Live blogging the Egypt uprising: Jan. 30
Events in Egypt are moving so fast, with so much information, speculation, and disinformation flying around, that I'm going to take another shot at live blogging. The key takeaway from today (Jan. 30) so far is that the military continues to tolerate protests, and protesters have not in any way been mollified by Hosni Mubarak's shuffling of his cabinet and appointment of his first-ever vice president, Omar Suleiman.
5:00 p.m. EST (12:00 a.m. Cairo) SIGNING OFF live blog blogging for today. I probably won't be doing this tomorrow, since I'm helping to write a cover story for our magazine on events in Egypt and am still hoping to take off for Cairo on Tuesday. (I fear that flights will still be screwy, though.) I plan to post a piece later this evening reflecting on the protests that drove Soeharto from power in 1998 – I covered them and lived in Indonesia for 10 years – and similarities to the unfolding events in Egypt.
4:46 p.m. EST (11:46 p.m. Cairo) US ACADEMICS WEIGH IN. Josh Stacher, a friend and really sharp follower of Egypt's politics at Kent State, forwards this open letter to President Obama signed by about 100 mostly US-based academics. "Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday 'political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,' your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants."
4:35 p.m. EST (11:35 p.m. Cairo) THE US IS PREPARING for post-Mubarak Egypt says this piece from the Los Angeles Times. Marc Lynch says on his Twitter feed the drift of the piece "sounds right." Well, that's a good enough endorsement for me. "One former senior administration adviser said he had spoken to his old colleagues inside the Obama administration in recent days about the unrest in Egypt. As early as last Wednesday, the Obama administration recognized that they would not be able to prop up the Mubarak regime and keep it in power at all costs, the former official said. 'They don't want to push Mubarak over the cliff, but they understand that the Mubarak era is over and that the only way Mubarak could be saved now is by a ruthless suppression of the population, which would probably set the stage for a much more radical revolution down the road.' "
Praying near tanks in Central Cairo:
3:00 p.m. EST (10:00 p.m. Cairo) OBAMA MUST SUPPORT MUBARAK, says the Zionist Organization of America, according to an email I just received from a PR firm. The email summarizes the position of Morton Klein, the group's national president, thusly: "The United States must do everything possible to keep Mubarak in power even though he is a dictator – otherwise we risk someone even more radical and extremist taking over. Whoever were to take over would surely be an enemy to both the United States and Israel. Should a group like the Muslim Brotherhood take power, any chance of the peace treaty with Israel and Egypt will surely die." It's a predictable point of view that, of course, amounts to asking the US to defy the will of the Egyptian people. There has been almost no public discussion or interest in Israel from the tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters who have taken to the streets this week. Average Egyptians, like almost all Arabs, have a low opinion of Israel if prompted, but they're focused on reordering their internal affairs. Their complaints focus on low wages, state torture, lack of freedom and so on. Could the Muslim Brotherhood come to power some day? Well, maybe, though that's far from certain and many analysts I respect speculate the group's popularity would fade in an environment where real political movements and parties were tolerated. But even if they rose to parliamentary power, it's hard to see renewing confrontation with Israel – a drain on resources and a distraction from the demands of the Egyptian people – as a first order of business. Statements like this will, of course, feed conspiracy theories that the US and Israel stood in the way of democracy in Egypt, if Mubarak manges somehow to hang on.
2:23 p.m. EST (9:33 p.m. Cairo) HEY, THAT'S AN IDEA... Egyptian State TV has announced an extension for the curfew hours tomorrow and that it will now run between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. Those keeping score at home will remember that the curfew first started at 5 p.m., and was moved back to 4 p.m. yesterday. The curfew has been roundly ignored so far. I just got off the phone with Kristen Chick in Cairo. (She was still at Tahrir Square still.) She says a few thousand protesters are calm but remain energized and convinced that they're going to drive Mubarak from power. They were also furious at reports of looting and rioting being attributed to the people. "Every time I'd ask about it, they'd say 'No, no, no, it's not the people. It's the police and the interior ministry people. They took off their uniforms, went home and changed their clothes, and then went out and started looting because they want to create chaos and discredit us.' " Meanwhile, Wael Abbas has been uploading some youtube videos of protests from earlier today. Here's one of them:
Praying next to tank in central Cairo.
