Friday, February 11, 2011

The worst speech in history?

Tahrir, Thursday evening. It started in a somewhat festive mood.

Enormous crowds had assembled at Tahrir on Thursday evening - it is difficult to think of new superlatrives but there might have been more people than ever - and he news was that Mubarak would make an announcement. It was expected that he was going to say that he would leave. Instead Mubarak held a rambling speech during which he made clear that he would stay till September and 'die and be buried in Egypt'. He said he was handing 'functions of the president" to Vice-President Omar Suleiman and that he would oversee an "exit" from the current crisis, and would "realise the demands voiced by the youth and citizens ... without undermining the constitution in a manner that ensures the stability of our society".
After him came Suleiman who called on everybody to go home. "Youth of Egypt, heroes of Egypt, go back to your homes and businesses. The country needs you so that we build, develop and create," Suleiman said.
"Do not listen to tendentious radios and satellite televisions which have no aim but ignite disorder, weaken Egypt and distort its image."

Updated Friday 11.30 a.m The people on Tahrir, where  beforehand concerts by several bands had been announced and where the mood was expectant and rather festive, listened till three quarters into the speech and then started to get extremely angry and shout 'donkey, go'.and took aff their shoes to wave them as a sign of contempt  Similar scenes were seen in Alexandria. Thesphere was of extreme anger. Mohammed El Baradei, one of the opposition leaders, twittered that the situation was so tense that the army had to step in to save the country, a statement that most probably was not going to make him more popular with most of of his fellow protesters.

Marc Lynch commented in Foreign Policy that same evening:
It's hard to exaggerate how bad Hosni Mubarak's speech today was for Egypt.   In the extended runup to his remarks, every sign indicated that he planned to announce his resignation: the military's announcement that it had taken control, the shift in state television coverage, a steady stream of leaks about the speech.   With the whole world watching, Mubarak instead offered a meandering, confused speech promising vague Constitutional changes and defiance of foreign pressure.   He offered a vaguely worded delegation of power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, long after everyone in Egypt had stopped listening.  It is virtually impossible to conceive of a more poorly conceived  or executed speech.
Omar Suleiman's televised address which followed made things even worse, if that's possible, telling the people to go home and blaming al-Jazeera for the problems.   It solidified the already deep distrust of his role among most of the opposition and of the protestors, and tied his fate to that of Mubarak.    Even potentially positive ideas in their speeches, such as Constitutional amendments, were completely drowned out by their contemptuous treatment of popular demands
For Friday even bigger demonstrations than ever are expected and angry crowds might try to march towards the Television Building at Maspero or the Presidential Palace in Abdine. Both places are heavily guarded by the presidential guard of the army.
Still a huge question mark remains over what the overall army position is going to be. Yesterday the army's ''Supreme Council' met under Defense minister Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi (but without Mubarak who nominally still is their commander in chief') and issued a rather vague 'Statement number 1'  which said the army 'supported the legitimate demands of the people' and had begun to take 'necessary measures to protect the nation'.
Friday morning the same Supreme Council convened again and issued 'Statement n. 2', which, however, didn't much to bring more clarity. It said that the army is going to guarantee that the promises that Mubarak made will be fulfilled, that fair elections will take place in September, that no protesters will be prosecuted. It appealed on the protesters to go home and return to a normallife, and said the State of Emergency can be lifted as soon as the demonstrations have ended. The army thereby seemed to follow the route that Mubarak and Suleiman have laid out, but at the same time Statement nr 2 did not clarify which role the army effectively is going to fulfill, or even who is ruling Egypt at this very moment.

Also the US stand is still not completely clear. Apart from the repeated statements which stress the need for changes which should be implemented fast, with Secretary of State Clinton taking somewhat of that back, when she on 7 February said that the US supports the talks on and orderly transition led by Suleiman, there are no signs that the US is taking an active role. After Mubaraks's speech Obama conferred with his National Security team and issued a statement that expressed impatience. He challenged Egypt's leaders to plainly explain what the new changes mean and how they would help those who have led an uprising since late January. 'Too many Egyptians remain unconvinced that the government is serious about a genuine transition to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world,' Obama  said. "The Egyptian government must put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy.' But still there were no signs that the U.S was even contemplating to suspend their 2,5 billion aid to Egypt as long as the matter of the transition of government has not been settled.
And also there are of course the sounds from Israel that does not want to drop one of its staunchest allies, as well as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirats (and also Kuwait?) which have made it known that they still stand firmly behind Mubarak  Saudi King Abdallah went even so far as to offer to replace the U.S.aid  package  to Egypt  in case the U.S. might withdraw its funding. Is that what Mubarak is gambling on? Hoping that the army will keep him place and back him ? A very frightening question

No comments: