Egyptian Demonstrators Rev up for Big Friday as Regime Cracks Down

As of Friday Egypt began being cut off from text messaging and internet access was disrupted ahead of planned mass protests. At 12:30 am Egyptian time, according to an email sent around by activists, the internet went down completely.

The government is attempting to interfere in dissidents’ ability to organize. Similar techniques were used by the Iranian state in summer of 2009 to deflect the Green Movement.

The extraordinary measures taken by the Hosni Mubarak government to interfere in the protests contrasted with the situation in Sanaa, Yemen, where the government allowed tens of thousands of protesters to come out. Afraid that they might be dispersed, the demonstrators split up, rallying at four different points in the capital. They thereby made it more difficult to deal with them just by closing off a road or two. Pro-government forces staged a counter-rally. This according to Al-Sharq al-Awsat. The Yemeni Interior Ministry said that Yemen is a multi-party, pluralistic society and that parties could protest as long as they did so peacefully. The opposition parties participating were the fundamentalist-yet-tribal al-Islah [Reform], the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Union of Popular Forces, al-Haqq Party, and the Arab Socialist Baath Party. (While it is true that Yemen has several parties, and that in the 1990s the country experimented with relatively free and fair parliamentary elections, the government thereafter interfered more). In any case, President Ali Abdullah Saieh (so far) seems to think there isn’t much harm in letting people blow off steam this way. Rural towns have seen protests for some time.

Back to Egypt: rumors are flying that secret police are themselves dousing automobiles with gasoline and are planning to set them aflame and to blame Muslim fundamentalists for various acts of sabotage, as a way of discrediting the protests. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these charges.

Arabic wire services, reporting from Cairo, alleged that the Egyptian state has already arrested 1,000 or so activists, and has charged 149 with attempting to overthrow the government. Meanwhile the ruling National Democratic Party held a special meeting, chaired by Gamal Mubarak, the son of the beleaguered president.

Thursday saw only scattered protests, as the opposition nursed its strength for a big show of force on Friday afternoon. Streets were deserted on Thursday night in Cairo. In Suez on Thursday, crowds set a fire station on fire and continually charged the police station.

At the same time, the government began positioning special operations forces throughout likely flash points in Cairo.

The Egyptian authorities have arrested 8 leaders of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in advance of planned major anti-government rallies on Friday afternoon after Friday prayers. The MB had been on the sidelines regarding the protests but has announced it will participate in Friday’s rallies. The NYT says that the more quietist Salafi fundamentalists say they will not demonstrate.

Matt Smith at CNN says that “Mubarak faces his toughest challenge yet, interviewing Nathan Brown, Fawaz Gerges and me on the Egyptian president’s prospects and likely next moves.

Josh Levs at CNN on what the protests in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen do and do not have in common. I’m quoted. “Secular generalists” should have been “secular generals.”

7 Responses

  1. Dr. Cole, I would like to share my thought on Lebanon as expresses in my blog today. Thanks

    Failure of U.S. Policy in Lebanon – Hezbollah in the Driving Seat
    On February 14, 2005, one of the most dynamic Middle Eastern leaders, Mr. Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb in Beirut. Neocons in Bush Administration blamed Syria for the heinous act. The Western and US media (as if on a cue), launched a barrage of accusations against Syria – such investigative journalists that they are.

    Lebanon saw massive uprising and anti-Syrian demonstrations resulting in pull out of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Until then Syria had maintained a large troop presence in Lebanon under one pretext or another. Syria should have withdrawn its troops several years earlier as they had no reason to stay on Lebanese soil for this length of time.

    Regardless of the noise and media blitz, there were some in Lebanon who pointed a finger at Israel for Hariri’s murder, however implausible though it appeared at the time. Regardless of whoever was responsible, it turned out to be a diplomatic victory for US & Israel.

    The UN formed an ‘Independent Commission’ to investigate the assassination. Enormous pressure was applied on the commission to find Syria guilty. However, despite the evidence paraded by media at the time, no solid link was found. Also, in the meantime political winds had changed and Syria and US had broken bread together. The ‘independent’ commission was then pressured to focus its attention on Hezbollah.

    Like the John F Kennedy murder, the truth may never be known. The assassination could be the work of Hezbollah, Syria, Israel, the US or even a local opponent of Mr. Hariri. Unfortunately, the commission has been comprised by lack of transparency and by allowing itself to be pressured by stakeholders in the Middle East. However accurate its findings, they lack credibility.

    Move the clock forward to 2011 and Hezbollah is in the driving seat in Lebanon with their nominee Mr. Najib Mikati for Prime Minister. They even appear to have the support of Christian party of Mr. Michel Aoun and the Druz leader Mr. Walid Jumbalat.

    It seems that Bush Administration’s neocon driven policies of declaring Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations has helped increase their political footprint tremendously.

    If Hezbollah is successful in forming a broad based coalition Government – which it seems likely to at this time (though things can change overnight in the Arab world), it will be a major foreign policy failure for the United States.

    US must seriously review and redirect its diplomatic policy in the Middle East. This failure is mainly the result of blindly following Israel’s lead and not having an independent policy. At a time when Israel is blatantly building settlements in East Jerusalem and refusing to listen to Obama Administration. US must find an independent course of action in that part of the world or risk becoming a mere spectator on the sidelines.

    • US Imperial policy in the Middle East is an ongoing failure since the ennunciation of the Carter Doctrine and has cost millions of lives. If the US Empire behaved like Japan in the Middle East, there would be no War OF Terror today and millions would have their lives.

    • I understand the sentiment and logic of the commentator… but such comments have been on-going for a very very long time.

      What evidence is there that the US wants a different foreign policy than the one it is following? The American government, executive and congress, are very aware of its one-sided treatment of Israel, and they continue.

      The rest of the world must move on, and deal with the situation as it is, not as they wish it to be.

  2. The only reason the new government in Lebanon will be seen as a failure of US policy is because, as everyone who visits Juan Cole knows, the US has put all its ME foreign policy eggs in one basket — named Israel. Doesn’t seem likely that the US will change course very soon. When Mubarak starts lobbing the demonstrators with tear gas and bullets manufactured in the US, do you think US foreign policy will be enhanced?

  3. Juan,

    “Connecticut National Guard Detachment 2, Company I, 185th Aviation Regiment of Groton has mobilized and will deploy to the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, to support the Multinational Force and Observers.” ??

    link to theday.com

  4. Too bad Obama apparently misunderstands the meaning of the phrase “bully pulpit.” That’s not supposed to be about preaching sermons of comfort to the bullies of the world.

    If you think about a body politic as maybe a little analogous to our own bodies, what’s going on in Egypt and so many other dictatorships maintained by state security apparatus is like a mix of a really bad auto-immune disease and cancer. The secret police and army guys, trained by US and Israeli and South African and other experts in “repression and suppression,” bust the visible and effective leadership of what I would call homeostatic reaction to the inevitably terminal effects of kleptocratic oligarchy. Just like human physical disorders kill off or co-opt white blood cells and other elements of the immune system, and pervert physiological reactions that struggle to restore some kind of health to the overall organism.

    I doubt very seriously that given aggregate human nature, expressed so clearly as “what’s happening now,” there’s going to be any chance of serious long-term change in the way we infest the planet. As scarcity increases, Living Large is going to require ever more predatory and parasitic and suppressive actions by the Haves and Have Mores.

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