Repression Fails as Thousands Demand Mubarak Departure

Anti-Mubarak Egyptians prepared themselves on Friday for a major campaign of street protests that they are calling not another “Day of Wrath” but rather a “Day of Departure,” an attempt to force President Hosni Mubarak to resign. By mid-morning thousands had already gathered at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and at other key nodes in the capital. I am watching Aljazeera Arabic early Friday morning ET (10:15 am in Cairo), and can hear them chanting “En-Nahar-da! En-Nahar-da”– Today! Today! Some are tweeting that they expect at some point the army may block further protesters from reaching the square. Some tweets from the ground are saying that today the army is on October 6 bridge turning back Mubarak’s goons and thereby protecting the protesters.

Crowds have gone beyond the demand for the exile of the dictator to chanting for him to be arrested and put on trial for the murders and assaults on peaceful protesters. Meanwhile, the NYT reported Thursday evening that the Obama administration is talking to the Egyptian government with a view toward pressuring Mubarak to step down immediately in favor of his vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman, former head of military intelligence, who should then oversee a transition to a more pluralistic system with representation for Egypt’s political parties. (Actually the Egyptian constitution says the speaker of parliament should step in if the president is incapacitated). Senators John McCain and John Kerry successfully sponsored a resolution in the Senate asking for Mubarak to step down.

On Thursday, agents of the Mubarak regime had launched widespread attacks on journalists, in which 26 were beaten up and 30 were arrested, with 8 having their equipment seized. US cable news channels could no longer show live coverage. Egypt’s Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the country’s police and runs a network of neighborhood street gangs (baltagiya), is suspected by the US embassy of being behind the campaign against journalists, according to CNN. At one point on Thursday an Interior Ministry van was captured on video running protesters down.

I have a deep fear that the breaking of cameras, the closure of Aljazeera’s offices, the attacks on and threats against international journalists, were intended to blind the world to a planned atrocity against innocent, peaceful protesters on Friday. It may be that the strong condemnation of these moves by the US, Europe and others has made the Interior Ministry rethink any such plan.

The Mubarak regime on Thursday had also continued its attacks on the protesters at Tahrir Square downtown, deploying plainsclothes police, covert agents, and hired thugs in an attempt to take the square away from the dissidents. Although they attacked over and over again, they were unable to dislodge the demonstrators.

Iason Athanasiades,interviewed on Aljazeera, is reporting that the failure of the Interior Minister goons to chase the demonstrators from Tahrir Square despite brutal violence against them on Thursday has created increasing doubts in the military about the wisdom of attempting a bloody crackdown.

Recently appointed prime minister, Air Force Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, expressed regret for the violence on Thursday and seemed to blame it on partisans in the Interior Ministry of ousted domestic surveillance czar Habib El Adly.

Mubarak also said he was sad to see the violence, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour. Without a trace of irony he said he was ready to retire but was afraid that if he stepped down it would cause chaos.

How stupid do they think we are? Mubarak, Shafiq and VP Omar Suleiman almost certainly sat down in a room and authorized the Ministry of Interior to try out that brutal assault on peaceful protesters.

Proof 1: The Interior Ministry in a dictatorship doesn’t go off on rogue missions; these things are tightly controlled from the top.

Proof 2: The regular army stood aside and allowed the goons to attack the demonstrators, allowing them through checkpoints for their murderous mission. Soldiers do what they are ordered to do.

But, what the apologies do suggest is that the government is attempting to distance itself from the Ministry of Interior tactics.

Adm. Mike Mullen on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show referenced Shafiq’s ridiculous ‘apology,’ apparently delivered precisely so that the wool could be pulled over the eyes of the public. The usually canny and astute Stewart did not challenge the absurd ‘apology’ meme.

In an attempt to mollify dissidents, the Shafiq government did move against some former high-level officials, freezing their bank accounts forbidding them to flee abroad. Those former cabinet members (until last week) included Interior Minister Habib Adly, Muhammad Zuhair Girana, former tourism minister, Ahmad al-Maghribi, the former minister of housing, and Ahmad Izz, former high official in the ruling National Democratic Party (the name of which is made up of three lies).

Iason Athanasiades on Aljazeera is speculating that loyalists to these figures in the Interior Ministry and among the street gangs it runs were behind Thursday’s attacks.

