Egypt: countdown to Mubarak’s fall?

Thousands of people took to the streets in Egypt in a fifth day of protests Jan. 29, despite President Hosni Mubarak appearing on TV to announce he is sacking his government. In Cairo, after police used rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a protest at the Interior Ministry on Tahrir Square, they resorted to real bullets—leaving some ten protesters dead. Clashes with police are also reported from Ismailiya and Alexandria, where several police stations were torched. At least six are reported dead in Alexandra, including one police officer. Police finally retreated in Alexandra, leaving the city in the hands of protesters. Opposition activist Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in the country three days earlier, called for Mubarak to step down, saying “the Egyptian people have revolted against 58 years of repression.” (NYT, Jan. 29; BBC News, AlMasry AlYoum, AlMasry AlYoum, Reuters, Jan. 28)

Widespread looting has broken out in areas of Alexandria, with vigilantism emerging in reaction. The unrest has also spread to several prisons. At last eight detainees were reportedly killed in repression by guards at a facility holding political prisoners, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood. (YNet, Jan. 29)

In the most significant move in the government shake-up, Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s intelligence chief, has been named as vice president—and Mubarak’s presumed heir apparent. Mubarak had long been grooming his son Gamal as his successor. (NY Daily News, Jan. 29)

ElBaradei assailed the US for continuing to back up Mubarak: “What is…very disappointing to the Egyptian people is the message coming from the US, which is saying that we are going to work with the Egyptian people and with the government. Well, you have to make a choice. This is an authoritarian government and on the other hand the people have been deprived of their freedom for 58 years.”

Calling the US position “depressing,” ElBaradei said, “The US must take a clear stance; Obama couldn’t be with the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government at the same time. The US is either with the people or with the government.”

“President Mubarak should retire now if he wants to leave with dignity,” ElBaradei said, dismissing the cabinet changes as “an insult to the intelligence of the Egyptian people… The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day. Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?”

ElBaradei himself was hit with a water cannon Jan. 28, and then sought refuge in a mosque—which was shortly besieged by police, who filled the surrounding streets with tear gas to keep anyone from leaving. By the end of the day, he was reportedly in the hands of the authorities, who placed him under house arrest. (LAT, AlMasry AlYoum, BBC News, Jan, 29; TruthOut, Jan. 28)

President Barack Obama urged non-violence on all sides in televised remarks from the White House. Obama said he told President Hosni Mubarak that he must take “concrete steps and actions that deliver” political, social and economic change. “The future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. Governments have an obligation to respond to their citizens.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the US will review its assistance to Egypt in light of the protests. More than 80% of US aid to Egypt, or $1.3 billion, is military assistance. Aid to Egypt is exceeded only by Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the State Department’s 2011 budget. (Bloomberg, Jan. 29)

See our last post on Egypt.

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