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9237News from Egypt: Army and protesters disagree over Egypt's path to democracy

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  • Zafar Khan
    Feb 13, 2011
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      Army and protesters disagree over Egypt's path to democracy
      Activists reject army appeal to leave Tahrir Square as new leadership resists pressure to hand power to civilian administration
      Chris McGreal
      guardian.co.uk, Saturday 12 February 2011 17.14 GMT


      Egypt's new military administration and the pro-democracy protesters who brought down Hosni Mubarak are at odds over the path to democratic rule.

      The army sought to stave off pressure from jubilant protesters to swiftly hand power to a civilian-led administration by saying that it was committed to a "free democratic state".

      The military leadership gave no timetable for the political transition, and many of the demonstrators who filled Cairo's Tahrir Square for 18 days rejected the military's appeal to dismantle the barricades and go home.

      They said they were waiting for specific commitments from the military on their demand for a civilian-controlled interim administration, the lifting of the oppressive state of emergency and other steps toward liberalisation.

      The shockwaves of Mubarak's fall were felt across the region, particularly in Algeria and Yemen. Thousands of anti-government protesters, apparently inspired by events in Cairo, turned out in Algiers to confront the police. There were reports that hundreds had been arrested. In Sanaa, a protest by about 2,000 people to demand political reform was broken up by armed government supporters.

      Some of the organisers of Egypt's revolution announced they had formed a council to negotiate with the military and to oversee future demonstrations to keep up pressure on the army to meet demands for democratic change.

      "The council will have the authority to call for protests or call them off depending on how the situation develops," said Khaled Abdel Qader Ouda, one of the organisers.

      Earlier, General Mohsen el-Fangari said in a televised statement that the military intends to oversee "a peaceful transition of power" to allow "an elected civilian government to rule and build a free democratic state". He said the present cabinet would continue to sit until a new one is formed.

      Fangari announced that the widely ignored overnight curfew imposed during the crisis would be shortened by several hours.

      The military council also sought to allay US and Israeli concerns by saying that Egypt will continue to respect international treaties it has signed. Israeli politicians had expressed concern that a new government in Cairo might abrogate the 1979 peace accord between the two countries.

      Israel's finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, welcomed the announcement.

      "Peace is not only in the interest of Israel but also of Egypt. I am very happy with this announcement," he told Israeli television.

      But there will still be concern in Jerusalem about whether a future civilian government will be as co- operative as Mubarak's regime in isolating and undermining the Hamas administration in the Gaza strip.

      People continued to pour in to Cairo's Tahrir Square, in part to celebrate at the centre of the revolution against the Mubarak regime. But there was also concern among the core group of activists who helped organise the mass protests that brought down Mubarak at the army's apparent intent to control the political transition.

      A group of the activists issued what they called the "People's Communique No 1" – mirroring the titles of military communiques – listing demands.

      The included the immediate dissolution of Mubarak's cabinet and "suspension of the parliament elected in a rigged poll late last year".

      The reformists want a transitional administration appointed with four civilians and one military official to prepare for elections in nine months and to oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

      The Muslim Brotherhood, the banned Islamist group that has been the target of military tribunals aimed at suppressing it, sought to allay fears that it will attempt to take power. It said it would not be running a candidate in presidential elections and would not seek to win a majority in parliament. It also offered unusual support for the military council.

      Reuters reported that the information minister, Anas El-Fekky, was placed under house arrest after the military barred officials suspected of corruption from leaving the country.

      Mubarak was believed to be at his luxury retreat in Sharm el-Sheikh.

      Egypt: The key questions answered
      After the momentous events that climaxed in the deposing of Egypt's oppressive dictator, our experts look at where the country goes from here
      Sunday, 13 February 2011


      Why did the protesters prevail?

