Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anticlimax - the struggle is not over yet

Egypte has been living through a day of protests on a scale that the country probably has not seen since the months that preceded the revolution of 1952. Like in those days buildings were attacked and property destroyed. In Cairo the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was looted and set on fire. The  same thing thing happend to a number of local  NDP offcices throughout the country. Police stations, and numerous police vehicles were also burned. Also more mundane looting of shops took place.
Fierce street battles were fought in Suez where the number of dead was at least 27, in Alexandria (where the number is believed to be even higher, and in Cairo itself. This Saturday morning 30 bodies were discovered in the Cairo morgue, according to Al-Jazeera English, which added to the five dead that already were known. The known toll  is rising while I write amd may reach tens more.  The number of wounded was over 1000 in Cairo alone.
A dusk to dawn curfew (6 pm till 7 am) was announced for the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez and lateron for the whole of the country, but it was massively neglected. At the same time it was to take effect, the army stepped in, with tanks and APC's (Armoured personel carriers) entering the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. In all three cities the military took positions in the centre (Tahrir Square in Cairo) and around vital positions  (oil installations in Suez, the radio and tv building in Maspero in Cairo). Which role the army is going to play is still not clear. In some instances it intervened in fights between the police and the crowds on the side of the people, elsewhere it chased the crowds away.
The main thing however is the position of the regime. Mubarak finally appeared on tv late last night and gave maybe the most dispappointing speech of  his whole career (which says something for of one who is familiar with the usual quality of his appearances). He said some things about the freedom of the people to demonstrate and express an opinion at the one hand, and talked about the thin line that cannot be crossed towards chaos and anarchy at the other. Under the circumstances his remarks were nothing but butterly insulting. He than went on to announce that he will replace the government.
Of course this is not going to satisfy the people. They were not asking to replace the servants, but demanding that the master himself leave. To quote just one of the many slogans 'Koule shaab ya'oul we yenadi, Hosni Mubarak barra biladi'.  (All the  people say and call: Hosni Mubarak out of my country. - Angry Arab -(professor Asa'ad Abu Khalil)  put a whole collection on his blog. They read like a collection of  beautiful folk poetry).
So, to sum it all up: the protests will go on. As Arabist put it on his blog 'We may be in the middle of a revolution but are not there quite yet'. What and how has yet to transpire. Although some protests still seem to be going on, the real answer to Mubarak's speech is not expected before three o'clock. From that m,oment on,. the situation is expected to be extremely volatile. There is no clarity about the situation within the regime itself. The hours that went before Mubarak finally gave his speech, that was announced at the beginning of the evening, and the fact that Fathi Sorour (speaker of the parliament) at a certain moment was to speak in his place, seem to testifiy to confusion, if not dissent, within the ruling circles. The role of the army also is yet far from clear, with Chief of Staff Sami Enan just only today returning from a visit in the US. And as far as the US itself is concerned, clear signs that the Obama administration may be considering to drop Mubarak, but apparently has not yet made up its mind. An extremely nervous White House spokesman Robert Gibbs yesterday at a press conference said that Egypt might to have to reconsider the assistance it is giving to Egypt if repression of the protests would continue. Also he refused to answer a question whether Obama still 'stands with'  Mubarak. Obama himself in a speech later in the evening remained vague, and only stressed that differences have to be overcome in a dialogue between people and goverment and that the government has to respond to the wishes of the people. We may assume that behind the scenes feverish consultations are going on on what to do with Mubarak, but so far no clarity yet.  

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