A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Strange Day

How to sum up today in Egypt? Although the news channels are full of wall-to-wall coverage, not a lot is really clear at the end of the day. The government did not name the new Cabinet, though the Defense Minister appeared on TV. The Army beefed up its presence but did not crack down on the protesters. Yet two F-16s buzzed Central Cairo as the curfew began: what does that mean?

I suspect there are divisions in he leadership about what to do next. The Army does not want to jeopardize its reputation with the people, but if ordered to crack down hard, would it obey? I'm not sure anyone knows. Tomorrow may explain what's been going on.

Mohamed ElBaradei made his move today, and he and a number of respected dissidents were set up as a committee to try to negotiate a transitional unity government — if they can find anyone to talk to them. Still, at least there are faces who can provide a responsible transition. I'm not sure ElBaradei has the fire in him to lead a new government, but as one of Egypt's more experienced diplomats,he could help negotiate a transition.
The longer this goes on, the more likely I fear the hopes for a peaceful transition will fade: and then the choice becomes stark: either the government goes peacefully or we face the danger of Tahrir Square looking like Tienanmen Square. Or, the Army refuses an order and we have the Tunisian situation, which could be the best outcome.

One thing the government may have miscalculated (well, one of many): if the withdrawal of the police was intended to create anarchy and lead most Egyptians to beg for the government to come back, the resourcefulness of Egyptians in creating neighborhood committees and patrolling their neighborhoods (at least in Alexandria there are now said to be popular committees covering the whole city) has shown them something they may not have realized before: they can organize their own government services if needed. That could be the most important lesson of all.


McDevite said...

Props to the Ikhwan for successfully jailbreaking its leadership. Also, good on them for deciding NOT to be the face of either the protests or the replacement government.

Though the unity talks were slow in coming, Mubarak seems to be moving slower still; the new government, slashing prices, and keeping subsidies would've headed this off a month ago. Protesters have already incorporated a rejection of Suleiman and Shafik into their demands.

The opposition parties are doing much better than I'd have expected. Getting the Ikhwan, Al-Ghad, Kefeya, and the Association for Change to sing from the same hymn book is a good sign.

I think your post missed two key points I'd seen widely reported today on Al-Jazeera and The Guardian; the defection of tank battalions in Alexandria to the protesters and the arrival, late evening, of the faculty of Al-Azhar at Midan Tahrir. With the Judges Association, that just about rounds out Egyptian civil society against Mubarak. Watching Wafd's party leadership twitch between the frying pan and the fire is an interesting tell, as is the flight en masse of the wealthy to London and the UAE.

Nebulous reports about heavy firing around the Presidential Palace appears to be for naught, however.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Good points. I missed some of those as I was busy most of the day and didn't follow every single report.

McDevite said...

Yeah, I have the thin advantage of being a grad student, and thus, being able to watch all the feed while writing my dissertation.

Plus, as an AUC alumnus, there's plenty more information pouring in through twitter, facebook, and my friends via email.

Still, in taking everything in, I do make mistakes. I thought that the arrest of Adli and rumors of shots fired in Heliopolis would've meant the end of everything.

I do look forward to Mubarak's Israeli exile collapsing Bibi's coalition, though.