Million-Person March Planned as Elbaradei made Opposition Leader

Protesters in downtown Cairo on Monday morning were calling for a general strike. On Tuesday, they said they will launch a ‘million-person march,’ clearly with the aim of toppling the Mubarak government.

On Sunday, a multi-party coalition of oppositionists had formed a 10-man committee to head their movement. The leader of the committee, in turn, is Mohamed Elbaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Elbaradei came down to Tahrir Square in the city center and addressed the thousands assembled there, to rapturous applause.

He repeatedly demanded Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. .

The Muslim Brotherhood is among the parties in the coalition backing Elbaradei. Their leadership may feel that having a secular person as the face of the movement will cut down on the fears of budding theocracy and threats of Western intervention.

Also among the proposed steering committee is long-time Mubarak opponent Ayman Nour. He had run against Mubarak in 2005, and was promptly jailed when the official statistics showed he had only garnered about 8 percent of the vote. Nour, head of the Tomorrow (al-Ghad) Party, had earlier proposed that the major opposition parties form an alternative parliament, which could then oversee the transition to full democracy. Elbaradei now seems to be endorsing this idea.

Meanwhile, further statements from Hosni Mubarak and his regime give a sense of his current strategy. He implicitly blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the sabotage and arson that has been committed against government institutions, including police stations. He contrasted the hooliganism of the Brotherhood with the peaceful aspirations of most Egyptians, and pledged to work for economic and social reform (while giving the pledge no content). Mubarak is attempting to split the movement against him by sowing seeds of doubt among its constituents. These include Coptic Christians, educated middle and upper middle class Muslims, and non-ideological youth, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. By suggesting that the MB is taking advantage of the protests to conduct a campaign of sabotage behind the scenes, with the goal of establishing a theocratic dictatorship, Mubarak hopes to terrify the other groups into breaking with the Muslim fundamentalists. Since middle class movements such as Kefaya (Enough!) are small and not very well organized, Mubarak may believe that he can easily later crush them if he can detach them from the more formidable Brotherhood.

It is a desperate ploy and unlikely to work. Mainstream Muslim Egyptians and Copts do have some fear of the Muslim Brotherhood as a sectarian and fundamentalist tendency, but their dislike of the Mubarak government for the moment seems to overcome their anxieties about a theocracy.

The other part of the strategy of Mubarak and his VP Omar Suleiman may be to gradually take back control via the army, and then slowly squeeze the crowds out of public spaces. If that is their plan, the million-person march on Tuesday could turn sanguinary.

But as one Egyptian woman said, “If they fire on the Egyptian people, Mubarak is finished . . . And if they don’t fire on the Egyptian people, Mubarak is finished.”

22 Responses

  1. Professor Cole, could you comment on Israel’s thinking about the situation in Egypt? I read an article in yesterday’s NYT about their concerns but, unless you concur with that article, would like to hear from you as well.

    Thanks.

    • that´s a tricky one. according to Israeli newspapers, that´s precisely what Israelis are wondering themselves these days: how. is. our. government. going. to. react? since it was made a no-talk subject

  2. There’s a lotta’ weird stuff flying around…El Baredei a CIA stooge, MB ties with Iran, Izzies fleeing Cairo in disguise, shoot-to-kill orders for the army, Gaza crossing sealed (yet fuel deliveries from Egypt to Izzy continue).
    Meanwhile the USG has’nt dumped mubarak YET and calls for “reform”. Funny; that’s not what the Egyptians in the street are calling for. WH and State press conferences are a bad joke; I dug hillary trotting out her new pet bulldog (colombian VP)!!!

    • The story of Israeli commandoes being on the ground dressed as arabs comes from an Israeli site. Wouldnt discount or endorse anything as impossible. Sift, watch, accumulate, decide (tentatively)

  3. I think “leader” is the wrong descriptive term; spokesperson or lead negotiator would be more apt. Mubarak’s Imperial managers are demanding he not be ousted, but the great mass of Egyptians want him and his associates gone and are promising not to rest until that goal is accomplished. The US Empire’s position is thus hypocritical as usual; it demands Murbarak listen to the people, who are demanding his ouster, while telling the Egyptian people to change their tune, to demand something other than his ouster. There’re reports of a split in the military with the plebian army supporting the people while the elitist air force backs Mubarak. And various neocons are suggesting direct US intervention of the sort not attempted in 1979. Much of this info comes from the many articles wharehoused at antiwar.com

  4. I am an Arabist and have an MA in Modern European History from the U of Michigan. I’ve served as an FSO in three Arab countries and then, as an Amoco executive, worked in Egypt as a Pol Risk and Entry Strategy specialist. I have been to Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s home in Maadi many times and am now retired, but sympathize with him and his plight, as a modern Egyptian seeking democracy.

    The conundrum remains. Can the Ikhwan be trusted, because once in charge of the commanding heights in Egypt, my guess is that the present senescent leadership will be tossed like used Kleenex? I have very little respect for Mubarak’s regime, but in this case is the half-loaf still part of a meal that can be expanded, without being tossed for being “no loaf at all,” to paraphrase Lenin.

