demands: the repeal of the Emergency Law and the release of thousands of political prisoners.
So far, most Egyptians have been willing to give the Supreme Council the benefit of the doubt. As in any revolutionary situation, the desire for order and security is nearly as strong as the desire for change, and, after 18 days of protests, the army has provided both – with a decided emphasis on the former.
Egypt’s military rulers swore in a Cabinet with 11 new ministers yesterday, a nod to the protest movement that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
However, three former members of the Mubarak regime retained senior posts.
The move comes as the military leadership overseeing the country’s transition is trying to assure Egyptians that it is committed to democratic reforms.
However, the decision to keep Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and Justice Minister Mamdouh Marie — three former Mubarak loyalists — in their posts drew criticism from youth activists who helped launch the uprising on Jan. 25.
And, the Muslim Brotherhood has invited back to the country one Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: a 84-year old popular (television) preacher who is not known for his fondness of the West, Israel, or Jews. While the truth of the assertion, done by some, that this guy is Egypt’s Ayatollah Khomeini is very questionable, Al-Qaradawi does seem to have spoken to a crowd of 1 million in Tahrir Square. This seemed to have overshadowed or blocked a performance by Google executive Wael Ghonim, who became the young face of the revolution during the uprising.
One of the western media’s favorite Egyptian rebels is Google executive Wael Ghonim. No surprise there: if you had to choose among radical clerics like al-Qaradawi, hooligans like those who assaulted Lara Logan, and a suave, Westernized Google exec, whom would you want to interview? Ghonim was present on Friday and intended to address the crowd, but he was barred from the platform by al-Qaradawi’s security. He left the stage in distress, “his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.”
Yusuf Qaradawi, the 84-year-old preacher whose roots are in the old Muslim Brotherhood before the latter turned to parliamentary politics, is nevertheless no Ayatollah Khomeini. Qaradawi addressed thousands in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. Qaradawi called for Muslims to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda alongside US troops in 2001. On Friday he praised the Coptic Christian role in the Egyptian revolution and said that the age of sectarianism is dead. Qaradawi is a reactionary on many issues, but he is not a radical and there is no reason to think that either the Youth or Workers’ Movements that chased Hosni Mubarak out of the country is interested in having Qaradawi tell them what to do.
And here’s a video of Sheik Al-Qaradawi making some very nasty comments about Adolf Hitler and the Jews, accompanied by commentary from a reader of Andrew Sullivan.
If the recent proclamations from the Muslim Brotherhood about “freedom for all,” “true democracy” and “human rights” aren’t just the convenient talking points of the moment (for political expediency), but represent a genuine commitment to reform, then why would they invite Mr. Qaradawi to return from 30 years in exile and preside over that truly historic event on Friday? Are there no other more “moderate” preachers they could find in all of Egypt?
So, all the more reason to remain ever so vigilant about what happens in Egypt post-Mubarak!
So it has now been two days since Mubarak finally exited the scene. There has been lost of interesting stories emerge since that time. Apparently the army expected Mubarak to resign Thursday night Egypt time. But, notwithstanding pleading from the head of his Party, fighting within his own appointed cabinet and military impatience, Mubarak could not be persuaded beyond the insistence of his son Gamal that “he could still ride out the turmoil“.
And, most importantly, the army has started to make moves. The most significant of these to date have come this morning. The Supreme Council of the Military has announced that it is dissolving the Egyptian parliament, suspending the constitution and calling for elections to be held within six months. The army is also leaving in place a civilian caretaker government meant to ensure the stability of the Egyptian economy and safety of the Egyptian people.
That said, as Al Jazeera is reporting, it is “”quite clear that the power now rests entirely” with the military council”. And, of course commitments for reform are not the same as reform. And at least two points of contention remain it seems. First, it is not clear if the suspending of the constitution is sufficient to end ‘emergency rule’, a clear demand of protestors. There are mixed reports on that point. And second, the same Al Jazeera piece is reporting that there have been some skirmishes between soldiers that are pushing for people to return home and to get back to ‘ordinary’ life and protestors who seem to want to continue to hold Tahrir Square until more is known.
Also, I am not seeing anything at this point about how the military intends to integrate opposition members and representatives of the protestors into the process of democratic reform or about the release of the many people still detained. These are very important points.
Nonetheless, while questions do remain (see this post), I see todays developments quite positively. Each of these moves, while somewhat ambiguous, are all very good news. There is a clear timeline to move to civilian democratic leadership, free and fair elections were simply not possible under the existing, now suspended, constitution and protestors rightly saw Parliament as illegitimate given the record of fraudulent elections and it has been sent home.
