Egypt in flames: Mubarak’s family leaves, army siding with protesters? Update: Restraint urged by … Iran; Update: U.S. response “disappointing,” says ElBaradei; Update: U.S. wants “managed change”
posted at 12:50 pm on January 29, 2011 by Allahpundit
Question mark in the headline because no one’s certain of anything at the moment. The Mubarak family dynasty in Egypt is over before it began so it’s no surprise if they’ve all bugged out, but I can’t find confirmation right now. BBC World tweeted that his sons are in London, then quickly followed up by noting that Egyptian state television denies it. Al Jazeera also reported that the Mubarak boys have skedaddled — and added that his much-hated wife, Suzanne, is now on her way to Britain too. Mubarak named Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president this morning, and Suleiman’s been touted as a possible transitional successor before, so maybe this is a prelude to Hosni himself hopping a plane. If so, he must have declined to give Obama a heads up because State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley is grumbling on Twitter that Mubarak needs to do more than merely “shuffle the deck.”
As the army takes over basic law-and-order functions in Cairo, the state police have reportedly cleared out and dropped back to defend their own home base, the Interior Ministry. The money question, then: Which way is the army leaning? The plural of anecdote is not data, but there sure are a lot of reports on the wires today about Egyptian troops making nice with protesters. The NYT:
Even as pockets of protesters clashed with police, army tanks expected to disperse the crowds in central Cairo and in the northern city of Alexandria instead became rest points and even, on occasion, part of the protests as anti-Mubarak graffiti were scrawled on them without interference from soldiers.
“Leave Hosni, you, your son and your corrupted party!” declared the graffiti on one tank as soldiers invited demonstrators to climb aboard and have their photographs taken with them…
In another central Cairo square on Saturday a soldier in camouflage addressed a crowd through a bullhorn declaring that the army would stand with the people.
“I don’t care what happens,” the soldier said. “You are the ones who are going to make the change.” The crowd responded, “The army and the people will purify the country.”
Asked if they would enforce the curfew, soldiers said they would not.
“We are with the people,” said Ahmed, a 20-year-old conscript.
Soldiers accepted fruit, water and soda handed out by protesters in Tahrir Square and smiled as protesters chanted, “Go, Mubarak, go!” Children were hoisted up on tanks in the middle of the square to have their photos taken with troops as the hulking remains of the National Democratic Party headquarters building, home to Mubarak’s ruling organization, burned in the background.
“These soldiers are Egyptians, too. They are suffering just like we are,” said Khalid Ezz el-Din, a 50-year-old businessman who had come to the square to demand Mubarak step down.
One army captain joined the demonstrators, who hoisted him on their shoulders while chanting slogans against Mubarak. The officer ripped a picture of the president.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said that soldiers deployed to central Cairo are not intervening in the protests.
“Some of the soldiers here have said that the only way for peace to come to the streets of Cairo is for Mubarak to step down,” he said.
For background on the army’s relationship with Mubarak, read Michael Wahid Hanna at the Atlantic. If they side with the protesters and Mubarak goes down, they risk losing some of the special privileges he’s granted them to keep them on his side. If they side with Mubarak, then no matter the outcome, they’ll lose the unique esteem they enjoy among the Egyptian public. Fun fact about U.S. aid to Egypt: Of the $1.5 billion we send it every year, the vast majority goes to the military. We have leverage here, in other words, which we could use to nudge the military to drop Mubarak and Suleiman and replace them with a liberal caretaker government that will enact popular reforms before the elections in September. See this post from last night for more on that. On the other hand, both Mubarak and Suleiman are former military men themselves. Would the Egyptian army really depose both, or would Suleiman be kept on as a transitional figurehead?
Lots of updates coming, so please stand by.
Update: How confident is the White House about Mubarak hanging on? Not very:
A senior Obama administration official, meanwhile, said Friday evening that Mubarak’s speech was “hardly conciliatory and highly disappointing, but what did you expect?”
It’s clear, the official said — speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter — that Mubarak believes he can ride this out, “and this time, we’re not so sure that is the right assumption.”
As for the claims coming from Axelrod and other spokesmen that The One has confronted Mubarak about human rights in private, read this debunking from Politico. In particular, they’re trying to spin Obama’s choice of Cairo as the site of his speech to the Muslim world in 2009 as proof that he was aiming his remarks on liberalization at Mubarak. Not so, of course; the speech didn’t mention rights in Egypt specifically and the symbolism of choosing Cairo could well be read as a pat on the back for Mubarak for having kept the peace with Israel and held the Islamists at bay.
