Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response
3:19 p.m. EST / 10:19 p.m. Cairo In a small but revealing window into the Muslim Brotherhood, World Policy has published an interview this summer by Michael Downey with M.B. official and web editor Khaled Hamza. He suggested that the organization considers liberal opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei as the strongest possibility to lead the country if Mubarak is forced out. Hamza also revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood was coordinating directly with ElBaradei as early as that summer. Hamza also said that "democracy is the only way" and explicitly rejected Iran's "theocracy" and "human rights abuses." Of course, these is only one man's views, and it's not clear how senior he is. Downey says that Hamza is considered a "leading voice of moderation" in the group. And Hamza was far more hawkish on Israel, saying that "Resistance is the only way, negotiation is not useful at all" and that a Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt would help Hamas, although it's not clear what that help would entail.
2:35 p.m. EST / 9:35 p.m. Cairo Egypt's trains will stop running shortly, on order from Mubarak's government. The move is an attempt to make it more difficult for Egyptians in the suburbs and outside Cairo to reach the city in time for the mass protest scheduled for tomorrow. It is sure to further damage Egypt's economy, which has already been crippled by the now-seven days of demonstrations. It is a sign of Mubarak's desperation, but it could be effective in limiting the protests -- especially in the case of a violent crackdown.
2:19 p.m. EST / 9:19 p.m. Cairo Is the Obama administration getting ready to work with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood? When asked whether the U.S. is concerned about the possible success of the Muslim Brotherhood in a hypothetical Egyptian democratic elections, Gibbs said that part of Egypt's "transition" to elections would include "reaching out" to a "host" of opposition groups. His refusal to voice concern about the group's possible participation in the Egyptian government is a telling suggestion that the U.S. is preparing itself to work with the Muslim Brotherhood, whether before or after elections. While he said that the U.S. does not currently have contact with the group, he laid out "standards for that contact," which he described as "adherence to the law, adherence to nonviolence, a willingness to be a part of a democratic process."
2:06 p.m. EST / 9:06 p.m. Cairo White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, at an ongoing press conference, is repeating and heavily emphasizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call on Sunday for "orderly transition" and "free and fair elections" in Egypt. While Gibbs is refusing to comment on whether the U.S. wants to see Mubarak leave, it's important to remember that Mubarak is all but guaranteed any legitimate election. He added, "I do believe that orderly transition means change."
1:54 p.m. EST / 8:54 p.m. Cairo In a move many analysts are seeing as a sign that the military has completely ruled out cracking down on protesters on behalf of the Mubarak regime, the army has issued a statement that it "will not use force against the people." The guarantee that the military will not fire on civilians could help embolden protesters in advance of tomorrow's planned march, which may be the military's intention. While this is a blow to Mubarak's hopes of stifling protests, it is far from a guarantee that the protesters will overcome security forces, which have already used live fire on protesters. As long as the military maintains its neutrality -- as it does in this statement -- the ultimate outcome will be uncertain.
1:48 p.m. EST / 8:48 p.m. Cairo It might seem premature to start asking which Arab regime, after Tunisia and Egypt, could fall next. But it seemed premature only a week ago to ask if Tunisia's democratic uprising could spread to Egypt. Who should be worried? We'll start by looking at the commentary surrounding Syria, which is ostensibly a democracy led by President Bashar al-Assad, but like Egypt has for decades used "emergency laws" to suspend most political freedoms. Unlike Egypt, it is generally unfriendly towards the U.S. and Israel. In a rare interview today with the Wall Street Journal, Assad praised the Egyptian protesters and tried to position himself as an ally to the reformers. Al Jazeera reports that many Syrians are watching the events in Egypt eagerly. There have been mixed reports of Internet censorship in Syria, perhaps suggesting regime concern. But Joshua Landis writes at his blog on Syria that the country may simply not be ready.
It could be argued that the poorest Middle East countries with the strongest civil society are likely to see revolution. Those, like Syria's, in which civil society, i.e. organized political parties, labor unions, etc., are curtailed are less likely to see mass rallies and political trouble. In short, the tougher regimes will tough it out.
1:21 p.m. EST / 8:21 p.m. Cairo What should the U.S. do about Egypt? The Washington Post solicits eight opinions from analysts. Some of advice: don't rush elections, suspend all aid to Egypt (and, maybe, other Arab autocrats), or to stay as uninvolved as possible and prevent tainting the organic democratization process. New York Magazine rounds up articles on what the U.S. should do, including my own.
1:05 p.m. EST / 8:05 p.m. Cairo For the first time since signing the 1979 peace treaty, Israel has allowed Egypt to send 800 troops into the tightly controlled Sinai peninsula separating the two countries. Israeli officials say they are worried that Palestinian groups such as Hamas could try to exploit the disorder in Egypt to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip. It's an indication that, despite Israel's concerns about how an Egyptian democracy might behave (see below), the country still trusts the Egyptian military and sees it as a partner.
12:48 p.m. EST / 7:48 p.m. Cairo Blogger Steve Negus lays out what may be the grimmest worst-case scenario yet: the Egyptian government collapses, taking the ever-loyal police and security forces with it, leaving the country without a real security presence. He compares this to collapse of Iraq after the Bush administration dissolved the Baathist military. It seems a bit alarmist at the moment -- citizen checkpoints are providing local security, the half-million-man Egyptian Army could easily step in, and there's no occupying force to galvanize radicalists -- but it's worth considering, if for no other reason than to think about how to make sure this unlikely scenario stays unlikely.
The army and police have not been disbanded, the power has not been shut off nationwide, etc. But there are a few parallels. Prisons are being broken open, weapons looted, policemen and police auxiliaries are turning gangster. There are no reports of kidnapping so far, but if this persists for any extended period of time, gangs might start developing the networks and techniques needed to run abduction rackets. If the police lose even the passive support of the populace, they will become demoralized, cut off from their sources of information, unable and unwilling to venture beyond their bases to pursue ordinary criminals or militants alike. Al-Qaeda thrives in a power vacuum.
12:39 p.m. EST / 7:39 p.m. Cairo Gregg Carlstrom reports from Tahrir Square that the police presence in the area is sparse. "Token numbers of police directing traffic at major intersections, but otherwise streets still controlled by army + ordinary citizens," he writes. He adds somewhat ominously, "At Cairo/Giza interior ministries earlier, saw dozens loading up in trucks; but still not visible in many areas."