    My guess is that Mubarak’s genius for muddling through might prevail, and that the woman you quote at the end of the article is ‘whistling Dixie.’ Not that I agree that M should stay, but think the Ikhwan would be the greater of two evils.

      • The Everest-sized obstacle to the US & Mubarak remains the MB’s rejection to this day of the Camp David Accords. Other long-standing MB positions based on religious rather than political beliefs are significant speed bumps, as in MB’s policy toward the Coptic Christians, women’s rights, the application of shari’a in a constitutional context and which school of shari’a thought applies.

        What about international conventions Egypt has signed concerning racial discrimination [1967], discrimination against women [1981], civil and political rights [1982], economic, social and cultural rights [1982], elimination of torture and other cruel and degrading treatment [1986], rights of the child [1990]. Of course, the current Mubarak regime often fails to observe many of these conventions, but the MB would be examined much more closely, perhaps, for infractions than Mubarak. The strict application of Sharia punishments, for instance, would be in direct conflict with the 1986 convention, just to cite one example. And the comebacker isn’t that Mubarak may have tortured some political prisoners, but that MB is in favor of systematic application of medieval punishments.

        And I’m interested in how some of the commenters here are so sure of what the Egyptian people want. Is it what a crowd yells and signage or perhaps is it more profoundly a search for order with a more democratic way of reaching a consensus. Condi Rice’s muck-up with the Palestinian elections in 2006 serves as a warning to a lot of educated Egyptians, as Hamas is a branch of the MB.

    • DAVE
      The uprising seemed to come out of nowhere. Yes people are hungry and fed up- but have been for years, so why explosion now? ‘Starter’ protests in adjoining lands not enough impetus to be believable. Is this a CIA ops?

      • Food prices have skyrocketed after floods and other natural disasters cut back on wheat, barley, rice, and corn production in the US and around the world. Also, if tiny Tunisia, an outlier country with a very active intellectual class and relatively well-educated middle class [the self-immolater who started the riots burned himself alive although he had a B.A.] could overthrow its dictatorial regime, this did tend to shame the proud Egyptians into action. Ditto for Yemen, which is being completely overlooked by the MSM.

        Libya and the Far Maghreb are also tinder boxes and the expat workforce in the UAE is simmering. Jordan also has unrest. So in reality, a lot of different contingent variables are in play.

  5. I also would like to know your opinion of the US news coverage on events in Egypt. Is it balanced? Is it stoking up some fear of the Muslim Brotherhood? Does it give us a clue as to where the policy will go?

    Thank you for your thoughts

  6. Let’s give Professor Cole a break: the Israelis are freaked out. Most Egyptians don’t like the way Palestinians are treated, the racism against Arabs(obvious to see in recent statements by the by US and EU); nor do they like the fact that Arabs have leaders and governments that seem more interested in spending Western money on themselves and their apparatchiks while their “subjects” wallow in poverty.

    • Maybe the man on the steet is freaked out but the man at the top is perfectly comfortable. The successor regime has only dropped an obsolete figurehead. The military backbone and base is firmly where they have been for decades- in US and Iz control. Main reason that the army not firing on protestors is at US request.

      • I agree in the main, and only quibble that the US doesn’t have to tell the Army not to shoot. The Shah got in deep and irretrievable difficulty when his thugs opened up on students with live ammo and killed 400, igniting the events which led to the toppling of the Shah. [To be fair, a witless Asst. Sec. of State, Patricia Derian, nixed the DoD sales of rubber bullets to the Shah, giving an idea of how the naive idealism of the Carter State Dept's incompetence functioned at many levels.] The true stories of how these catastrophes occur can only be told by people using code, as the hoi polloi simply wouldn’t believe the feckless carelessness of functionaries like Derian. Frank Wisner, whom I worked with in the State Dept, is the opposite of Derian, a real FSO wizard with a grasp of how things happen on the ground. Holbrooke had the same gift, but was not the nicest guy to do business with.

  7. I’m thinking that Dr. elBaradei is best suited to be the head of Egypt’s court system.

  8. 1. Army saying it will not fire on the Egyptian people.

    2. Netanyahu asking Europeans & Americans to keep Mubarak in power.

    According To American News Media, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Look at the hypocrisy the only democracy is asking other democracies to keep Egyptian dictator in power.

    • Mubarak is already 82 yrs old. He doesnt have long to rule even if reinstated. Mubarak irrelevant with or without coup.

      • Mubarak isn’t as bad as he’s painted. He indeed resisted his wife Suzanne’s relentless drive to have their son Gamel installed as his successor. Omar Suleiman has his faults, but he also has more sense of what’s going on than anyone else in Egypt. Whether he can manage the turmoil is another question. El Baradei is a figurehead and comes with baggage. I’d like to see the Kifaya people and Saad Eddin Ibrahim have some say in the new government.

  9. thanks for another interesting and informative article, Juan. I read you almost every day.

    the quote by the woman at the end reminded me of a great one by gandhi, if I may…

    “First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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