Anti-Mubarak demonstrations continued on Thursday in Daqahliya Province, where 5,000 dissidents and Muslim Brothers came out for rallies. In Suez, 3,000 oppositionists,including Muslim Brothers, joined protests. In Assiout in Upper Egypt, 4,000 Muslim Brothers and other political forces demonstrated, as did a similar number in El Minya. Thousands also came out in El Arish in the northern Sinai. About 100 pro-Mubarak forces attempted to attack the demonstrators in El Arish, but the army stopped them.

In downtown Cairo, this eyewitness and participant insists that the Muslim Brotherhood has played a minor role in the protests.

Aljazeera English reports on Thursday’s violence.

34 Responses

  1. So, what do you think will happen? The Egyptians don´t want VP Suleiman. So even if Mubarak steps down, it is not enough.

    • I agree. I think if it doesn’t go to an outsider like ElBaradei, which there’s no real mechanism to do so that’s an issue, then to have legitimacy, power needs to go to the Speaker, which is what is prescribed in the constitution. The emergency law needs to be suspended and follow the constitution. Seems like the position of VP is pointless?

    • Something’s up. UN has just pulled out of Egypt. Staff flown to Cyprus. I believe the MNF is still intact but for the first time since 1978-9 when the treaty was signed, Egyptian troops are crossing through Sinai. Not only that but more US troops called up for deployment there. Is this covert color ops about to be escalated?

  2. Stupid enough to say the army is the one protecting protesters toda after not even trying to stop the pro Mubarak killing tens and injuing hundreds yeasterday. At least that what MSNBC has on the bottom while talking fashion while hundred of thousands or even millions protesting the day of departure in Egypt. But that is not breaking news. Sheesh..They watch Aljazeera, they even used to put Aljazeera live on their station. Are they waiting to show the departure day protesters after Mubarak steps down? Oh, but the army is the one protecting even journalists today and it is all under the wise authority of the less than week old vice president. Or they are waiting to say “Mubarak stepped down “in bold letters while having on the bottom of the screen “president Obama negotiated a deal”. So we kind are the ones liberating Egypt from a tyrant. Did the army know that amer mousa was coming? Where is CNN?

    • The army is protecting it’s self and its international and US ligitamacy and support not the protesters. The legitimacy it almost lost buy watching and not preventing the killing of the protesters. Protecting was stalling to give the “vice” president Suliman time to be known to the world. Munarak did not assign vice president a but as a step toward reform but as successor at least for some time. And Suliman is getting that legitimacy he needs by having direct talks with him and direct interviews with US media ie BBC. It is funny it would actually look great to most to ask Mubarak to step down and for Suliman to lead at least the “transition” while the army push “ask” the protesters to go home.

  3. Sometimes it helps to listen to what is being said between the lines, in the heart and intentions, in this case with Mubarek:

    HM to Protesters: GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!

    But admittedly that’s not serious. Here is what is more likely to be going on inside the head of a fellow like him (with apologies to other 82 y/o’s, who’ve succeeding in entrenched themselves as demigods for 30 years):

    HOW DARE THEY!!!

    Assuming no coup, or some other more kindly group carting him off to The Home, this guy is going nowhere. He is hunkered down and locked in, and there’s nothing like the stubbornness to be seen in his profile, as a human being.

    Outside the scenarios noted, if the protesters keep this up, his head is eventually going to swell up and explode in sheer rage against the people’s…ingratitude.

    Its all there to read between the lines.

  4. The Right in the US fears that even if the Muslim Brotherhood is not the cause of the demonstrations, that they will hijack the revolution and take a controlling interest in the new government. The fear may be overblown, but the American Right relies on fear in deciding how to act.

  5. Meanwhile, the NYT reported Thursday evening that the Obama administration is talking to the Egyptian government with a view toward pressuring Mubarak to step down immediately in favor of his vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman,…

    When I saw this yesterday, it struck me as ominous. Will we Americans now be accused of having tried to make things work out the way our government prefers rather than the way Egyptian citizens have been hoping it will?

  6. Fisk’s Friday report is worthy for several reasons, but I found this to be #1 for me: The symbolism/importance of Tahrir Square.

    ‘Behind them, in the square called Tahrir, men slept beneath the disused concrete Metro vents or on the mouldy grass or in the stairwells of shuttered shops. Many wore bandages round their heads and arms. These wounds would be their badges of heroism in the years to come, proof they fought in the “resistance”, that they struggled against dictatorship. Yet not one could I find who knew why this square was so precious to them.