Update: If you’re having flashbacks to Baghdad 2003 and wondering how the antiquities at the Egyptian Museum are faring, there’s good news and bad news. The bad:
Looters broke into the Egyptian Museum during anti-government protests late Friday and destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, Egypt’s top archaeologist told state television…
“I felt deeply sorry today when I came this morning to the Egyptian Museum and found that some had tried to raid the museum by force last night,” Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
The good news: Not only did the army roll up and storm the museum to secure the artifacts (replete with beatings for the looters), Egyptian citizens converged on the building before they got there and formed a “human chain” around it to stop anyone else from breaking in. I wonder Were the looters just moronic kids out to wreck whatever they could wreck, or was this some sort of Islamist gesture against Egypt’s pre-Muslim culture? That sort of thing has, after all, happened before. Bad, bad sign if it’s the latter.
Update: Speaking of Islamists, what’s the Muslim Brotherhood up to today? Why, screaming about injustice and vowing to topple tyrants, of course. Quoth the group’s “spiritual leader”:
“He doesn’t live in our world. He doesn’t feel the anger and hunger of this people,” [Sheikh Yusuf] al- Qaradawi charged. “He’s detached from reality. Mubarak must give up his position and leave Egypt. There is no other solution, except for Mubarak’s departure.”…
Addressing the president directly, al-Qaradawi made his demands clear: “Go away, Mubarak, leave this people alone! Enough, you’ve ruled for 30 years already! Dozens have been killed in one day. You cannot stay, Mubarak!”
“On behalf of hundreds of thousands of religious clerics in Egypt and in the Muslim world I’m calling on you to leave your country,” he said.
If you’re looking for a short yet solid “big think” piece on what the protests mean for regional policy, see this one by Robert Kaplan at Foreign Policy. Short and sweet: He thinks the Brotherhood’s power in Egypt is overstated (and that the public’s focus on its own oppression instead of on Israel is a hopeful development), but if the uprisings spread to places like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, look out. In fact, the Jordanian chapter of the Brotherhood is holding a protest today outside Egypt’s embassy there in hopes of kickstarting a little local revolution of its own. Quote: “Obama must understand that the people have woken up and are ready to unseat the tyrant leaders who remained in power because of U.S. backing.”
As for Kaplan’s claim that the Brotherhood in Egypt isn’t as muscular as everyone thinks, take a long hard look at these public opinion numbers via Michael Totten:
In Egypt, 30 percent like Hizballah (66 percent don’t). 49 percent are favorable toward Hamas (48 percent are negative); and 20 percent smile (72 percent frown) at al-Qaida. Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn’t tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator.
In Egypt, 82 percent want stoning for those who commit adultery; 77 percent would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery; and 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.
Asked if they supported “modernizers” or “Islamists” only 27 percent said modernizers while 59 percent said Islamists…
Alternate headline: “So that’s why Obama is sticking by Mubarak!” And if that’s not enough to make you despair, see Caroline Glick’s new op-ed. Apparently Mohamed ElBaradei, the alleged great secularist hope, is quite comfortable with the Brotherhood and its “peaceful” ways.
Famous last words from a protester, as quoted by WaPo: “We need a just government. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Islamic or secular. The issue is justice.”
Update: Here’s a healthy development per Stratfor, via the Corner:
The Egyptian police are no longer patrolling the Rafah border crossing into Gaza. Hamas armed men are entering into Egypt and are closely collaborating with the MB [Muslim Brotherhood]. The MB has fully engaged itself in the demonstrations, and they are unsatisfied with the dismissal of the Cabinet. They are insisting on a new Cabinet that does not include members of the ruling National Democratic Party.
Update: Ladies and gentlemen, your Orwellian moment of the day:
Saying it is closely monitoring developments in Egypt, Iranian officials asked Egypt’s government to exercise restraint while working to solve the crisis.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast urged Egyptian officials to ensure the lawful rights of citizens to organize and voice their concerns about the government, Fars News Agency reported.
Try to imagine him stepping on an Iranian protester’s face while he said that. Iran’s “green revolution” leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is also watching the protests, but I haven’t heard of any new demonstrations breaking out there in response.
Meanwhile, the Saudi monarchy is reacting just as you’d expect:
Saudi King Abdullah called Egyptian President Hosni 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.
Saudi Arabia “strongly condemns” the protest, it said.
Mahmoud Abbas is also lining up with Mubarak, natch, as Hamas lines up with the Muslim Brotherhood. Secularists vs. Islamists, all around the region, and beyond the region it’s autocrats vs. democrats. Which explains why “Egypt” is now a forbidden term on China’s version of Twitter.
Update: Ah, here’s news of an Iranian protest now. And it’s even more Orwellian than the previous update.
Update: With Mubarak teetering and the Muslim Brotherhood licking its chops, how’d you like to be a Coptic Christian in Egypt right now?
“One thing I want to say about all of these young people and all of these university students is what they’re learning in the universities is very similar to what the Muslim Brotherhood preaches,” [John] Bolton said. “So we have to worry about the radicalism among the students is very, very high.”…
The Copts, who constitute between 10 and 20 percent of Egypt’s population and whose church traces its founding back to St. Mark the Evangelist, have been increasingly targeted by Islamic extremists in recent years and have suffered intense persecution.
