Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt's "March of Millions"; the Obama Administration Begins to Say, "Kefaya!"; and, to Manage the Future of Egypt; Mubarak Announces "8 More Months"

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
With the reassurance of the army not to fire on the people, many men and women brought their children to the February 1, 2011 protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Egypt's revolt has been fast moving and has captured the attention of the world for noble and selfish reasons. Today (February 1-2, 2011), 4 events are truly "breaking news" in my opinion.

The first is tied to both the persistence and courage of the Egyptians, and their ability to self-manage a protest through social media (including the use of proxy servers, and dial ups provided by Google), peacefulness, and courage in the face of violence (the injured return to protest, and their friends with them). It is also tied to their historic relationship with the army, and how they have managed that relationship--through friendliness, kisses, and chants of "The Egyptian People and Army are One" to deflect potential violence. This breaking news has culminated in the massive peaceful, men, women, and family demonstrations today in Cairo and Alexandria.

The second is tied to the response of the USA. Originally, a series of spokespersons for the Obama administration talked of Mubarak modifying his regime. The code words were "stability", "transition", and a "fuller democracy" while emphasizing Mubarak's friendly relationship with both the US and Israel, and his democratic bona fides. Most in front on this was Hillary Clinton, who made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows relaying this exact position--one as Secretary of State she makes for the Obama Administration.

As the protesters have persisted, and lamented the lame position of the United States, along with the equally lame "changes" and "promised reforms" of Mubarak, the message of the US has changed. Now it is the turn of John Kerry, a senior Democrat and former Presidential candidate, to escalate the US position, in his role as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The text of his article follows. The video of John Kerry speaking during a session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he Chairs as an Obama appointee, elaborating that Mubarak and his family need to get out of the Egyptian government and out of the country can be viewed on Youtube here or on the BBC here.

Op-Ed Contributor
Allying Ourselves With the Next Egypt
Published: January 31, 2011

Vivienne Flesher

EVEN if the protests shaking Egypt subside in the coming days, the chaos of the last week has forever changed the relationship between the Egyptian people and their government. The anger and aspirations propelling a diverse range of citizens into the streets will not disappear without sweeping changes in the social compact between the people and the government — and these events also call for changes in the relationship between the United States and a stalwart Arab ally.

President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure. One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.

Ushering in such a transformation offers President Mubarak — a great nationalist ever since his generation of young officers helped their country escape the last vestiges of British colonialism — the chance to end the violence and lawlessness, to begin improving the dire economic and social conditions in his country and to change his place in history.

It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge “fair” elections, as he did on Saturday. The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.

Further, he must guarantee that the election will be honest and open to all legitimate candidates and conducted without interference from the military or security apparatus and under the oversight of international monitors. The Egyptian people are demanding wholesale transformation, not window dressing. As part of the transition, President Mubarak needs to work with the army and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government as soon as possible to oversee an orderly transition in the coming months.

President Mubarak has contributed significantly to Middle East peace. Now it is imperative that he contribute to peace in his own country by convincing Egyptians that their concerns and aspirations are being addressed. If he demonstrates leadership and accomplishes those goals, he can turn the Arab world’s most populous country into a model for how to meet the demands for reform engulfing the region.

Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America’s past tolerance of the Egyptian regime. It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. And make no mistake, a productive relationship with Egypt remains crucial for both us and the Middle East.

To that end, the United States must accompany our rhetoric with real assistance to the Egyptian people. For too long, financing Egypt’s military has dominated our alliance. The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked “Made in America” fired at protesters, United States-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo. Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt, as well as guarantee that American military assistance is accomplishing its goals — just as we are trying to do with Pakistan through a five-year nonmilitary assistance package.

The awakening across the Arab world must bring new light to Washington, too. Our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism. Instead, the best way for our stable allies to survive is to respond to the genuine political, legal and economic needs of their people. And the Obama administration is already working to address these needs.

At other historic turning points, we have not always chosen wisely. We built an important alliance with a free Philippines by supporting the people when they showed Ferdinand Marcos the door in 1986. But we continue to pay a horrible price for clinging too long to Iran’s shah. How we behave in this moment of challenge in Cairo is critical. It is vital that we stand with the people who share our values and hopes and who seek the universal goals of freedom, prosperity and peace.

For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.

John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Unlike Faux News, I do believe that John Kerry had White House approval for making these written and oral statements. He does so as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position to which he was appointed by Obama and which is an official one of the Administration. John Kerry is experienced in Foreign Affairs, courageous, and a leader, but he wouldn't do this so publicly and with his official roles front and centre without Presidential approval. Free speech has its limits in the US, and so does the Obama White House.