1:25 p.m. EST (8:25 p.m. Cairo) The Monitor's Cairo correspondent Kristen Chick just filed this piece over the phone from Tahrir Square. "In Tahrir Square, small groups chanted slogans against Mubarak while others walked along carrying their own signs, saying 'Get out, Mubarak' or 'No to Mubarak.' Someone stuck a sign into the burned-out hulk of a police car that said: 'It wasn't us who burned it. The police and the regime burned it.' Some held new signs Sunday denouncing Omar Suleiman, who Mubarak on Saturday appointed as vice president. This is the first time in three decades that Egypt has had a vice president, but Mr. Suleiman – the intelligence chief close to Mubarak – was not welcomed... Army tanks stood in front of the Interior Ministry where Saturday police clashed with the Army after police opened fire on the crowd. An Army officer said that many were killed there yesterday, but did not say how many. People picked up spent bullet casings from the ground and cursed the police." We hope to get more from Kristen soon but communications have been difficult.
1:20 p.m. EST (8:20 p.m. Cairo) A VERY COOL PICTURE of a little girl being swept into the air by a soldier standing on top of a tank in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The photographer reports that the girl was shouting "hurriya, hurriya" (freedom, freedom) while this was going on.
1:08 p.m. EST (8:08 p.m. Cairo) AL JAZEERA ENGLISH CORRESPONDENT from Alexandria reports no sign of the very large protests there petering out. She refers to the "massive barrier of fear" that average Egyptians have broken through, chants of "every tyrant has an end" (the Egyptian version of Sic semper tyrannis). The correspondent has been walking with protesters for four hours and says that the "popular committees" – the neighborhood watch groups that sprung up after the police withdrew from the streets early yesterday – are doing their best to keep order and that "the people and the army are one." There were F-16 flyovers of the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square and heavy tanks out on the streets, but so far there are no signs of the army being willing to – or being ordered to – use force to clear the streets and enforce the curfew in either Cairo or Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city.
12:57 p.m. EST (7:57 p.m. Cairo) THE ARABIST LENDS CREDENCE to the commonly stated belief in Cairo that the regime has deliberately sought to encourage chaos and looting yesterday as a way to discredit protesters and scare average Egyptians from joining the protests. Issandr Al Amrani is one of the best analysts of Egyptian politics I know of and is generally cautious and measured in his assessments. He writes: "There is a discourse of army vs. police that is emerging. I don't fully buy it – the police was pulled out to create this situation of chaos, and it's very probable that agent [sic] provocateurs are operating among the looters, although of course there [are] also real criminal gangs and neighborhoods toughs operating too. For me, Omar Suleiman being appointed VP means that he's in charge. This means the old regime is trying to salvage the situation. Chafiq's appointment as PM also confirms a military in charge. These people are part of the way Egypt was run for decades and are responsible for the current situation. I suspect more and more people, especially among the activists, are realizing this." He's reporting intermittent internet access, but you should keep on eye on his blog for always interesting updates when they come.
12:45 p.m. EST (7:45 p.m. Cairo) DESPERATE SPINNING by regime figures from multiple directions. Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour appeared on state TV saying: "The former government has failed to meet the demands of the parliament." Mr. Surour is, if I understand it, the constitutional successor to Mubarak in an interim situation – but don't expect it to play out that way. There have been ten cabinets answering to Mubarak since he took power in 1981, and none of them have delivered on the greater freedom that many Egyptians say they yearn for. The last parliamentary election in November was so fraudulent that it ended up returning 95 percent of the seats to the ruling National Democratic Party. The parliament in Egypt is set up to serve Mubarak, not as a check on his power or formulator of policy. Meanwhile, Egypt's Ambassador to the US Sameh Shoukry tells ABC, "The process of reform is an ongoing one, and the people in the streets have indicated a desire for speedier reforms -- which I'm sure is the direction that Egypt will take within the institutions that are still in operation that are recognizant to the word that is coming from the streets." No. The people on the streets are saying that the long promises of "reform" are no longer trusted and they want total change.
12:32 p.m. EST (7:32 p.m. Cairo) ELBARADEI has begun speaking to the demonstrators at Tahrir Square. AJE livestreaming.
12:27 p.m. EST (7:27 p.m. Cairo). MOHAMED ELBARADEI arrived in Tahrir Square, say reporters on the ground. No signs that he will address the crowd yet (or that a public address system has been set up that would make that possible). I just filed a piece arguing that this could be a pivotal moment from the democracy protesters. But now I'm second-guessing myself. (There are unconfirmed rumors on Twitter that he left already.) ElBaradei is trying to emerge as the man to lead a transitional government towards elections – and is getting the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood and secular democracy activists to do so. Meanwhile, Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief who people have been talking about as a possible successor to Mubarak for a decade, remains the front runner to be the transitional man if Mubarak steps down or is pushed.