    ‘The truth is as symbolic as it is important. It was Haussmann, brought to Egypt by Ismail under notional Ottoman rule, who built the square as an Etoile modelled on its French equivalent, laid over the swamps of the regularly flooded Nile plain. Each road radiated like a star (much to the chagrin, of course, of the present-day Egyptian army). And it was on the Nile side of “Ismailia” square – where the old Hilton is currently under repair – that the British later built their vast military Qasr el-Nil barracks. Across the road still stands the pseudo-Baroque pile in which King Farouk maintained his foreign ministry – an institution which faithfully followed British orders.

    ‘And the entire square in front of them, from the garden of the Egyptian Museum to the Nile-side residence of the British ambassador, was banned to all Egyptians. This great space – the area of Tahrir Square today – constituted the forbidden zone, the land of the occupier, the centre of Cairo upon which its people could never set foot. And thus after independence, it became “Freedom” – “Tahrir” – Square; and that is why Mubarak tried to preserve it and that is why those who want to overthrow him must stay there – even if they do not know the reason.’
    link to independent.co.uk

    • With respect, the square may well be symbolic but IMO the protesters should get off their behinds and blanklets and go on to the main television station and the palace — just to demonstrate that they’re serious revolutionaries.

    • If Mubarak thinks he can wait them out, he will. Guaranteed.

      In fact, even if he doesn’t know or have confidence he can wait them out, he’ll try. He’s an old man whose had it his way for a long, long, time. The thought of having to respond to the pressure of a bunch of…..Little People…is unlikely to be something he can easily get his ossified head around.

      The ONLY thing that will definitely work is if he sees (and fully fears) a big mob bearing down on him, with the clear intent of promoting him into a lamp-post ornament.

      Do The People show that sort of intensity? Somebody more knowledgable tell me. But in the general reports, I get the same sense he probably has: of a bunch of complainers, that when it gets down to it are harmless.

      Like children, He may well think this bunch is making a lot of noise that is really nothing more than aggravating, and if ignored they’ll soon enough lose interest and go back to sucking their collective thumbs.

  7. As you know, Suleiman is just another brutal US patsy, so this attempt by Obama to ‘help’ is nothing but an invitation to the people of Egypt to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

  8. I wonder if you might speculate on the future, too, Juan: the potential pitfalls, the possibilties of a pluralistic democratic interim government forming, NGOs that might be called upon to help, what meetings are going on right now indoors, and what might happen with the army as a major force in a new government.

    The Al Jazeera achor I’m listening to this morning is obviously getting impatient with the uprising, and is herself ask, “What more do you want? How can you reject stability?” Not helpful.

  9. Seeing all that people chanting again and again in the same square, I’m more and more pessimistic.

    Mubarak is a political corpse. He is going to fall sooner than later. However, the Egyptian Regime is wider than Mubarak. The regime is what matters: collaboration with Israel, collaboration with western powers on islamism and Suez, ‘free’ market economy and supression of workers’ rights, neo-colonial terms for corporation investment…

    US and UE recognize now that their first choice (Mubarak) is down, so they are minimizing damages. How? Sacrifizing their client despot to avoid a true revolution. Mubarak resigns, the vicious chief of intelligence grabs power (or any other general from the US-subsidized army) and in the next months they perform some ‘free’ elections in which the candidate supported by the Army wins. Cosmetic changes to assure that everything remains the same. Even so, the regime will change a little toward freedom, but the difference will be a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one.

    The important thing for western powers is that the uprising, the people, do not achieve their revolutionary objectives of true democracy.
    If Mubarak remains for too long in power, there is a risk that people could radicalize their fight, overturning the entire regime. So it is vital to make a peaceful (i.e., controlled and channeled) transition as soon as possible.

    Sadly, the Egyptian people is losing the iniciative. When you have 1 million people in a square you should head to the Palace! You could never have an oportunnity like this again. Meanwhile, the army generals, the business tycoons, the US and UE envoys, they are all moving their pieces and reaching accords behind curtains, formulating transition plans to stealth the iniciative and the future from the people.

    • Murillo is correct. The protesters have wasted a week. The army is fed up with their inertia in the square and the mojo is now with the government.
      Time has almost run out for the protesters. They have perhaps a day or two to start acting like revolutionaries.
      Otherwise, Mubarak wins and the real b;oodbath begins.