- Update: Just talked to a friend in Cairo who is not an organizer but has been at Tahrir Square daily for most of the protests. He is saying two interesting things. First, that he and others still trust the army, suggesting that people still feel safe in the army’s presence. This fits with images on TV of protestors still chanting that the people and the army are united. Second, that the army is now “everywhere” taking up a much more visible presence in the city then merely hours ago. Personally I do not see the army as a neutral force up to this point and am not convinced just yet that a hand off of power to the army is consistent with, or will fulfill, the demands of the protestors so I am less certain about what to make of this. Nonetheless the background noise during the call was truly joyful. Lots of people honking their horns (beyond the incessant horn honking that is normal in Cairo. People chanting and singing. And everybody seemed to be heading towards the square. If the protestors or a sizeable chunk off them reject whatever comes next tonight the result could be overwhelming. At the same time it may risk massive division with the protestors. I ended the call telling him to be safe and to have an amazing time the square tonight; he laughed, told me not worry, and told me how incredibly happy he was. Let’s see what will happen next.
- Update: NYT reporting indicates this is basically an army takeover, a military intervention. Should we be too happy about that?
- Update: Wael Ghonim has written on his Twitter feed:
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and protest organizer whose anti-torture Facebook page helped spark the movement, wrote on his Twitter feed Thursday evening: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.”
“This is not a coup in the traditional sense,” the official said. “But this is a transfer of the system of government from the civilian to military. The military is stepping up, recognizing its responsibility to the Egyptian people.”
“These were all definite and conclusive steps toward a political process under the constitution,” the official said, referring to the effort to implement reforms. “But this political process never received enough support” — neither from Egyptians nor the international community. “Now we have to go outside the constitutional frame.”
Word of this is going to spread and will begin to counter the dominant narrative in Egyptian media about the people and the army being one. The longer this crisis persists, the more difficult for the army to continue either playing a double game or sitting on the fence. With Omar Suleiman’s threats of coups and the protests spreading to work stoppages across the country, decision time will be coming for the protestors to make up their minds about the army (or launch a more pronounced campaign to persuade commanders), for the army’s leadership to decide how it will proceed in a context where it is losing control, and for rank-and-file in the military to decide where they stand in all this.
- Update: There are serious of key issues here that require further clarification before it becomes clear how much change is actually about to occur. They include, but are not limited to: 1) Who will succeed Mubarak?; 2) Will there be constitutional amendments that will actually democratize any forthcoming elections (e.g., allow opposition members to organize and run in elections)? 3) What role will representatives of the uprising have in making those changes?; 4) How fast will those changes and any elections happen?; and 5) What will happen to those who have been, and are currently, detained?
Until some of these questions optimism should be quite cautious folks.
- Update: Al Jazeera English is reporting that nearly 3 million people are now in Tahrir Square!
- Update: Mubarak is live! Doubt he is leaving, his first few minutes is filled with “I wills”.
He characterizes past problems like torture and fraud as “mistakes” that “can happen in any system of government”.
He is relying on previously announced concessions, ‘I promised you that I will not run again for elections’, we are examining the constitution, etc.
“We have lost martyrs”, calling people sons and daughters. This dude is daring those 3 million people to burn down his palace (not that I am endorsing that). What a stubborn bastard.
The crowd is going nuts. What is happening?
He is trotting all the same bullshit he trotted out last speech. How does he think that is going to go with protests that are growing in size as this carries on?
People are chanting Leave! Out! Out! and waving their shoes in Tahrir Square.
He is talking about the determination of Egyptian people wait till this poor bastard wakes up tomorrow!
And that is it for Mubarak with 3 million royally pissed off people in the square. This is about to get ugly.
Soooo… There was not a single new concession in that speech. He had already said that he delegated powers to the VP. He reiterated his commitments to fixing this himself. And he clearly did not step down. I argued last week that Mubarak is misstepping and I believe it even more tonight.
- Update: The Guardian‘s Matt Wells is in Tahrir Square:
At one point Mubarak made a reference to being a young man and understanding the young men of Egypt – basically the people who are here – and at that moment the whole square erupted in anger. At that point, the whole square exploded in anger. The way that Mubarak is comparing himself to the people on the ground infuriated them.
And when it became clear that the that Mubarak intended to stay on until September, the square shook with fury. “We are not going until he goes,” they chanted.
CNN is interviewing a guy saying that Mubarak clearly does not want “to leave the country in one piece” and “has no brain”.
- Update: So what happens tomorrow? The day will clearly start with Friday prayers. After that? Does the crowd swell again? Do they finally march on the palace? Do they move to face Parliament? Does the army stay out of the way or impede protests? Does Mubarak launch another crackdown that includes arbitrary detention, torture and murder using police and/or other thugs?
- Update: CNN is now reporting people are leaving the square and chanting that they are going to the palace? Al Jazeera reports of demonstrations in Alexandria, and people marching towards army headquarters. Mubarak’s infuriating speech may tilt the relationship between the protesters and the army. They’re reporting about extreme anger on Tahrir Square now.