      Many of the younger protesters in what has been become known as the 25 January revolution told stories of being stopped in the street by older Egyptians and told how proud they should feel. Clearly those with longer memories were impressed at the speed of Mubarak's fall from grace. One of the things which facilitated it was the internet. As one administrator of the Facebook page which first called for the protests said: "Before our webpage went up people were interested only in football. But afterwards everything changed." Then there was simply the steely grit of the protesters, which the army initially acknowledged, and then supported. Anyone who witnessed the 28 January clashes with police will know that, without the bravery of the first wave of activists, the anti-government movement would never have reached Tahrir Square in the first place. Ultimately, Egyptians felt they had had enough. One of the economic aspects of Mubarak's legacy most mentioned
      on the streets since 25 January was the yawning gap between rich and poor. Striking busmen in Cairo last week showed The Independent of Sunday payslips for wages of about 400 Egyptian pounds a month – about £42. A hospital anaesthetist told us his gross pay was 700 EP a month – just over £70 – from which he had to find £11 for taxes and £15 for electricity. Angered by this and years of repression, spurred on by the success of Tunisia's jasmine revolution and determined enough to resist Mubarak's thuggish supporters, they turned the screw until their leader broke.

      What role did the US and foreign governments play in the revolution?

      For a while, Mubarak thought he could blame interfering "foreign powers" for the turmoil in his country. But the bogeyman gambit didn't work. The dilemma for Washington and European capitals throughout was how hard to press Mubarak to relinquish power. In they end they nudged more than they shoved. Contacts between the Pentagon and Egypt's top military officers run very deep; the message to them was very clear and apparently was heeded: do not open fire on your own people.

      Who is in charge now?

      The military. After Hosni Mubarak shocked his people by handing power to his armed forces on Friday night, Egypt's generals hold all the cards. The success of the 25 January revolution now depends on how they play them. For the moment the army is basking in the goodwill of the demonstrators, who throughout this crisis have perceived the military as impartial arbiters between the people and the regime. The generals have vowed to oversee the transition from military rule to democracy, yet until now they have not given any kind of timetable or blueprint for how this will happen. There are also concerns about whether the people who have been close to Mubarak for so long will really be willing to give up the resulting perks of power by permitting free and fair elections.

      When will there be an election?

      The timetable set out by Mubarak as he struggled to stay in power was for elections to take place in September 2011 at the latest, and this is what a majority of those who took part in the 25 January revolution would like to see – though not on his terms, of course. But Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel peace laureate, wrote in The New York Times yesterday of a process overseen by a presidential council, including a representative to oversee the constitutional changes required to ensure free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections "within a year". The problem is how to achieve such reforms – which include lifting emergency powers, guaranteeing freedom of speech, limiting presidential terms, allowing any bona fide candidate to stand, and perhaps transferring some presidential powers to a prime minister – without recourse to the current parliament, whose legitimacy is so low because of last November's rigged elections.

      Will Islamic fundamentalism become a factor?

      Not if the statements of leading Muslim Brotherhood members are to be taken at face value. The Islamist organisation, which is Egypt's most entrenched opposition movement despite having been banned for most of the past half-century, is suspected by some in the West of harbouring fundamentalist political ambitions. And yet the Brotherhood long ago abandoned any pretence of violent revolutionary ideology. According to Dr Essam El-Erian, an executive bureau member of the Brotherhood, the organisation is looking forward to a "free and democratic" Egypt. His view is supported by Egyptian political expert Emad Gad, who said that although any Brotherhood-dominated government might well revise Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, there would be no threat of an Iran-style seizure of power.

      Who is likely to run Egypt?

      For now, of course, it's the army. But if Egypt moves to the kind of open, pluralistic democracy the Tahrir Square demonstrators want, then it is almost impossible to predict the outcome. Mubarak has long predicted that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood would take over if he went, but few Egypt experts believe that, at the very least in the medium term. There are opposition or liberal figures waiting in the wings, and all have their detractors as well as their supporters. Names that have been mentioned include ElBaradei, the former IAEA nuclear inspections chief whose campaign group helped to organise the protests; Ayman Nour, the dissident politician jailed in 2005 by Mubarak; Ahmed Zewail, the super-eminent Egyptian-American scientist; and possibly Hossam Badrawi, appointed as a reforming secretary general of the hitherto ruling National Democratic Party. While the feared Mubarak henchman Omar Suleiman can't be ruled out, it's far from clear that any
      party would support him. One name frequently mentioned by Western diplomats is Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League. But this wasn't a revolution in support of an alternative leader; it was one against the existing one. It's possible that a telegenic and as yet unknown candidate could emerge from the ranks of the street protesters themselves.

      What happens to Mubarak now?