Copts complain Muslims are able to get away murdering them with impunity much like whites did in the South under Jim Crow, and the government discriminates against them by placing restrictions on the building and repair of churches while not imposing a similar rule on mosques.
Just wondering: If the Islamists take power and the Copts flee, where do they go? Ethiopia?
Update: “If the ’79 agreement goes asunder, everything falls apart. Everything falls apart.”
Update: New video from Al Jazeera of the Egyptian military sympathizing with protesters but pleading with them to clear the streets at night so that the army can go after looters. Looks like it’s working: According to the 9:46 p.m. update at Al Jazeera’s liveblog, Cairo is noticeably less active tonight than last night — apart from “roaming bands of thuggish-looking men.” The Times, in fact, is reporting street battles between looters and neighborhood patrols who are trying to fill the security gap now that the state police have retreated.
If you want to see what the looters managed to do the Egyptian Museum last night, you’ll find distressing photos here.
Update: Here’s Bolton on last night’s Greta. The money line: This is not the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Update: Banks, supermarkets, electronics stores, even wealthy homes: No one’s safe from the looters right now, apparently. Mubarak and his security goons may not have abdicated by law, but there appear to have done so in fact.
It didn’t have to be this way.
During the Bush years the US embassy in Cairo maintained a small fund to support groups promoting democratic reforms in Egypt, bypassing the Egyptian government. As I noted back in July, the Obama administration ended support for this fund.
The Daily Telegraph — while failing spectacularly at making this context clear — reports that according to a WikiLeaked cable, one of the activists who has been arrested this week was sent to New York to meet with other pro-democracy activists. You have to read to the bottom of the story to notice that the embassy apprently ended regular contact with this dissident after 2009.
Here’s Tabin’s piece in July noting that funding was cut. It figures that of all the federal programs that need cutting, this is one of the few that caught the White House’s eye.
Update: I don’t care what ElBaradei thinks — as noted on Thursday, his international reputation stems from being a UN-blessed apologist for Iran’s proliferation efforts — but some Egyptians might, so for what it’s worth:
As for the U.S., ElBaradei said the leadership had fallen short of Egyptians’ expectations.
“What is … very disappointing to the Egyptian people is the message coming from the U.S., which is saying that we are going to work with the Egyptian people and with the government,” he said. “Well, you have to make a choice. This is an authoritarian government and on the other hand the people have been deprived of their freedom for 58 years.”
Yeah, I flagged that “government and people” bit of Obama’s speech yesterday as soon as he said. There are giant landmines on both sides of this showdown so he’s going to stand as still as he can by equivocating between them, which amounts to tacitly endorsing Mubarak’s regime for the time being. Total bummer for the Muslim Brotherhood’s would-be secular figurehead.
Update: I’ve been assuming that the U.S. is now committed to easing Mubarak out the door as a way of transitioning to democracy, but after reading this I’m not so sure. When they say “managed change,” do they mean changing Egypt’s form of government or just the identity of the man at the top of the dictatorship?
A senior administration official said the United States is looking for “‘managed change’ – adjustments over a fairly extended period of time that allows you to manage it in a fairly orderly way.”
While the administration is pressing for the opposition groups and civil activists to be given more political influence, “that doesn’t necessarily mean the governing coalition will be swept away, not at all,” the official said…
The senior administration official said Egypt can’t go back to the old way of government.
“Change is coming, in some form,” he said.
I don’t think President-for-life Suleiman is what the protesters have in mind, even if he revokes emergency rule and adopts some reforms.
Update: How high is the death toll, exactly? Maybe a lot higher than you think.
Update: The meaning of “managed change” is coming into focus. According to an expert who spoke to the Times, naming Suleiman VP and de facto successor is a way of keeping the military onboard:
Mr. Suleiman, a former general, is also the establishment’s candidate, not the public’s. His appointment, and his elevation if it is to occur, would represent not the democratic change called for on the street, but most likely a continuation of the kind of military-backed, authoritarian leadership that Mr. Mubarak led for nearly 30 years, experts said.
“I think basically this is a way of paving the way for a military-led regime in a so-called constitutional context,’ said Ragui Assaad, a professor at the University of Minnesota. “It is clearly the result of negotiations with the army.”
Mr. Suleiman’s ascension may incite public anger — crowds have already begun shouting chants against him — but would also be likely to put at ease those who benefited from the status quo, at least in the short term.
Presumably, the feeling in the White House is that they’re happy to carry on indefinitely with Suleiman as a new Mubarak so long as Egyptians are willing to tolerate it. If they push back and the protests persist, then I assume the plan will be to make Suleiman a “caretaker” figure until elections are held in September.