Egyptian protesters held a massive “departure day” rally Friday Feb. 4, aimed at ousting President Hosni Mubarak. Tens of thousands again filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square—although this time army troops in riot gear backed up with armored vehicles formed a cordon around the square and controlled access, effectively separating the protesters from pro-Mubarak mobs, and avoiding violence. Inside the square, the atmosphere was festive—although there was no sign that Mubarak had responded to demands that he step down.
At one end of the square the faithful prayed in the open, beneath two traffic lights from each of which hung an effigy of Mubarak. “We were born free and we shall live free,” prayer leader Khaled al-Marakbi said in his sermon. “I ask of you patience until victory.” Worshipers used newspapers, banners or even Egyptian flags as prayer mats, reciting the traditional prayer for the dead in memory of the more than 300 who have lost their lives in the protests. The prayer leader and many in the vast open-air congregation were visibly in tears.
There was a new pro-Mubarak rally in Cairo’s upscale Mohandeseen neighborhood—but it was attended by dozens rather than the tens of thousands seen in Tahrir. There were a few scattered incidents of violence around the city, however. AlJazeera news network, its operations in Egypt now officially shut down, said a “gang of thugs” had ransacked its Cairo offices.
Will he stay or will he go?
Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi visited Tahrir Square to appeal to demonstrators to give up their protest campaign and accept Mubarak’s offer of a pledge not to run in September elections. But opposition groups from across the spectrum have dismissed the concession as inadequate and have rejected calls by newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman (Mubarak’s veteran intelligence chief) to enter talks. Tantawi even appealed to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to enter negotiations—to no avail.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie told AlJazeera television that he stood ready to enter talks—but only after Mubarak has gone. “We stand with all the political forces supporting dialogue with whoever wants to implement reforms in the country after the departure of this unjust, corrupt tyrant,” he said. “We have a single demand. Once it is met, we will engage in dialogue.”
In his first interview since the protests erupted, Mubarak told ABC television’s Christiane Amanpour he was fed up with being president and would like to leave office now, but cannot for fear that the country would sink into chaos—and that the Muslim Brotherhood would take power.
Mixed signals form Washington
European Union leaders demanded that the transition to democracy in Egypt start “now” in a joint statement that also condemned violence in the country “in the strongest terms.” The Obama administration, while speaking in stronger terms than a few days ago, has been considerably more equivocal.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Washington had traced the violence against the protesters to “elements close to the government and the ruling party,” even if it is not clear how far “up the chain” it goes.
But Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned against cutting off aid. “I would just caution against doing anything until we really understand what’s going on,” Mullen said in an interview on ABC News.
Asked a possible freeze of US aid to Egypt—as a move that Sen. John McCain has said is being considered—Mullen replied: “That’s not mine to decide. But at the same time, I’d like to understand a little bit more about what’s going on before we took any specifics.” He said the aid has “established a relationship…of great strength” between the US and Egyptian military calling it as “an investment that’s paid off over a long period of time.”
McCain is leading a growing chorus of calls in the US Congress for Mubarak to step down immediately. (Middle East Online, Middle East Online, AFP, AFP, Feb. 4)
See our last post on Egypt.
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Deconstructing Beltway split on Mubarak
A World War 4 Report capsule analysis:
McCain’s eagerness to see Mubarak gone indicates that he still stands with the neocons and their Mideast “regime change” agenda—while Mike Mullen stands with the old-guard paleo-cons or “pragmatists” who favor “stability” enforced by authoritarian regimes. It also seems to indicate that the stateside neocons have split with their friends in Israel on this question—as Benjamin Netanyahu is clearly worried by the prospects of a revolution in Egypt.
NYC Egypt solidarity march: a cynical view
This blogger dropped by the Times Square rally in solidarity with the Egypt protesters this afternoon (Feb. 4). It was great to see so many spirited Egyptians and Arabs out there, but it was a little depressing in predictable ways for longtime observers of the city’s left-activist scene.
First, inevitably, was the NYPD’s usual draconian control, with everyone penned in behind barricades, and pedestrians kept moving on police orders. But given that the Egyptian army put barricades around Tahrir Square, maybe this was an appropriate way to show solidarity.
Perhaps more demoralizing was the prominent role of the sinister troika of ANSWER, International Action Center and Workers World Party. These interlinked entities each cultivate front groups, satellites and proxies to keep nubiles confused, but can always be recognized by their mass-produced cookie-cutter placards. Their slick machine spits these out slogan-ready for each crisis on the world stage, and hands them out en masse at protests. I fear that the Egyptian ex-pats who called the rally could be drawn into an alliance with these totalitarian hucksters.
They should be reminded that Workers World’s machine back in the ’80s supported the Soviets in Afghanistan—and in the ’90s supported Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosova. In other words, they have all too recently avidly cheered on mass murder of Muslims. Their current appeal to New York area Muslims around such issues as Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and (ironically) Afghanistan is purely opportunistic. We pointed this out when they similarly appropriated activist response to this past summer’s “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy.
However, the break may be coming. Workers World and its satellites are with the protesters against Mubarak in Egypt today. But will they be with the protesters against Assad in Damascus if the movement spreads to Syria tomorrow?
That’s one of the reasons I am praying for the emergence of a Syrian protest movement. I can’t wait to see these charlatans exposed.
See our last post on the pseudo-left.
How come our chants never sound that good?
“Condoleeza! Condoleeza! Go and get Mubarak VISA!”