- Update: Well, we here at LSDimension are going to sign off for a bit so that we can try to catch up. But first I wanted to make four points: first, everyone should know that his post is both the work of Adriejan and myself; second, Suleiman is about to speak, though I doubt it will add much of anything; third, I think Mubarak is attempting to goad more extreme protests so that he can justify a more violence crackdown (I am quite worried this is going to get really ugly); and, fourth, what has happened tonight also paints the American intelligence services in poor light again. Senior US sources were behind the false rumours that Mubarak was going. They were wrong. The CIA director also made comments that are now unfounded. After Obama’s comments earlier about watching a transformation and history in the making, the US again comes off looking poor in this.
As they just put in on Al Jazeera: the revolution will start tomorrow.
Today is ‘day of departure’ in Egypt – while people on the street are calling on Mubarak to leave, President Obama is putting pressure behind the scenes to effectuate the same. Vice President Omar Suleiman is poised to take over leadership, and there is talk of inviting opposition groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss constitutional reforms. This may seem like victory, but what happens on the background probably has more weight.
Via Andrew Sullivan, a couple of analyses that put the events in Egypt of the past few days in perspective. Basically, they cast a (from our point of view) not-so-favorable light on the Egyptian military, as well as put Mubarak and his son’s decision not to run for president (again) in perspective. I’ll discuss them here in a couple of posts.
Even though the military in the first stage of this uprising has seemed to be on the hand of the people (or at least not striking them down), the extent to which the army dominates Egyptian society – politically, culturally as well as economically – can not be ignored. What happens in Egypt happens through the military – and that, apparently, also seems to go for who runs the country. With Mubarak’s son Gamal gone, the army seems to be in full control of the country again.
Samuel Tadros at The American Interest blog, in a great piece, provides background on the role of the military in Egyptian society, Egyptian politics in the last twenty years, as well as the Mubarak dynasty:
The Egyptian army, incidentally, is hugely popular, due to a well-established myth in Egyptian politics. The army—which is for all intents and purposes the regime—is seen as separate from it by the people. The army is viewed as clean (not like the corrupt government), efficient (they do build bridges fast) and, more importantly, composed of the heroes who defeated Israel in 1973. (It’s no use debating this point with an Egyptian.) Thus people really did think the troops and tanks appearing in the streets were on their side—whatever that might mean. Egyptians, putting their own reading on why the President’s upcoming address kept being delayed, fully expected Mubarak’s resignation.
Mubarak decided to appoint Omar Suliman as Vice President and Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister. Both are military men, Suliman being the Chief of the Egyptian Intelligence Service and Shafik being the former commander of the Air Forces.
It is no news for anyone following Egyptian politics that Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son was being groomed to follow his father. In reality, the elder Mubarak was never fully behind that scenario. Whether because of a real assessment of his son’s capabilities or because of the army unwillingness to accept such a scenario, Mubarak was hesitant. It was Mubarak’s wife, rather, who was heavily pushing that scenario. Step by step, Gamal started to rise up the ranks of the ruling NDP party.
The army never liked Gamal or his friends. Gamal had never served in the military. And now to add insult to injury, their technocratic, neo-liberal policies were threatening the army’s dominance of the closed economy. The party was becoming, step by step, an actual organization capable of competing with army officers to fill administrative positions.
As long as President Mubarak was there, however, the army stayed silent. The army is 100 percent loyal to the President. He is an October War hero and their Commander in Chief.
As the recent events unfolded, the army was finally able to demonstrate their narrative to the President and get his backing—that narrative being that Gamal and his friends ruined everything. Their neo-liberal policies alienated people and robbed them of their subsidies, and they destroyed the political system by aiming to crush all opposition.
1. The Gamal inheritance scenario is finished.
2. Mubarak will not run for another Presidential term. His term ends in October and either he will serve the rest of his term or will resign once things cool down for health reasons. (These concerns, incidentally, are real; he is in fact dying.)
3. The army is in control now. We are heading back to the “golden age” of army rule. The “kids” are not in charge anymore; the “men” are back in control.
4. Until the economy fails again, neo-liberal economic policies are over. Forget about seeing an open economy any time soon.
Tadros also confirms what I’ve suspected since the beginning: that Mohamed El Baradei, the darling of the Western media, really does not have a role at all in real-life Egyptian politics:
You might, after all of this, be asking yourself where El Baradei and the Egyptian opposition factor into all of this. CNN’s anointed leader of the Egyptian Revolution must somehow be an important figure for Egypt’s future. Hardly! Outside Western media hype, El Baradei is nothing. A man who has spent less than thirty days in the past year and hardly any time in the past twenty years in Egypt is a nobody. It is insulting to Egyptians to suggest otherwise.
And what of the opposition? Outside the Muslim Brotherhood, no opposition group can claim more than about 5,000 actual members. With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders, the opposition is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It is the apolitical-cum-political generation of young Egyptians that is the real enigma in all this.
- Edit: The NYT confirms this picture. Let’s just forget about Mohamed El Baradei, shall we?
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been authorized by the protesters to negotiate with the authorities, said no one from government had contacted him, but he was still standing by.
So the question is: will the army relinquish power, by opening up free and fair elections in September? Let’s have an honest answer to that…