      • I agree, the protesters have lost the initiative by announcing a Friday deadline and having nothing planned for when Mubarak didn’t resign.

        Excellent point in the original blog about the consititution providing for the VP to step in. That would have diffused the tension and should have been the obvious solution.

      • The protesters set a deadline, but there are no consequences. This is at least the 3rd F.U. that Mubarak has sent to the people. This is like a Chilean/Peruvian junta merely changing heads on the snake. The likelihood this goes democratic from 30 years of autocracy is low (statistically). Most likely is it remains autocracy with a temporary new leader, while the chief intelligence spook (the VP) acts like a new leader, and really is rounding up protesters, having them interrogated, tortured to give up their friends, and then disappearing them.

        There’s no way this apparatus is going to just disempower itself. It could go to oligarchy, but that still would be a group of people who will want to disappear their enemies over the next six months. There’s a reason why the U.S. sends its enemies for questioning, who they don’t want back, to Egypt rather than Syria or Jordan.

        It all comes down to legitimacy. The protesters and the people, if they aren’t going to go down the road of violent revolution, will have to stick it out for the long haul and refuse the premise that a government run by even the VP is legitimate, let alone this ridiculous idea reported in the NYTimes:

        “None of this can happen if Mubarak is at the center of the process,” said one senior administration official. “But it doesn’t necessarily require the president to leave office right now.”

        I’d like to hear from Professor Cole on the importance of this Egyptian cultural need for saving face and going out gracefully. I keep reading about it, as though maybe the Egyptian people are inclined to give him an opportunity to “save face” by sticking around in an purely figurehead role. Is this true? Or are they really fed up with him at this point? Or is that the question we don’t know the answer to yet?

    • link to uam.es

      Article 82 says the VP takes over temporarily and only in the event the president is unable to carry out his duties. It is delegation of authority.

      Article 84 says the president of the assembly fills in any presidential vacancy. This leaves out Suleiman, if the constitution is followed. So if Suleiman is claimed (by the U.S., by himself, by Mubarak, etc) to be the next guy, that in my view, is retention of the autocracy, and not a good sign for constitutional authority or democracy.

  10. I am not sure whether the intervention of the US in this conflict would be the right choice. The revolution in Egypt seems to be more of a struggle for some kind of economic prosperity that the Egyptian people have been denied for such a long time rather than democracy as such. And I am afraid if this prosperity is not achieved the people of the Arab world may accuse the Western countries of promising something which is impossible to obtain. Moreover, the US doesn’t have many friends in the region and nobody wants to see another Iran-like regime hostile to the country and its citizens.

  11. I am not authority on ME politics but I want to make a comment about what I do know. Why is this the US’s business? It is my understanding that we are behind the Taliban rising to power in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 and of course look at the thanks we got for this. When the Shah was kicked out of Iran, the Ayatollah came into power. We killed Sadam Hussein because he was doing bad things and then we continue to slaughter the people of Iraq – for what reason exactly? We are looking for Osama? Now it is our business to decide in the Senate that this Mubarak guy should step down? What will happen if he does? From what I have heard faintly through the cracks of American media is that there is an extremist faction that wishes to change places with Mubarak, so it sounds like Iran all over again. We should not be involved in this mess as it is their business. Whatever happens is going to happen whether we are involved or not. I sure would hate to get another thank you letter like we got from Osama as this time it might be even worse. I think it is great that we are talking about this online and learning from you and others but our government should really mind its own business and stop trying to control everyone’s destiny.

  12. Can someone remember ANY senator ever before denouncing the Mubarak regime or, even less likely, ever demanding that it be defunded?

    Mr Cole asks of the Mubarak regime: “How stupid do they think we are?”

    I ask the same about our generally spineless cheap senate opportunists.

  13. Regarding John Stewart not challenging Shafiq’s apology, the more that The Daily Show gains in prominence, the more cautious and deferential Stewart becomes. Another case in point, recently T. Boone Pickens told Stewart that Fracking has no adverse environmental effects, and Stewart let it go, saying nothing. For what its worth, I think Colbert is much more subversive than Stewart as his Jonathan Swift “Modest Proposal” style irony hardly spares anyone.

  14. The Mubarak forces are waging a propaganda campaign sewing distrust against any foreign or native journalists. You are correct to say that, once the cameras leave, there will be a bloodbath. The only reason America is backing Omar Suleiman is that he will be able to guarantee the destruction of all evidence linking himself, Mubarak, Bush and Cheney to war crimes and human rights atrocities. Neither Mubarak or Suleiman will go until the evidence has been purged.

