Friday, February 4, 2011

Days 8 and 9

Days 8 and 9

Tuesday the 1st of February is the Million Man March. The opposition planned for protestors to convene at Tahrir Square and then to march to the presidential residence in Heliopolis, but this did not happen. Reports were that 100 tanks were lining the main street leading to the residence and that it was heavily guarded. March organizers decided not to take the March through so many road blocks – a march that would be largely symbolic anyway since the president is likely not at his residence in Heliopolis.

By early afternoon hundreds of thousands – Al Jazeera English was reporting perhaps as many as two million – demonstrators show up in and around Tahrir Square. Protests surface against the US and West’s silence.

The state closes the train network in order to stop people from entering Cairo. And demonstrators in Tahrir protect their demonstration, in coordination with the army, by setting up cordons on all routes leading into the Square. They organize to stop pro-regime demonstrators and secret police from entering.

Millions protest in other cities throughout Egypt – in Alexandria, Mansoura, Damanhour, Suez, Tanta, Sinai. 250,000 are reported to join demonstrations in Al-Arish, the city in North Sinai. Hospitals in Alexandria are reported to be overwhelmed.

International ‘monitors’ come out with total numbers of those who have died in the uprising thus far: Human Rights Watch confirm that at least 129 have died, the UN High Commission apparently announces that more than 300 have died.

On Tuesday there are conflicting numbers circulating – of the actual numbers of protestors in Cairo and throughout Egypt, and of the total number who have died since the 25th of January when the revolution began.

El Baradei makes a public threat: Mubarak must resign before Friday. And he reportedly meets with US Ambassador to Egypt Scobey and another US visiting diplomat (name?).

The IMF warns of devastating inflation, while the Finance Minister announces an economic assistance package for needy Egyptians and a temporary hold on taxes on food imports, among other interventionist measures.

Today fears seem to circulate around the potential transition and a new government run by the Muslim Brotherhood. An Israeli diplomat (former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt) is interviewed on an international news network and confirms that there is much worry in Israel concerning events in Egypt. He asserts that Egyptians are not ready to govern themselves democratically, and if Mubarak steps down ‘suddenly’ Egypt will be destabilized.

Sometime later in the day it is announced that Obama is urging Mubarak not to seek re-election in presidential elections, scheduled for December. And then it is announced that Mubarak will give a public speech, to be televised later at night.

At around 11 at night Mubarak’s second speech to the nation is broadcast, and he declares that more concessions will be made to address the protestors’ concerns. The parliament will review articles of the constitution, the regulatory committee will investigate ‘irregularities’ in the last parliamentary elections (in November), and he will in fact not seek re-election in this year’s presidential elections. He was not in fact planning to run for re-election anyway, but now he is promising to ensure a peaceful transition following the presidential elections.

He makes it clear to the Egyptian people: You have a choice between chaos and stability. He has reached out to the opposition but they are refusing to be in dialogue. The protestors are unfortunately being “manipulated by political forces.” And in the midst of all of the unrest he as their president has taken immediate steps to restore calm, stability and security. He repeated over and over that in his few remaining months in office he will work with all opposition parties to ensure a peaceful transition to a new government.

He ended by emphasizing his many years of service and the sacrifices he made in defense of its soil. And he asserted that he will die on its soil.

Protestors in Tahrir were generally unhappy stating that this is not enough. Predictions are quickly made that a split would form, between those who want to keep Mubarak to his word and those who want Mubarak and those who are a part of his regime to leave immediately. And in the early morning hours clashes between anti-regime and ‘pro-regime’ protestors began in Tahrir. Opposition protestors apparently beat the pro-regime protestors, one among them severely.

However, by 10 the next morning, on Wednesday the 2nd, everything in and around Tahrir, in downtown Cairo, seemed fairly calm. We walked around, many people were talking. Many were occupying the square. Women and men, young and middle aged, were entering the Square, some with food for the protestors. We talked to a number of people on the street, all expressing a wish that Mubarak stay until his term is ended, under the assumption that he fulfill his promises.

The Ministry of Defense tells people to go home. Their demands have been met and internet is restored (for the first day since last Thursday). Although phones have been back on for the last few days, instant messaging services have not resumed. That day, “EgyptLovers” sends an instant message calling on people to participate in a massive pro-Mubarak rally – obviously a group from the regime, using its control over the mobile companies to send instant messages to the companies’ customers.

We knew then that sentiments were splitting even among the demonstrators. And by early afternoon violence erupted in and out of the Square. Pro-regime ‘thugs’ got into the Square with camels and horses, posing as opposition demonstrators, only to unleash on the protestors inside with sticks, knives, pistols and Molotov cocktails. Clashes erupted in and out of the Square as ‘gangs of Mubarak’ harassed and beat up demonstrators and pedestrians, and used the cocktails.

The international community responds to the violence. Evidence emerges that the organized thugs who have unleashed violence in downtown Cairo are from or sponsored by the government. One report apparently from captured ‘thugs’ is that they were offered a 5,000 LE reward if they take over the Square. Another report is that they were from an Alexandria prison and the police offered them a release if they stormed the Square to break up the protest. Still other reports seem to be surfacing.

A White House spokesperson comes out and says that the White House was expecting the ‘transition’ to happen yesterday, not in September.

Violence continues throughout the night. The army does not intervene. By Thursday morning 7 people have died in Tahrir and 830 are reported injured.

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