EOTM Press Room

Mubarak Reveals a Brutal Plan to Hold Power

In Breaking News, World News on February 3, 2011 at 6:28 am

By: EOTM Staff

Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, erupted in mass protests in January 2011 that have brought the 29-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak to an apparent end, with his announcement on Feb. 1 that he would not run for re-election. The revolution in Tunisia  earlier in the month seemed to inflame decades worth of smoldering grievances against Mr. Mubarak’s heavy handed rule.

The protests began on a Tuesday, Jan. 25, growing in strength with tens of thousands of people gathering to demand that Mr. Mubarak to step down. The government quickly banned all demonstrations, but on Wednesday the protesters returned in gathering numbers and clashed with the police in cities across the country despite curfews.

Control of the streets cycled through a dizzying succession of stages. After an all-out war against hundreds of thousands of protesters on the night of Jan. 28, the legions of black-clad security police officers — a reviled paramilitary force focused on upholding the state — withdrew from the biggest cities. After the jails were opened, looters smashed store windows and ravaged shopping malls as police stations and the national party headquarters burned through the night, creating an atmosphere that protesters said would justify a crackdown. Unofficial tallies estimate that more than 100 protesters died in the opening days of the unrest.

Clashes on the streets of Cairo – Pics Below —

The “Berlin Wall” analogy that has been a staple of Western media discussion of the struggle for power in Egypt looked way off the mark on Wednesday as the regime unleashed a brutal strategy for remaining in power that might make “Prague Spring” a more apposite European analogy. The Berlin Wall’s rupture saw East Germany’s communist regime collapse; the democratic uprising in Czechoslovakia in 1968 was crushed by Russian tanks.

The Egyptian army, which had previously vowed not to use force against the protestors, stood by passively as thousands of pro-government thugs were bused in and bludgeoned their way into the peaceful anti-Mubarak crowd on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The violent chaos that raged for hours into the night left hundreds wounded and at least three dead. It made clear that earlier suggestions that the army was siding with the protestors were premature. 

The violent backlash by regime supporters on Wednesday also underscored Mubarak’s determination to defy the demand by protestors — and implicitly by the Obama Administration — that he step down immediately. Instead, he intends to remain in charge until elections scheduled for September, supervising what he promised would be an “orderly” transition of power. And he and the top military men around him appear to have designed a strategy to keep hold of the reins until then. The opposition insist that he go immediately, but Wednesday’s events raised the question of whether they have a winning strategy of their own.

Tuesday’s “March of Millions” may have been the protest movement’s crescendo, a massive show of strength of the street that prompted Mubarak to announce that he would not seek reelection, and would spend the next seven months presiding over a process of reforms and consultation in order to affect an orderly transfer of power. That was never going to be acceptable to many of the demonstrators on the streets, nor to the U.S. President Obama on Tuesday demanded that the transition begin “now,” and when asked Wednesday what “now” meant, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “yesterday.”

But the Egyptian regime was contemptuous of Obama’s demand, saying if the U.S. wants an orderly transition, as it insists it does, “We can’t do that if we have a vacuum of power”, as one Egyptian official told the New York Times. Mubarak’s retirement announcement was designed for the army, as well as the many millions of Egyptians caught somewhere between the protesters and the hardcore supporters of the regime. His transition plan appears to have been embraced by the military — which, after all, has been the source of political power in Egypt since the 1952 coup that overturned the monarchy, and whose top echelon is unlikely to want to relinquish control of the transition process to forces unknown. The army on Wednesday issued a statement telling the protesters that their demands had been heard, and that it was now time to go home.

And if the army was willing to see Mubarak make a dignified exit while keeping the political reform process in friendly hands — most importantly, those of Vice President and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman — the regime’s hardcore support base is even more determined not to see him ejected from office just yet. Many of the thugs attacking protesters turned out to have been policemen or their family members, but that in itself was a reminder that there are tens of thousands of Egyptians deeply invested in a brutal regime they have served as enforcers on the ground, and many are fearful enough of losing its protection that they’re willing to spill Egyptian blood, as they always have been, to keep their paymasters in place.

Of greater concern to the protest movement may be the reality that there are millions of ordinary Egyptians to whom Mubarak’s proposed graceful exit over seven months sounds reasonable, and who desperately want an end to the economic and security chaos that has disrupted their lives over the past week, and threatens to turn even more violent. Even among those who have supported the protests, not all are convinced of the wisdom of further confrontation. The regime will be hoping to divide opposition political leaders, hoping that some can be tempted to begin negotiations with the regime even while others insist on Mubarak’s departure as a precondition.

The democracy movement puts pressure on the regime to the extent that their presence on the streets and strike actions disrupt its functioning. But such action also disrupts the lives of many millions of ordinary people. By unleashing its thugs and creating a situation of violent chaos, the regime also creates a pretext for the military to simply clear everyone off the streets. Asking soldiers to fire on peaceful demonstrators could create a crisis within the ranks, but asking them to clear rival political camps off the street to put a stop to violent chaos (even if that chaos was deliberately instigated) may be a different prospect. The army is urging everyone to go home; sooner or later they will become more insistent in that demand. And as things stand, once the protestors are off the street the leverage of the opposition leaders diminishes.

So the regime appears to be calculating that time — as well as intervening to create violent chaos among demonstrators on the street — actually works in favor of their maintaining control for now. Sure, the U.S. is publicly urging him to start the political transition “yesterday,” as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs put it on Wednesday, but Mubarak and Suleiman may have little incentive to pay Obama much heed right now.

The regime’s strategy is premised on the idea that it can make the protesters’ current strategy — a massive show of strength through public marches, vowing to stay on the streets until Mubarak goes — work in its favor by turning the army and many ordinary citizens against further street action. If Mubarak’s men are right, the dilemma facing the protest leadership will be finding plausible strategies for a more sustained challenge to Mubarak if he manages to tough out the current standoff on the streets.




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