It is the first working day in the Egyptian capital since protests peaked on Friday. Yet, in the words of Al Jazeera’s Dan Nolan, it is a “long way from business as usual”. Main roads in the capital have now been blocked by military tanks and armoured personnel carriers. Extra military roadblocks have been set up in an apparent attempt to divert traffic away from Tahrir Square, the focal point for demonstrators. “It’s still a very tense scene to have so much military in the capital city of the country,” he says.
The President, who on paper enjoys enormous power, makes decrees. The army is ordered to carry out his orders. Those who defy the curfew are threatened with dire consequences. But nobody obeys and nothing happens.
The BBC correspondent in Cairo summed up the real situation. Standing before a huge building from which flames and smoke are belching, visibly astonished, he says: “The headquarters of the ruling party is on fire and there is no fire brigade in sight. And of course there are no police. The state here has disappeared.”
This is not the only case. Several key government buildings in the capital continue to smoulder this morning, visible proof of the way the rebels have attacked the state. A crowd of people tried to storm the hated Ministry of the Interior, where people are taken for torture. They were beaten back by police snipers firing from the roof, leaving three dead.
Unidentified men on Sunday came out of the interior ministry compound in a car and dumped a body on a street. They then opened fire on people present in the area and fled. There were no immediate reports of casualties in that attack.
People are risking their lives every day on the streets. The death toll is now said to be over one hundred and fifty, and at least 4,000 injured. But nobody knows what the real figure is. Yet no amount of repression can halt the movement. People have lost their fear. Thousands of protesters remain camped out in the city’s Tahrir Square. They are not afraid to die. That is their main strength, and the main weakness of the forces that confront them.
Al Jazeera’s sources have indicated that the military has now also been deployed to the resort town of Sharm el Shaikh. Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the city of Suez, said the city had witnessed a “completely chaotic night”, but that the streets were quiet as day broke. She reported that in the absence of police and military, people were “tak[ing] the law into their own hands”, using “clubs, batons, sticks, machetes [and] knives” to protect their property.
The “international community”
The “international community” is terrified at this turn of events. Caught by surprise, the US has been a mere spectator over the last several weeks, as people took to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt. Washington understands all too well that the events in Egypt will have far reaching implications on other countries in the region.
The Americans and Europeans are now urging Mubarak to refrain from violence against unarmed protesters and to work to create conditions for free and fair elections. They realize that what Mubarak has offered is too little and too late. The US told Mubarak on Saturday that it was not enough simply to “reshuffle the deck” with a shake-up of his government and pressed him to deliver “genuine reform”.
“The Egyptian government can’t reshuffle the deck and then stand pat,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in a message on Twitter after Mubarak fired his government but made clear he had no intention of stepping down.
“President Mubarak’s words pledging reform must be followed by action,” Crowley said, echoing Obama’s appeal on Friday. These words are echoed by the leading governments of Europe. In a statement released in Berlin on Saturday, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said they were “deeply worried about the events in Egypt”.
“We call on President Mubarak to renounce any violence against unarmed civilians and to recognise the demonstrators’ peaceful rights,” the joint statement said.
“We call on President Mubarak to begin a transformation process that should be reflected in a broadly based government, as well as free and fair elections.”
The Europeans appealed to Mubarak to respond to his people’s grievances and take steps to improve the human rights situation in the country: “Human rights and democratic freedom must be fully recognised, including freedom of expression and assembly, and the free use of means of communication such as telephone and internet.”
But they leave out of account one small detail. The only “genuine reform” the people want is the immediate resignation of Mubarak and all his cronies. This is one reform Mubarak is not prepared to contemplate. In all these declarations the word democracy is conspicuous by its absence. All the emphasis is on stability. That goes to the heart of the matter.
The Americans and Europeans have no right whatsoever to speak of human rights. For decades they have supported the bestial regime of Hosni Mubarak. They have financed his army and police force and turned a blind eye to repression, brutality and torture. In return, he has supported their policies in the Middle East. He was a pivotal figure in the ugly farce of the “peace talks” and the betrayal of the Palestinians. This beautiful relationship was not based on democracy and human rights but on cynical self-interest.
For years these same imperialists have dictated the economic policies of supposedly “independent” governments. In the past many Arab governments called themselves socialist. They carried out nationalizations and measures in the interests of the workers and peasants. But for the last three decades these policies were reversed. In 1987, at the height of the debt crisis, the left nationalist government of Habib Bourguiba was replaced by a new regime, firmly committed to “free market” reforms.
So-called “market reforms” have led to growing inequality, poverty and unemployment. The food price hikes in Tunisia were not “dictated” by the Ben Ali government. They were imposed by Wall Street and the IMF. Ben Ali’s government slavishly carried out the IMF’s deadly economic medicine over a period of more than twenty years. This served to destabilize the national economy and impoverish the Tunisian population. That is the real basis for the Tunisian Revolution.
The same was true of Egypt when Sadat reversed the policies of Abdel Nasser and turned Egypt into a satellite of US imperialism. His faithful lieutenant Hosni Mubarak continued and deepened these policies, especially after the economic reform of 1991, which was dictated by the Americans. These governments slavishly obeyed and effectively enforced the diktats of the IMF, while serving the interests of both the US and the European Union. This pattern has occurred in numerous countries. Now all this is threatened.
The real “concern” in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin is that the imperialists are facing a catastrophic collapse of all their strategies for controlling the Middle East and its huge resources. This was clearly spelled out in the European statement: “We recognise the balanced role that President Mubarak has played for many years in the Middle East. We call on him to adopt the same moderate approach to the current situation in Egypt.”