      Many of the Tahrir Square protesters wanted to see Mubarak put on trial, and were equally adamant that he must not be allowed to leave Egypt with his vast fortune, "stolen" from the Egyptian people and now apparently in secret bank accounts frozen by the Swiss authorities. Others were content simply to see him go. But the chances are that as more emerges about the regime's financial dealings – and perhaps also about the darkest aspects of his security state – the calls for trial could intensify. Some Egyptians believe that Mubarak actually spent his last 48 hours in office doing everything he could to preserve his wealth and to make himself and his family, including his son Gamal, safe from the threat of prosecution.

      Will Egypt's peace with Israel hold?

      The $64,000 question for the international community, of course. It's important to realise that this was not at all a revolution about Israel or against the treaty; it was much more domestic than that. Many of those on the streets actually stressed Egyptians' lack of interest in a war with Israel, while often also citing the importance of a fair deal for Palestinians. Some fear that if the Muslim Brotherhood had a big share of parliamentary seats it could seek to end the 1978 Camp David treaty. The Brotherhood itself has been enigmatic, saying it is a "heavy question" or it will be for the people to decide. But most officials of Western governments familiar with Egypt believe that the likeliest course for a freely elected government will be to stick by a treaty needed for Egyptian peace and so retain access to the billions of US dollars in aid which the country will need for some time to come.

      What will be the impact in the rest of the region?

      Algeria Thousands of Algerians defied a government ban on protests and a massive deployment of riot police to march in the capital yesterday, demanding democratic reforms. Thousands flooded into central Algiers, clashing with police who outnumbered them at least three to one. A human rights activist said more than 400 people were arrested. Islamic groups are a potent force here. Under Algeria's nearly two-decades-long state of emergency, protests are banned in the capital, but repeated government warnings for people to stay away fell on deaf ears. Some called Saturday's protest a turning point.

      Yemen Combustible situation which could blow at any time. Yesterday, thousands clashed with government supporters in Sana'a.

      Morocco Even this, one of the region's least bad regimes, has seen protests, the most recent bringing 1,000 on to Rabat's streets on Thursday. Their cause: the lack of promised public sector jobs. Graduates, among whom unemployment runs at 18 per cent, are not happy.

      Libya The least likely candidate for revolution. Political parties are banned, public dissent rare, and Colonel Gaddafi's regime swift to jail even incipient subversives. Only last week a writer who called for peaceful mass protests was arrested. The pretext was a traffic offence, but Jamal al-Hajji, a dual Libyan-Danish national, remains in jail.

      What does the revolution mean for the US and the West, and how will they react?

      The West loves to preach the gospel of democracy. But now what? At risk of collapse suddenly is the central pillar of Western policy in the Middle East, namely the 30-year treaty between Egypt and Israel, the single most important bulwark against a new Arab-Israeli conflagration. That post-Mubarak Egypt is likely to turn its face away from the West is probably a given, not least because few imagine that the Muslim Brotherhood will not have some significant part in the country's future. But by how many degrees is now the crucial question. Western capitals will use what influence they have to ensure several things: that the military allows a transition to democracy to happen, that it is orderly and, of course, that it does not result in an Egypt controlled by an Islamist theocracy. In that regard, the West will be seeking assurances that before the Brotherhood is included in the country's political structure, it first must forswear violence and any support
      for terrorism.

      All this will require light treading in Cairo. The US, at least, does have some leverage, thanks mostly to the $1.5bn in military aid it gives to Egypt annually, money that has to be approved by the US Congress. Even during the revolution, there were murmurs of withholding the money if the military were to abet Mubarak's attempts to stay in power. Washington is already warning other Middle Eastern states with less than perfect democracies to start making changes of their own now if they want to avoid a popular revolution.

      And finally, what about the economy and tourism?

      The unrest is costing Egypt £193m a day, and will shave two per cent off its projected 6 per cent growth this year. The highly lucrative Suez Canal is now open again, but at least £620m has already been lost in tourist revenues. River cruising on the Nile has ground to a halt, and the Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez. The most popular Red Sea resorts remain accessible. During the uprising, Mubarak raised some state salaries and pensions by 15 per cent. He also pledged to keep subsidies in place in a nation where 40 per cent of the 80 million people live on less than $2 a day.

