Sunday, January 30, 2011

A vice-president as a deus ex machina, and more protests to come

The appointment of lieutenant general Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt's mukhabarat (intelligence), as vice-president is not going to change anything. Suleiman (74), a man who among other things is responsible for maintaining the siege of Gaza and who acted frequently as a go-between in the framework of the 'peace process' between Israel and the Palestinians, is very much considered to be one of Mubarak's men. His appointment, Saturday evening, as the first vice-president Mubarak ever chose in the 30 years of his presidency, may be welcomed in the US and Israel - although the Americans made some remarks that 'changing the deck is not enough' and  that real change is needed. For the Egyptians however, Suleiman is just another extension of  Mubarak's regime. In the streets of Cairo the slogans were immediately adapted to the changing circumstances: the people no longer asked for Mubarak alone to go, but included Suleiman as well.
No need of course to say much about the choice of Ahmed Shafiq as prime minister. He is even more Mubarak's man than Suleiman, since he once served in the airforce as a pilot in Mubarak's  squadron. But apart from that,  prime ministers in a system like Egypt's don't mean that much. They are mainly the executive arm of the president and can be replaced by someone else like a pair of shoes.
Of course there were also speculations that the nomination of Suleiman was just a preparation for Mubarak to step down and transfer the power to this deputy. But alsothat would be nothing but a continuation of the regime.
Protesters ride on a tank through Cairo. The military have been greeted by the people when they stepped in, but still it is not completely clear if the army will take sides. (Photo Ramy Raoof)

So the intifada is going to continue. And the prospects are not only good. Amidst continuing uncertainty about which side the army is on, the presence of the military was increased in the streets. Communications are still not fully restored. Also the Egyptian authorities ordered the office of Al-Jazeera, the channel that without any doubt had by far the best coverage of the events till now, to close. A bad omen that more violence might be coming. So far there are well over a 100 dead and far more than a 1000 wounded.
The latest news however is that protesters are again reurning to the streets. As for looting and thuggery the situation seems to be calm by now. There were reports of looting. Among other things the big Carrefour supermaket in the luxury suburb of Ma'adi was plundered. The Egyptian Museum was broken into and two mummies were destroyed and in many quarters shops and property were destroyed.  Many of the looting and thurggery seemed to be the work of government beltagi's (thugs - a well known Egyptian phenomenon in some quarters who are master of their quater or street), but who in this case seemd to be government beltagi's, or rather policemen in civilian clothes and often armed. My friend Noha Radwan, who managed to get back to Cairo Yesterday morning from the US where she teaches at a university, tells me that right now the situation is under control. Committees of armed  civilians that were formed spontaneously, protect property in many quarters, while other civilians are directing traffic, as the police have completely disappeared from the streets. Noha also stresses that the extend of the looting seems to be rather exaggerated by the foreign media, as it in fact took place on a rather limited scale.
Slogan in Cairo: Down with Mubarak and Gamal.

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