Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response
Egypt's fourth day of nationwide protests has ended in uncertainty. Police have withdrawn from much of Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria, the largest centers of protest, and the Egyptian military has moved in. The Obama administration has taken a somewhat firmer stance in support of the protesters and says it will "review" the $1.2 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak gave a jarringly unapologetic speech where he sacked his government, warned protesters he would "not be lax or tolerant," and promised vague "reforms" if Egypt returned to stability. Whatever tomorrow brings for Egypt, The Atlantic will be tracking the news and commentary.
6:51 p.m. EST / 1:51 a.m. Cairo So far, commentators are mostly critical of the Obama administration's response to the protests in Egypt. "I mean, really, Obama can't even ask for free and fair elections, like the United States does everywhere?" asked Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell. The comments by Obama, and earlier by Gibbs and Kerry, mostly emphasized the need for Mubarak to institute "reforms," which would seem to assume continued Mubarak rule. However, Obama's statement was mostly directed towards "the Egyptian people" -- clear code for the protest movement -- and he pledged U.S. partnership for the "Egyptian people," who Obama said will "determine the future." This would seem to be an affirmation that, should protesters succeed in overthrowing the regime as they did in Tunisia just weeks ago, the U.S. will consider them a legitimate government rather than oppose them. In other words, if Mubarak remains in power, the U.S. will push him to "reform" but not to leave office. If the protesters force him out, the U.S. will not interfere. As Obama said, "the future will be determined by the Egyptian people" -- not by the White House.
6:40 p.m. EST / 1:40 a.m. Cairo In a brief public statement, President Obama said that he spoke to Mubarak over the phone after Mubarak's speech promising democratic reforms. "I told him that he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words, to take concrete steps," Obama said. "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away." Obama called for an end to police violence and for Egypt to lift its block on the Internet. "The people of Egypt have rights that are universal." He listed several, ending with, "The ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights, and the United Stated will stand up for them everywhere." He emphasized support for Egyptian people. "The future will be determined by the Egyptian people," Obama said. "The Egyptian people want the future that befits the heirs of a great and ancient civilization. The United States will always be a partner to that pursuit."
6:30 p.m. EST / 1:30 a.m. Cairo Speaking to Al Jazeera English minutes before President Obama is to give a statement on the events in Egypt, Senator John Kerry said, "I think that President Mubarak here has an opportunity to create a transformative moment." He said "that could take many forms." He added, "We all have an interest, everybody has in interest, in not having chaos in the streets, not having violence, not having a violent confrontation." The Al Jazeera host told him, "The U.S. is talking the talk but they're not walking the walk."
5:58 p.m. EST / 12:58 a.m. Cairo Does the apparent success of Egyptian protesters despite the country's total shut down of the Internet mean we should reconsider our sense of how important the web was for the similar uprising in Tunisia? As Kareem Shaheen of The Abu Dhabi National newspaper wryly put it, "I thank the Egyptian gov for saving us the twitter revolution polemics by proving u can still have an old-fashioned revolution." Since Egypt disconnected the Internet exactly 24 hours ago, the protests have only gained strength.
5:26 p.m. EST / 12:26 a.m. Cairo Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, addressing Egyptian people over state TV, announced he was dissolving the Egyptian government and would be appointing a new cabinet. Oddly, Mubarak credited himself with the ongoing demonstrations, saying that he was personally responsible for reforms that made the protests possible. "I exhausted myself for the country," he said.
MORE ON Egyptian Protests:
Shadi Hamid: Obama's Impossible Dilemma in Egypt
Jeffrey Goldberg: Thoughts on the Arab Revolution
Chris Good: Egypt's High-Powered D.C. Lobbying Ties
Eric Trager: Scenes from the First Day of Protest
Megan McArdle: When Does Rioting Work?
However, he warned protesters' aims "cannot be achieved through violence or chaos," adding, "I, as President of the Country will allow citizens to protest within the frontiers of the law. ... I will not be lax or tolerant, I will take all the steps to maintain the safety and security of all egyptians." He also promised to bring "more democracy, more freedoms for citizens" and to "raise the standard of living." In Cairo's streets, the protesters' calls of "down down Mubarak" only grew louder.
4:43 p.m. EST / 11:43 p.m. Cairo Egyptian Speaker of the Parliament Ahmed Fathi Sorour will be making an "important announcement" on state TV soon, Al Jazeera and other outlets say the government has notified them. There's no indication what he will say. Mubarak's government has made no official statements today.
4:17 p.m. EST / 11:17 p.m. Cairo What's next for Egypt's military? With police receding from Cairo's streets and the politically influential military -- senior officials of which were in Washington today -- taking over there as well as in Suez and Alexandria, what happens next is in many ways up to the Egyptian armed forces. Ellen Knickmeyer writes at ForeignPolicy.com, "In the past, many Egyptian officials, and some Egyptian commanders, have declared publicly that the military would move by force if needed to keep Egypt's outlawed opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, from ever coming to power." Here are thoughts on the military's calculus from the Century Foundation's Michael Wahid Hanna and author Vali Nasr.
Army not supporting is not the same as supporting democracy. Question is whether Army is ready to lose its own powers and privilages? #Egypt
With respect to role of Egy army, key question is how they now perceive that their institutional interests will be better served.
If they cast themselves as the heroes of the people and the revolution, will be in powerful position in transition.
3:46 p.m. EST / 10:46 p.m. EST Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has demurred on several questions from reporters on whether the administration is concerned about the possibility that the protests may help empower the Muslim Brotherhood, a prominent opposition party in Egypt. The U.S. has long opposed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood for its conservative -- and not always pro-Israeli or pro-U.S. -- positions. Gibbs' refusal to maintain that opposition could be a small but significant shift for U.S. policy towards the group.