      Answers by Donald Macintyre, Alastair Beach, David Usborne, Kunal Dutta and David Randall

      Robert Fisk: Cairo's 50,000 street children were abused by this regime
      Cairo's street kids were duped into resisting the revolution, then shot by police in the chaos that ensued


      The cops shot 16-year-old Mariam in the back on 28 January, a live round fired from the roof of the Saida Zeinab police station in the slums of Cairo's old city at the height of the government violence aimed at quelling the revolution, a pot shot of contempt by Mubarak's forces for the homeless street children of Egypt.

      She had gone to the police with up to a hundred other beggar boys and girls to demand the release of her friend, 16-year-old Ismail Yassin, who had already been dragged inside the station. Some of the kids outside were only nine years old. Maybe that's why the first policeman on the roof fired warning bullets into the air.

      Then he shot Mariam. She was taking pictures of the police on her mobile phone, but fell to the ground with a bullet in her back. The other children carried her to the nearby Mounira hospital – where the staff apparently refused to admit her – and then to the Ahmed Maher hospital, where the bullet was removed. Ismail was freed and made his way to Tahrir Square, where the pro-democracy protesters were under attack by armed men. He was wandering up Khairat Street – drawn towards violence like all the homeless of Cairo – when an unknown gunmen shot him in the head and killed him.

      Egypt army tries to clear Tahrir
      Scuffles break out when soldiers try to remove protesters from Cairo's Tahrir Square, days after Mubarak is ousted.


      Scuffles have broken out in Cairo's Tahrir Square as soldiers tried to remove activists from the epicentre of Egypt's uprising which resulted in the president stepping down.

      Hundreds of protesters remained in the square on Sunday and organisers said they would not leave until more of their demands are met.

      Meanwhile, normality was slowly returning to the rest of Egypt, at the start of the first working day since Hosni Mubarak was toppled during the weekend.

      Soldiers shoved pro-democracy protesters aside to force a path for traffic to start flowing through Tahrir Square for the first time in more than two weeks.

      The tents, where protesters camped out during the 18 days of protests, were removed.

      Protester Ashraf Ahmed said the military could tear down his tent, but that he was not going to leave "because so much still needs to be done. They haven't implemented anything yet.''

      Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Cairo, said the confrontations between troops and protesters was something of a "flashpoint".

      "I think it reflects a bigger problem, that the military believes that now Mubarak is out, it's time for stability. But some of the protesters think not enough has been done yet. They don't want to clear that square until the army has handed over to a civilian government."

      Protest organisers have threatened more rallies if the ruling Supreme Military Council fails to accept their agenda for reform.

      "If the army does not fulfil our demands, our uprising and its measures will return stronger," Safwat Hegazi, a protest leader, said.

      Organisers want the dissolution of parliament and the lifting of a 30-year-old state of emergency.

      Wealthy Egyptians fear change
      In a country with deep class divisions, the rich fear they have a lot to lose in the revolution.
      Last Modified: 13 Feb 2011 05:13 GMT


      Robert Fisk: A tyrant's exit. A nation's joy
      They sang. They laughed. They cried. Mubarak was no more


      Egypt government officials banned from traveling
      By Maggie Michael, Associated Press
      Saturday, 12 February 2011


      Egypt: A culture of torture
      We ask just how deep the culture of torture runs within the Egyptian state security apparatus.
      Inside Story Last Modified: 12 Feb 2011 09:29 GMT


      For years, torture has been described as an endemic problem in Egypt. Indeed international human rights groups say that the Egyptian government's record on this issue is a huge part of what is motivating Egyptians to continue to participate in the demonstrations that have been sweeping the country for more than two weeks.

      And with allegations that the Egyptian army has been involved in the detention and torture of anti-government campaigners, we ask if the army is losing its reputation for neutrality and just how deep the culture of torture runs within the state's security apparatus.

      Joining Inside Story to discuss this are: Gamal Mazloum, a retired Egyptian army general; Hugh Roberts, an analyst on North African affairs; Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa region at Amnesty International; and Ahmed Salah, an Egyptian activist.

      Post-Mubarak era dawns on Egypt
      People power has spoken in the biggest Arab nation just four weeks after Tunisians toppled their own ageing ruler.
      Last Modified: 12 Feb 2011 14:34 GMT


      The day Mubarak left
      More than 300 people were killed in a treacherous, 18-day journey toward ending Hosni Mubarak's 30-year autocratic rule.


