Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Not a march and not a million, but literally millions ask Mubarak to go away

Updated - Most important development of the last days: the army announced that it will not open fire on Egyptian civilians. Spokesman Ismail Etman of the army made a statement on Monday that the army recognizes the 'right to freedom of expression' and 'the legitimate demands of the people' and that the army will not use force against  'the great people of this great Egyptian nation'. Etman's statement came after numerous unofficial declarations by Egyptian officers in the past days that they only had only orders tot maintain the order and not to interfere with the protests or open fire.
The army's statement meant that protesters throughout the country did not have to fear any violent respression of the protests on this day on which the 'march of a million' was to take place. And out they came. At Tahrir Square, where many people stayed during the night anyway - some even with tents on the grass of the central circle - thousands and thousands gathered around midday in yet unprecedented numbers. Around 13.30 o'clock Egyptian time the number of one million might well have been reached. Some hours later it was estimated that it was closer to two million. The protesters' plan was to march from the square all the way  to the presidential palace in Heliopolis in the north of Cairo, even though it is known that Mubarak himself is in Sharm al-Sheikh at present. However, it looked like this idea had to be abandoned as the army was blocking  all roads around Tahrir. Also there were reports that the roads around the palace were blocked by army checkpoints.

Yesterday, the regime had prepared itself for the worst by again closing down the internet and blocking most of the communication lines. Also train services were suspended in order to make it impossible for protesters to reach Cairo. The army was blocking roads leading into the capital. Egyptair halted all its domestic flights and even its traffic to and from Egypt. It was not making much of a difference. As protesters jokingly remarked: in Cairo alone live already some 20 million people.
Apart from the demonstration in Cairo huge demonstrations took also place elsewhere. In Alexandria the number of protesters was estimated at at least 500.000 but possibly also a million. In Mansoura, Suez and Mahalla el-Kubra the crowds were estimated to number no less than 250.000, while big demonstrations took place also in Ismailiyya, Damietta, Damanhour, Tanta and El Arish. It was guessed, by Al Jazeera somewhere during the afternoon, that probably some 8 million Egyptians, or 10% of the whole population, were out in the streets.
Blogger Hossam Hamalawy (3arabawy) made this picture of relaxing protesters. The sign reads: No to Mubarak.

On Monday finally Mubarak's new government was sworn in. No big surprises there. The hated Interior minister Habib al-Adly was replaced by the former head of the Prison Authority, police general Mahmoud Wagdy, whose reputation is not much better than Adly's. Field marshall Tantawi retained his post at Defense, Abul Gheith remained Foreign minister. Several others, like the minister for economic affairs in the former cabinet, Youssef Boutros Ghali, seem to have declined the offer to return.
The new Vice President Omar Suleiman tried to make overtures towards the opposition.  In a tv appearance he promised to hold talks with the whole opposition about a broad range of affairs. Also he promised to hold new elections in governorates where the results of the last elections had been contested. The opposition was not impressed. The united opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ElBaradei's Movement for Change, Ayman Nouyr's Ghad Party, the Wafd and others, on Tuesday said in a stement that it refuses a dialogue with Mubarak. A peaceful transfer of power could be discussed, however, after the president steps down. Next a coalition government will be formed. The president of Egypt's Supreme Court could take over the presidency in an interim period. Political bodies like the parliament would have to be reelected through new elections and the constitution should be rewritten.    
Meanwhile, not too many people seem to believe that Mubarak will leave very soon. As a journalist of  the leftist opposition newspaper Al-Ahali said on Al-Jazeera English: 'He does not seem to be able to see himself in a position that he is out of Egypt'. And my old friend, former ambassador to Yemen Amin Yousry, who also belongs to the left, over the phone: 'Yes, he will leave. But it will take time.'

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