A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Tantawi Makes Some Concessions, Talks Unity

There's a definite sense of déjà vu (or as Yogi Berra supposedly said, of " déjà vu all over again") in what little I've seen so far of Field Marshal Tantawi's speech a short time ago:: a clear memory of Husni Mubarak's successive speeches last January and February, or of Ben Ali's in Tunisia: a lot of talk about patriotism and unity and the economy, some concessions, some promises for the future, but at the end the situation hasn't changed all that much.

Clearly, reports from the scene and tweets from the crowd indicate that Tantawi won over few in Tahrir Square, among those who could hear the speech above police gunfire. The question is whether he won over people outside Tahrir, the "silent majority" he presumably sought to address with talk of stability, econnomic growth, etc.

The major concession visible so far is the decision to hold Presidential elections by the end of June 2012. That comes close to meeting one of the protesters demands (most were asking for April).In accepting the Cabinets resignation he opens up the possibility of naming a much-sought-after national salvation government, but if in fact SCAF keeps all the power, a new Cabinet will be as toothless as the old one. And he did say something to the effect that if the people voted in a referendum to ask SCAF to go back to the barracks, they would do so "immediately," but did not in fact call such a referendum. The almost unanimous demands of political parties, professional syndicates, and the crowds in Tahrir are not enough, however: at least not yet.

The gamble is the decision to go ahead and hold the Parliamentary elections starting Monday. Many of the political parties want to go ahead; many of the younger revolutionaries do not. The likelihood of violence is obvious; a cumbersome electoral system (more on that in another post soon) that no one understands further obfuscates the situation.

SCAF may have bought some time or it may not have; the anger of the past several days has been provoked by the excessive violence used by police, Central Security Forces, and the Army. If that doesn't stop, I fear the battles will go on.

And having seen at least parts of the speech in online videos, I think we can confirm that the Field Marshal has not suddenly developed a charismatic personality since we last heard from him. Here it is in Arabic; if I can find a version with English subtitles or voice-over, I'll put it up.

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