      Who's afraid of the Muslim Brothers
      Western fears of 'Islamism' have been aided by Arab autocrats seeking to prolong their iron-fisted rule.
      Mohammed Khan Last Modified: 09 Feb 2011 08:10 GMT


      Shocking 'Egypt images' emerge
      New video footage shows violent confrontations between protesters and government supporters.
      Last Modified: 07 Feb 2011 19:32 GMT


      WikiLeaks cables: Egypt's Omar Suleiman demonised Muslim Brotherhood
      Former spymaster turned vice president accused Islamist group of extremism in his contacts with US officials, leaked cables reveal


      The Constructive Role of Faith in Egypt's Democratic Aspirations


      During my visit to Cairo last month, I witnessed an incident that today seems almost prophetic. At one of Cairo's posh coffee shops, I saw a customer screaming at the young man serving him, claiming that the waiter had shown him disrespect. The young worker responded firmly, "I did nothing wrong. You yelled at me." "Do you know who I am?" the customer slammed back. He then went on to demand that the cafe manager reprimand the worker publicly, by, in the customers' words, "dragging the dog's honor in the dirt."

      Anyone familiar with Cairo has seen this scenario too many times: a member of the "protected" upper class elite abuses a member of the working class for a trivial perceived offense. What came next however was new. Instead of cowering into an apology, the young worker looked his accuser in the eye and said, "You're not God. I'm not your subordinate. I'm a person just like you."

      Many Western analysts and media outlets are attempting to force categorize Egypt's uprising as either a secular demand for democracy (which we should therefore support) or a religious revolution (which we should fear and try to stop). Neither depiction captures the complexity or the opportunity of this historical moment in Egypt. To truly partner with the Egyptian people, as President Obama recently promised, U.S. policymakers must first develop a far more sophisticated understanding of Egyptian aspirations.

      Ordinary Egyptians' growing sense of self worth fuels the current popular anti-government uprising, not any political ideology or charismatic leader. It is a belief that citizens should no longer have to endure the daily humiliation of economic and political stagnation. The protesters represent a wide cross section of Egyptian society who demand justice, as they call for Muslim-Christian solidarity. They wave Egyptian flags, not specific opposition party banners or sectarian symbols.

      At the same time, Egyptians' rising religiosity may very well play a role in this development, just as faith often animated our own civil rights struggle. If Tunisia's success story was the match that ignited Egypt's popular uprising, decreased tolerance for injustice -- in some cases born out of a religious awakening -- provided the fuel. Gallup found that Egyptians were the most likely in the region to say moving toward greater democracy would help Muslims progress, and the most likely to agree that attachment to spiritual and moral values would similarly lead to a brighter future. This duality stands strong in the country with the highest percentage of people in the world affirming that religion is an important part of their daily lives. Surveys show that Egyptians prefer democracy over all other forms of government. They also say that religion plays a positive role in politics.

      The majority of Egyptians want democracy and see no contradiction between the change they seek and the timeless values to which they surrender. More than 90 percent of Egyptians say they would guarantee freedom of the press if it were up to them to write a constitution for a new country. Moreover, most Egyptians say they favor nothing more than an advisory role for religious leaders in the crafting of legislation. Egyptians choose democracy informed by sacred values, not theocracy with a democratic veneer.

      U.S. policy makers would do well to embrace this nuance, which to us as Americans should sound familiar. From abolitionists to the civil rights movement, American leaders have drawn inspiration from their faith in their pursuit of justice. Today, some of the loudest voices in the United States calling for environmental preservation, an end to torture or global poverty eradication are faith leaders. I witnessed this first hand when serving on the White House Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships advisory council. Religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds sat at one table to find solutions to our country's toughest challenges, each drawing on their individual ethical tradition for the common good.

      Our country's unique history and passion for social justice makes us natural partners to the Egyptian people in their struggle for a better future. Moreover, there is hunger on both sides for greater cooperation. Gallup surveys found that the majority of both Americans and Egyptians say greater interaction between Muslims and the West is a benefit not a threat, despite Egyptian disapproval of U.S. policies in their region.

      The continuing popular protests in the most influential and populated Arab country may represent the future of the Middle East. U.S. policy makers cannot afford to alienate this movement by failing to understand its intricacies. Faith is a part of Egypt, but most Egyptians do not support the rule of clerics. They seek the rule of law.

      Source: The Huffington Post - Dalia Mogahed