Egypt in flames: Ruling party’s headquarters burning in Cairo after massive protests; Update: Hillary calls for restraint; Update: U.S. to “review” foreign aid to Egypt; Update: Egyptian authorities holding talks on forming “transitional government”?
Things are happening fast so let’s get a thread up. A 6 p.m. curfew has been imposed and, thus far, widely ignored. Tanks are starting to roll as I write this and there are reports on Twitter of “loud explosions” and live ammo being used in downtown Cairo. The Telegraph has a screencap from Al Jazeera showing Mubarak’s party headquarters in the city on fire; other party headquarters have been ransacked in Mansoura and Suez. The State Department says it’s deeply concerned and is calling on Mubarak to enact reforms and allow peaceful protests — although I think we’re past that point by now. Mubarak was supposed to speak at around 11 a.m. but nothing from him yet.
Sad to say, your best bet at the moment is by clicking the image below and watching the live stream from Al Jazeera English. Its agenda is no secret — Hezbollah and Hamas are particular favorites — but they’re on the top of the minute-by-minute news here like no one else. So much so, in fact, that their feed may go down at any moment: Word earlier was that Egyptian police were banging on the door of their Cairo bureau headquarters.
Stand by for updates, needless to say.
Update: ElBaradei is a potential compromise choice between secular dissidents and Islamists to lead Egypt if Mubarak falls since the fundies might not want to be too aggressive with their agenda at first. Better to keep that U.S. aid flowing, no? So naturally he’s under house arrest.
Update: Egyptian police reportedly grabbed CNN’s camera and beat the hell out of a BBC reporter. In Iran, however, the media is as pleased as can be by what’s happening. The end of Mubarak means the end of the cold peace between Egypt and Israel in all likelihood, plus lots of new arms smuggled to Iran’s proxy in Gaza. What’s not to like?
And speaking of cold peace, there are now reports of small protests breaking out … in Jordan.
Update: Via the Right Scoop, a halting call for reform from Hillary. She calls on Mubarak not to use violence, to lift the Internet ban, and to liberalize, but emphasizes that Egypt has long been an important partner in the region. I.e. this ain’t a call for regime change, rather a path to regime preservation.
Says David Shenk at the Atlantic, “Is anyone else ashamed so far by the U.S. response to the protests in Egypt?”
Update: A potentially important moment in Alexandria. Are the cops starting to tilt towards the protesters?
After more than two hours of brutal, pitched battle, of tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets crossing paths with protesters’ paving stones, the seemingly impossible happened.
The two sides shook hands. Riot cops and kheffiyeh-wearing youngsters smiled and shared water bottles as piles of tires still burned. The chairs and bottles stopped raining down from apartment building balconies.
Thousands stood on the six-lane coastal road, the gentle green waves of the Mediterranean at their backs, as they got on their knees and prayed.
That’s just one neighborhood, with “fierce fighting” reported elsewhere in the city, but stay tuned.
Update: More anecdotal reports of the protesters appealing to the army to join them:
[Updated 12:47 p.m. (1947 in Egypt)] Protesters at the Information Ministry in Cairo are chanting, “The people and the army, we are one,” CNN’s Fred Pleitgen reports.
[Updated 12:44 p.m. (1944 in Egypt)] Armored personnel carriers are pulling into Alexandria. Protesters are embracing the military presence, CNN’s Nic Robertson reports.
Update: In case you missed it yesterday, here’s a widely circulated YouTube clip showing how far some cops are willing to go.
Update: Via the NYT’s “Lede” blog, a battle for the bridge.
Update: Scroll down to the 7:46 p.m. entry on Al Jazeera’s liveblog to see what an Internet blackout looks like in graph form. Not surprisingly, Syria’s own Internet blackout is even darker today than it was previously.
Update: If you missed it in Headlines this morning, here’s Bruce Riedel searching very, very hard for a silver lining in the threat of an Islamist takeover. The Muslim Brotherhood? Hey, they’re not so bad!
The Egyptian Brotherhood renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists. Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, started their political lives affiliated with the Brotherhood but both have denounced it for decades as too soft and a cat’s paw of Mubarak and America.
Egypt’s new opposition leader, former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, has formed a loose alliance with the Brotherhood because he knows it is the only opposition group that can mobilize masses of Egyptians, especially the poor. He says he can work with it to change Egypt. Many scholars of political Islam also judge the Brotherhood is the most reasonable face of Islamic politics in the Arab world today.
For a more sober take, read David Ignatius for a reminder that revolutions that start off inspired by liberation often don’t end up that way. Quote: “[F]rom the French and Russian revolutions to the Iranian uprising of 1979, the idealistic but disorganized street protesters usually give way to a manipulative revolutionary elite – the ‘Revolutionary Guard,’ as the Iranians like to call them.” The Brotherhood has the best organized opposition and a potential western-friendly front man in ElBaradei. What could go wrong?
Update: Baaaaad timing.
Update: Time to turn off the money tap?
An Obama administration official says the U.S. will review its $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt based on events unfolding in the country, where the authoritarian government is struggling to extinguish huge and growing street protests…
The decision to review assistance to Egypt is a significant step as the U.S. seeks to balance the desire to maintain stability in the region with a recognition of the unexpected scope and uncertain outcome of the protests.
If they suspend aid until Mubarak ends the crackdown and then the regime falls, what then? If elections are held and the Brotherhood comes to power, we’re not actually going to reinstate the funding — are we?
Update: Idle thought: Even if Mubarak holds on, the Mubarak family dynasty is finished. His son’s been expected for years to take power when dad finally dies/quits, but after today, the military’s not going to want to risk another uprising by retaining the face of inheritable autocracy. Lee Smith suggested an alternative yesterday:
If Gamal [Mubarak] goes, the likely successor will be intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the man rumored to be the young Mubarak’s chief rival, or alternately, the future power behind Gamal’s throne. Gamal’s problem is that he has no military experience whatsoever, a liability for the prospective head of a regime whose coherence and internal legitimacy is based on nothing other than its symbiotic relationship with the military. Nonetheless, even if Gamal really were to leave for London and even if his father stepped down, or just decided not to run for president later this year, the Mubarak regime would not fall because in reality there is no Mubarak regime as such. Rather, it is a Free Officers regime, one that has lasted almost half a century, or dating back to the 1952 coup that deposed King Farouk.
Can even the Free Officers regime last now, though? Suleiman would have to make some sort of democratic concessions to make governance by an intelligence chief palatable to the public.
Update: Some useful context at the Corner to explain why crowds of protesters are cheering the military. It’s not Egyptian troops who are typically used to suppress dissent, it’s state policemen. The military is evidently admired, and since they’re not used to being deployed against the people, there’s at least a chance that they might flip.
Arabic media sources on Friday night reported that Egyptian authorities are holding talks to establish a “transitional government,” following a series of protests against President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
Meanwhile, the head of the Egyptian opposition Wafd party said Egypt needs a period of transitional rule, new parliamentary elections and amendments to the constitution limiting presidential terms, Reuters reported.
Seems awfully early for the regime to be crumbling. The Tunisian protests went on for a month, remember, before Ben Ali took off. Probably this is just a rumor being spread by protesters to shake the police’s faith in the regime. But stay tuned!