An Egypt Roundup

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 29, 2011

Obviously, things are moving very fast in Egypt, and it is hard to keep up. But it’s necessary to, so here are some links to stories on the uprising.

1. The BBC has continuous updates on the situation, which you can read here. I am not going to do any excerpting, but suffice it to say that for now, the situation in Egypt appears to be similar to the situation on the Titanic once it hit the iceberg. All sorts of people appear to be fleeing the country, including people in the upper echelons of the political establishment. Al Jazeera has a live blog as well, and you can watch its live feed here (it doesn’t always cover the events in Egypt, of course).

2. The bloodshed has been immense:

More than 100 people have been killed during anti-government protests that have swept Egypt, according to a Reuters tally of reports from medical sources, hospitals and witnesses.

There was no official figure, and the real figure may be very different, given the confusion on the streets.

[. . .]

On Saturday, medical sources told Reuters around 2,000 people had been wounded throughout the country, however with more protests erupting, that number was almost certain to rise.

3. There is no hesitation on the part of the Egyptian police to use force in order to put down the protests:

Egyptian police shot dead 17 people trying to attack two police stations on Saturday in Beni Suef governorate, south of Cairo, witnesses and medical sources said.

Twelve of those shot were attempting to attack a police station in Biba while five others were trying to attack another in Nasser city. Dozens of others were injured in the exchanges.

4. An insight regarding the developing political situation is provided here:

As street protests flared for a fifth day, Mr. Mubarak fired his cabinet and appointed Omar Suleiman, his right-hand man and the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president. Mr. Mubarak, who was vice president himself when he took power after the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat, had until now steadfastly refused pressure to name any successor, so the move stirred speculation that he was planning to resign.

That, in turn, raised the prospect of an unpredictable handover of power in a country that is a pivotal American ally — a fear that administration officials say factored into President Obama’s calculus not to push for Mr. Mubarak’s resignation, at least for now.

The appointments of two former generals — Mr. Suleiman and Ahmed Shafik, who was named prime minister — also signaled the central role the armed forces will play in shaping the outcome of the unrest. But even though the military is widely popular with the public, there was no sign that the government shakeup would placate protesters, who added anti-Suleiman slogans to their demands.

On Saturday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Noble laureate and a leading critic of the government, told Al Jazeera that Mr. Mubarak should step down immediately so that a new “national unity government” could take over, though he offered no details about its makeup.

The story also indicates what position the army may be taking regarding the protests:

It was unclear whether the soldiers in the streets were operating without orders or in defiance of them. But their displays of support for the protesters were conspicuous throughout the capital. In the most striking example, four armored military vehicles moved at the front of a crowd of thousands of protesters in a pitched battle against the Egyptian security police defending the Interior Ministry.

But the soldiers refused protesters’ pleas to open fire on the security police. And the police battered the protesters with tear gas, shotguns and rubber bullets. There were pools of blood in the streets, and protesters carried at least a dozen wounded from the front line of the clashes.

Everywhere in Cairo, soldiers and protesters hugged or snapped pictures together on top of military tanks. With the soldiers’ consent, protesters scrawled graffiti denouncing Mr. Mubarak on many of the tanks. “This is the revolution of all the people,” read a common slogan. “No, no, Mubarak” was another.

One camouflage-clad soldier shouted through a megaphone from the top of a tank: “I don’t care what happens, but you are the ones who are going to make the change!”

This ought to terrify the Mubarak regime.

5. Regarding the political changes made at the top, it ought to surprise no one that the naming of a new government does nothing to satisfy the likes of Mohamed ElBaradei. Why should it? The opposition clearly–and accurately–perceives that Mubarak is in terrible trouble, and will not be satisfied with half measures made by the regime to try to preserve its power. And of course, it is not just the opposition heads who are dissatisfied with Mubarak’s efforts to calm the masses:

A 43-year-old teacher, Rafaat Mubarak, said the appointment of the president’s intelligence chief and longtime confidant, Omar Suleiman, as vice president did not satisfy the protesters.

“This is all nonsense. They will not fool us anymore. We want the head of the snake,” he said in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. “If he is appointed by Mubarak, then he is just one more member of the gang. We are not speaking about a branch in a tree, we are talking about the roots.”

One trusts that Rafaat Mubarak is not a relative of the president. If he is, the next family reunion will be awkward.

6. The rumors are flying fast and furious:

Workers in the resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh are convinced Hosni Mubarak is holed up in his winter residence after fleeing rioters in Cairo.

The president is a frequent visitor to the resort and has hosted a number of world leaders there at his home, which is located inside the sprawling complex of a golf hotel.

Last night the long entrance driveway to the residence was guarded by a small number of armed police who turned away all approaching vehicles.

At the nearby main public entrance to the Maritim Jolie Ville Golf Hotel, guards refused to answer questions about the whether Mubarak was at home.

A worker walking home from the hotel said: “You are not safe here.

Everyone says he is here and so they are watching for people taking photographs.

7. Naturally, a great many countries in the region are looking closely at what is happening in Egypt. And the reactions are as varied as they are interesting:

Saudi Arabia slammed protesters in Egypt on Saturday as “infiltrators” who seek to destabilize their country, while a a top Palestinian official affirmed “solidarity” with Egypt.

An official in Iran called on Egypt to “abide by the rightful demands of the nation” and avoid violent reactions.

And in Israel, a member of the Knesset, or parliament, described a recent conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that suggested that Mubarak had been expecting — and preparing for — the wave of unrest that has engulfed Egypt, the most populous Arab nation.

Leaders across the Middle East were following events in Egypt with rapt attention Saturday, aided in that endeavor by saturation coverage on Arabic television networks such as Al-Jazeera. Many are on edge after protests in Algeria, Jordan and Yemen following unrest in Tunisia that forced that country’s president from office after two decades in power.

In Saudi Arabia, the turmoil in Egypt rattled investors as the nation’s stock market lost over 6% of its value Saturday.

That said, Saudi King Abdullah called Mubarak and “was reassured” about the situation in Egypt, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.

“During the call, the king said, ‘Egypt is a country of Arabism and Islam. No Arab and Muslim human being can bear that some infiltrators, in the name of freedom of expression, have infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt, to destabilize its security and stability and they have been exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction, intimidation, burning, looting and inciting a malicious sedition,’” the news agency said.

Developing . . . with Saudi Arabia potentially being next in the headlines.

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