The “moderate approach” and “balanced role” of Hosni Mubarak consisted in blatant support for the policies of the imperialists. That is why he was an invaluable ally of the USA and Israel. That is why they are desperate to prop him up. But they have already failed. No force on earth can save him now.
The domino effect
The fears of the imperialists are well grounded. Revolutions are no respecters of frontiers. The revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt are shaking the whole Arab world to its foundations. From the day that President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, the question was never just what would happen next in Tunisia, but whether the popular uprising there would become a catalyst for discontent elsewhere. Now we have the answer.
Immediately following the Tunisian insurrection there were mass protests in neighbouring Algeria. There have been mass demonstrations in Yemen and Jordan. Last week the BBC reported that a group of former Jordanian army officers produced an open letter to the king asking him to introduce reforms before something worse happened. Interviewed by the BBC, the Jordanian deputy prime minister replied that there were only a few such officers: “not more than 150 or 200”.
The corrupt oil states in the Gulf have been sitting on vast wealth for decades while millions of people in the Arab world are suffering terrible poverty, unemployment and deprivation. These rotten regimes are unpopular and base themselves on repression as much as Mubarak. His overthrow would destabilise one pro-western Arab regime after another.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose economic and political bloc of states in the Arabian Gulf, said on Sunday that it wanted a “stable Egypt”.
“We are looking for a stable Egypt and hoping things will be restored soon,” Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, the GCC’s secretary general, said on the sidelines of a Malaysian investment forum. He also downplayed concerns about the possible economic fallout of the unrest.
The recent revelations concerning the secret deals between the PLO leadership and Israel will have provoked a crisis in the ranks of the Palestinians. The masses and the rank and file of the PLO will be shocked and disgusted by this blatant collaborationism. The so-called “peace process” is now dead in the water. The faith of the masses in the leadership will be severely shaken. In such a context the events in Tunisia and Egypt will have a very serious impact on the thinking of ordinary Palestinians.
The tactic of so-called armed struggle has led nowhere. The rockets of Hammas do not even dent the armour of the powerful Israeli state. But the policies of the so-called “moderates” have also failed miserably. Neither Hammas nor Abbas have anything to offer the Palestinian people. They must trust only themselves, in their own strength. The prospect of a new Intifada is growing stronger by the day. And Tunisia and Egypt provide them with an inspiring example.
This lesson has not been lost on the Israeli ruling circles. No government is more terrified than that of Israel of the Arab revolution. When the first protests erupted a senior Israeli government source described the events in the Middle East as an “earthquake”. Israel was monitoring the situation in Egypt closely, he added, but he foolishly believed the Mubarak regime was strong enough to withstand the protests. “We believe Egypt will overcome the current wave of protests,” he said. “But it reflects the fragile situation in the region.”
Egypt is one of the closest collaborators of Israel in the region. It has a border with Gaza and Mubarak has actively collaborated with the Israelis in strangling the Gaza Strip. He has provided invaluable support for Abbas and the right wing leadership of the PLO. His fall would be a catastrophe for Israel and transform the situation throughout the Middle East and beyond. However, the Israelis are powerless to intervene. They must be very careful about what they say about Egypt, for fear of making a bad situation (from their point of view) even worse.
Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister told cabinet ministers that Israel was “closely monitoring” events in Egypt, adding: “Our goal is to maintain stability and ensure that peace between us and Egypt continues to exist with any development.” He continued:
“The cause of instability … has no connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, but was being driven by economic factors. The protests were being fuelled by social media, he said – “it’s what connects the dots” – pointing out that in the past Arab regimes were able to maintain a tight grip on news and communications. Al Jazeera, he said, was “playing a more significant role than a regular TV station in the West”. There were many differences between Egypt and Tunisia, where protests forced the president and his wife to flee the country. “Mubarak’s regime is well-rooted in the military.”
The Israeli ruling clique is not worried by suicide bombers and Hammas’ rockets. On the contrary, every rocket that falls on a Jewish village, every bomb that blows up a bus is excellent news for the Zionists. It serves to convince ordinary people in Israel that “they want to kill us”, and pushes the population behind the government. But this is something different. The revolutionary movement of the Arab masses poses a serious threat to them.
What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? For Egypt there is no way back. Mubarak has opted for more of the same old and bankrupt ways of dealing with national uprising, making promises of change and cosmetic alterations in order to cling to power. It will not work. Everything depends on two things: the momentum of the popular uprising and the role of the military.
There are tanks on the streets. But they are surrounded by the revolutionary people. The protesters climb on the tanks, appeal to the troops who often reply with the thumbs up sign.
In Liberation Square the troops opened fire yesterday, probably above the heads of the people. This was real fire. But the people did not flinch. On the contrary, when they heard the gunfire people ran towards the place where the firing were taking place. In other words, they were running towards danger, not away from it. This little detail is extremely important. It shows the limits of military power.
The movement has not been intimidated by a show of force. The continued momentum of the uprising poses the need to remove Mubarak, his family and his political leadership from the helm. The tops of the army will make their calculations on the basis of a delicate balancing act. Their need to insure their own influence and privileges is far more important to them than the preservation of Mubarak.
The revolt continues to expand and gain momentum in major Egyptian cities and protestors demand the removal of Mubarak and his regime. The masses know that the position of the regime is untenable. They feel they have already won a victory. On the streets there is a mood of joy, of euphoria. This euphoria is being transmitted to every layer of the population. It is a far more powerful stimulate than wine.
An elderly middle class man who had fled from the disturbances Cairo was asked by the BBC if he thought that the demonstrations have gone too far. With a voice trembling with emotion, he answered: “The demonstrations are wonderful! I have been waiting for this all my life!”
New and dramatic events are being prepared that will shake the world.
London, 30th January 2011.