Fear in Washington, Israel as general strike is declared in Egypt

Thousands of angry protesters again filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a seventh day of defiance of authorities Jan. 31, demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. “We will stay in the square, until the coward leaves,” the crowd chanted. The newly formed National Coalition for Change brings together pro-democracy advocates and the left as well as the banned Muslim Brotherhood. In a nod to the movement’s power—and a worrying sign for Mubarak—the army issued a statement saying Egyptians’ demands are legitimate, and vowing not to fire on protesters. An indefinite general strike has been declared, and a “march of a million” called for the following day.

“To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people, have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people,” reads the army statement published by the state news agency, MENA.

National train service has been shut down in a bid to thwart coordinated protests. A second “march of a million” has been called for the Mediterranean port Alexandria. EgyptAir is canceling all domestic and international flights until further notice. Cairo, Alexandria and Suez remain under official curfew—which is widely and blatantly violated.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, empowered to represent the movement, pledged, “What has begun, cannot go back.” The Muslim Brotherhood called on protesters “to continue with their activities and join the mass marches all around the country until this regime leaves.”

The army has positioned tanks around the Tahrir Square area, checking identity papers but letting protesters in. Civilian popular committee members are also checking papers to keep out plainclothes police. The police—more feared than the army—have been ordered back on to the streets after two days confined to barracks. No reason has been given for their disappearance.

Police briefly detained six foreign AlJazeera reporters in Cairo the day after the network’s operations in Egypt were ordered shut down. AlJazeera said the order was aimed at “censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people.”

Washington, Wall Street, Israel worried
In Washington, President Barack Obama called for “an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.” This echoed a phrase used by Hillary Clinton a day later.

On Wall Street, Moody’s rating agency downgraded Egypt’s debt rating by one notch to Ba2, and changed the country’s outlook from stable to negative.

“As in Tunisia, the protests appear to represent a largely leaderless movement with no clear agenda and no way to seize power,” said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “Up to now, it appears firmly based in Egypt’s squeezed middle class. It is possible that radicalism could fester in subsequent chaos, or that radical groups that are included in a broader coalition could come to control the government.”

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference: “Our concern is that when there are rapid changes, without all aspects of a modern democracy in place, what will happen—and it has happened already in Iran—will be the rise of an oppressive regime of radical Islam.”

“Such a regime will crush human rights and will not allow democracy or freedom, and will constitute a threat to peace,” he added, seemingly without irony. (Ha’aretz, Feb. 1; AFP, Middle East Online, BBC News, Jan. 31)

On the West Bank, Palestinian Authority police shut down a solidarity rally at the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah, arresting one.

See our last posts on Egypt and the Tunisian virus.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.