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
Mohamed ElBaradei in Tahrir Square on January 30, 2011

The third item of truly breaking news today is also tied to the response of the US and its determination to control the outcome of governmental change in Egypt. Over the last few days, Western news coverage has pumped up the role of Mohamed ElBaradei as a potential leader of Egypt whether interim or permanent. This is in part due to ElBaradei putting himself into the demonstration and forward as a leader in solidarity with it. However, in my opinion it is more because the West sees ElBaradei as a known entity and a safer one than the potential result of truly free and fair elections, or the spectre of an Iranian style takeover of a popular uprising by a radical Islamist leader. Though the Muslim Brotherhood is consistently named as the bogeyman, even Western reporting questions how hard line they are in Egypt, how dominant, and whether there isn't someone else more objectionable waiting in the wings, à la Khomeiny.

In any case, the West hopes for control, and yet has to manage its response to keep up with the Egyptian protesters. To that end, Obama has moved from dispatching the head of the Egyptian army back to his own country after a one week stay in Washington DC as the Tunisian Revolution was winding down and the Egyptian one winding up, to sending special envoys to Egypt and to meet with ElBaradei in particular. ElBaradei, as then head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) may have incurred the wrath of the Bush administration by attempting to stave off the Iraq war, and then writing about it, and he may continue to raise the hackles of neo-cons, for that reason, and by being more pro-peace not war (Nobel Peace Prize 2005), but he seems to be the West's preferred successor to Mubarak at this point in time.

Mohamed Atef lies on the ground after being shot in the head while demonstrating in the town of Sheikh Zoweid, 344 km (214 miles) northeast of Cairo, January 27, 2011. Security forces shot dead Mohamed, a Bedouin protester, in the north of Egypt's Sinai region on Thursday, eyewitnesses and a security source said. The 22-year-old man was shot in the head while demonstrating in the town of Sheikh Zoweid, they said. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters. REUTERS/Stringer This and more graphic photos are part of  Totallycoolpix's coverage of the Egyptian Protests.

Reports of 100 confirmed deaths in 8 days, and unconfirmed reports by the UN Human Rights agency of 300, along with the Egyptian protesters' demand that Mubarak leave by Friday, make the issue of succession more urgent.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak addresses the nation on Egyptian State TV in this still image taken from video, February 1, 2011. REUTERS/Egyptian State TV

The fourth genuine breaking news of this day, came very late in the day Egyptian time. After Obama's Special Envoy succeeded in persuading Mubarak, the latter recorded a speech stating he would not stand for re-election in September 2011. In the speech Mubarak attributed blame to others, and praising his own service, he also announced that he would oversee the prosecution of those responsible during the uprising for violence against the state and it property. He concluded with his intention to live and die on Egyptian soil.

The speech was broadcast, as is Mubarak's want, as late as possible in the day. Western media broadcasting the speech live as it was played on Egyptian state television at about 11pm Cairo time announced cheers from the crowd, until they finally got an Arabic translation of "Down Down with Mubarak!", "We are not leaving, we'll be here today, we'll be here Thursday, we'll be here Friday!", "Leave, leave, leave, Mubarak!" etc. A banner running below the live broadcasts confirms the amount of torture that has gone on during the 8 day revolution.

Pundits are hoping those who jeer are in the minority, and that some, even those in the bread lines, might be cheering for an Egypt that will remain "stable".

Protestors chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 1, 2011. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Is it too much to hope that the Egyptian people will be allowed a genuine and final say in their political fate this time?

Protesters laid out hundreds of anti-Mubarak signs in front of the Mugamma, the main government building in Tahrir Square.
Image from a slide show on Aljazeera English which closes with the words, "All these pictures are shot by a producer whose name we cannot disclose since authorities have shut down our offices in Egypt."

Your thoughts, comments, impressions?

Addendum: Obama gives his own 4.5 minute speech at approximately 6:45pm Washington time (about 3 hours after Mubarak's speech aired). He says nothing new, reiterates a number of previous hortatory statements, says he spoke to Mubarak and others in the region, and most significantly speaks on the assumption that Mubarak will stay, and effect changes starting now. To me, this only reinforces that the US wants Mubarak in power until they can come up with something during the next 8 months. 


Wendy said...

I can only hope that the millions win! Chiara, can you post a bit about the Muslim Brotherhood? I would like to 'not' be so concerned about them. :)

Chiara said...

Wendy--Thanks for your comment, and yes, I have a post planned on that topic.
I am actually more concerned right now at the West's need to have a dictator controlling a population who might otherwise vote in their own interests and not those of the West--but more on that in upcoming posts as well.
Thanks again for your comment!

Wendy said...

What else would you expect, Chiara. Does the west ever do anything that is not in their own self-interest???

Chiara said...

Wendy--Indeed, you would think i would know better. Still, I measure the depth of my disappointment by the fact that key words in my post on the events of February 2-3 came out in French and I had to look up translations. :(

oby said...

I am rooting for the PEOPLE of Egypt...feeling desperately sad at the turn of events...but if they want it bad enough it will be a setback at most and not a defeat.

Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm looking forward to your post on the MB. Too many people here are fearing them. Ugh!


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