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Egypt's VP uses state TV to blame unrest on 'foreign agendas'

Egypt's new Vice President Omar Suleiman took to state TV Thursday night to make a play for Mubarak to hang on until presidential elections in September.

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“People were enraged by these stupid claims in the year 2011. [The regime] thinks the people are a bunch of animals. These are a bunch of educated Egyptians, not the Muslim Brotherhood, not other parties. It’s people from all walks of life and they’re determined that Mubarak go,” he says.

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Blaming 'foreign agendas' for unrest

Suleiman also sought to bolster a narrative that’s been spun out by new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and other officials in the past day: That unidentified “outsiders” created the violence that claimed at least 10 lives around Tahrir Square on Wednesday evening and early Thursday. Suleiman said that “many of the protesters in Tahrir Square have foreign agendas.”

That reference to “foreign agendas” appeared to be an attempt to label Egypt’s democracy protesters as working for US or Israel, a favorite dissent-stifling tactic of regimes from Tunisia to Syria. Mubarak has maintained good relations with Israel during his reign and the US has arguably been his most important international backer, at least until the events of the past two weeks.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist and academic, was hounded as a foreign agent and jailed for three years over a decade ago. His crime? “Daring to criticize the Mubarak family’s increasingly dynastic ambitions,” as Middle East historian Juan Cole put it this week.

Cairo’s protesters found themselves being painted with the same brush by Suleiman tonight.

“Actually, there is a plot if you read between the lines in Suleiman’s statements and on state TV,” says Mr. Naga, the film star. “They’re stating that there are infiltrators, foreigners involved, to confuse the people, so if the US does come out in support of us they can point and say: ‘See, it was a US plot, it was the CIA.’ ”

Naga says if that was Suleiman’s intent, then it didn’t work. “People don’t trust [the regime] anymore, and they know they will be brutally jailed and killed if they give up now before real change has happened.”

Tomorrow, protesters have vowed their biggest demonstrations yet.

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