  15. Thousands? I take issue with the semantic of describing a crowd of HUNDREDS of thousands as “Thousands”.

    Now back to our regularly scheduled program, al Jazeera English live.

  16. The Egyptian police state is ending .
    It will be followed by a military dictatorship .
    This will be called progress by western leaders
    and their talking head “experts” on TV .
    There will be no pink slips for anyone employed by
    the Interior Ministry .
    A new election will be performed .
    It will be as fair and honest and open and transparent
    etc. etc. as Afghan elections .

  17. .
    Just in case the occasion ever arises, how would one spirit a boatload of money out of a local bank and out of the country ?

    Seems to me I would try to do it electronically, but this reporting suggests that the former regime members are doing it the old fashioned way, either in cash or bullion.

    Far better to do what the Karzai cartel has done: sock it away a little at a time, taking monthly trips to Genf or Dubai, loaded down with bricks and cases of diamonds.
    .

  18. Whoever takes over, will have to produce jobs and reforms.

    With the crisis of world capitalism, there is no room to maneuver.

  19. @Epppie: Yes: the word ‘transitional’, in official statements, is taking the entire burden of the hope animating the protests. It cannot bear it. Suleiman has the potential to be more of a monster than Mubarak ever was.

  20. While I’m generally pessimistic that the demonstrators will manage to transform Egyptian governance in the short term, I see the following:

    1. There appears to be no leader among the anti-Mubarak forces, with the exception of El-Baradei, who has the stature to be a national figure. El-Baradei is, from what I hear, highly recommended by Freedom House, and is therefore probably about the last person Egyptians would want to see in a decision-making position. I’d be interested in Juan’s analysis of who in Egypt could emerge and what their qualifications are.

    2. In the first days of the occupation of Tahrir, there did not seem to be much coordination of activity by the demonstrators. Since the attacks, that seems to have changed, with genuinely impressive efforts to treat the wounded, set up barricades against the thugs, and clean up the debris. This is one of the lessons of the American Revolution: that the struggle itself teaches people the cooperation necessary for self-governance.

    3. The playbook being used by the US is almost identical to the playbook they used after the Honduran coup: some mild tut-tutting, agreement that the dictator has to be replaced (but without a meaningful deadline), delays in or failure to impose sanctions (like suspending diplomatic visas, cancellation of joint military exercises, and suspension of aid) that would make it clear that the US is serious, and failure to lead action in the UN to sanction Egypt by imposing travel bans, etc. The only real difference is that Egypt already was a dictatorship, whereas in Honduras, the optics of overthrowing an elected government were even worse.

    4. The best outcome to hope for is a government ala Erdogan, i.e. one that is popular enough to withstand the inevitable attempt of the military to re-impose itself on the country. For that to happen, the emergence of a young and charismatic leader–one who is resilient and capable–is required. If that does not happen, the default will be a new leader from the military, since that person will not be vulnerable to overthrow by the military.

    5. I’m concerned about the failure of the mass of Egyptians to recognize that this is their best chance to achieve genuine change. I’m sure that people are scared about what the future may bring. But nature has already decreed that the end of Mubarak is near, and the odds of his son being even as capable as the father are very slim. So, a transition would come whether there were demonstrations or not. If the mass of people do not shape the outcome, then it is likely to be messy.

    One always hopes that a miracle will occur and the popular revolution will somehow produce a brilliant, dynamic young democracy. But even our own government, which enjoyed many advantages, was pretty much a mess for the first several decades… mired in debt, hampered by the ineffectual Articles of Confederation, and then invaded by the British. Good luck, Egypt! You’re going to need it!

  21. I am afraid that they have given up on public repression, but that a plan for widespread quiet payback is underway. They have collected names and addresses. Over the coming weeks and months, there will be many knocks on doors in the middle of the night, and many men and women dragged away to vanish and be tortured to death in prison. This is why the demonstrators were so desperate. They know that if Mubarak stays in, there will be retaliation. The international community will do well to pay close attention to what goes and deploy pressure to minimize political arrests.

  22. If The People really expect Mubarak to go, asking him will not get it done.

    In fact, telling him to go, by itself, will not work.

    Only when Mubarak comes to understand his very life is in clear danger and the odds are not improving, will he do anything substantive.

Comments are closed.