Liveblogging Egypt: Day 2

By Max Fisher

Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response108516638p.jpg
12:45 p.m. EST / 7:45 p.m. Cairo  Speaking over the phone to Al Jazeera, opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei warned that the collapse of the Mubarak government was inevitable. "A coalition government must be formed, with a new democratic constitution that the people can vote on in an referendum," he said. "The regime must understand that it has to leave. A coalition government must be formed. Without this the protests will continue." Though ElBaradei is considered by many U.S. analysts as a leader of the Egyptian democratic opposition, he was careful in his statements to not assert himself as a leader of the protest movement.

12:39 p.m. EST / 7:39 p.m. Cairo  Looting has reportedly become a serious problem throughout much of Cairo, especially downtown and in wealthier suburbs. Armed men on motorcycles are looting empty storefronts and some houses across the capital. Al Jazeera reports that citizens have captured some of the looters and found them carrying ID cards of the central security services, although it's not clear if they were acting on official orders. This poses a serious problem for the military, which is not accustomed to policing law and order. With the police having receded from most of the city, and the military having taken over, the onus on stopping looters is on the military. Though the soldiers have been generally supportive of the protesters and have refused to enforce the national curfew, they may have to do exactly that if the military is to clear the chaotic streets of looters and vandals. That could chill the so far warm relationship between the military and protesters, or even chill the protest movement itself, but to allow protests to continue could bring popular backlash against the protesters and military. 

12:16 p.m. EST / 7:16 p.m. Cairo  Regardless of whether plains-clothe police or just individual opportunists are behind the looting of the Egyptian Museum, it's difficult to overstate its potential impact. In 2003, widespread looting of the National Museum of Iraq, which lost roughly half of its treasured antiquities collection due in part to the U.S. military's refusal to stop looters, became a symbol of what many Iraqis saw as the U.S. occupation's malignancy and its damage to Iraqi national pride. The Egyptian military has now moved in to the Cairo museum to protect its collection. But the jarring images of destroyed centuries-old artifacts, symbols of Egypt's glorious history, risk a popular backlash against whoever is perceived as behind the looting, or even against the military if they are blamed for not moving against looters sooner. Here are some photos of the looting; click through for larger images.

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11:58 a.m. EST / 6:58 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera is broadcasting video showing looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which holds one of the world's largest and most important archeological collections. Protesters have refrained from looting the museum, at one point even forming a human chain to protect it. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on speculation that the looting is being done by plains-clothe police officers in an attempt to discredit the protest movement. Below that, Cairo-based filmmaker Louis Lewarne passes along something he heard, the truth of which is difficult to verify.

Widely believed hated #Egypt police force playing part in the chaos and looting. they've abandoned their posts, in civilian clothes #Jan25less than a minute ago via web


A doctor at Tahrir "the army were beating looters at the museum. Stopped when the looters said they were police." #jan25less than a minute ago via TweetDeck



11:25 a.m. EST / 6:25 p.m. Cairo  Iranian opposition figure and 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has released a statement in support of the Egyptian protesters and connecting this week's events in Egypt to the 2009 protests in Iran. "[Egypt's rulers] do not realise that continuing policies of intimidation will eventually turn against itself and then the coming of 'the day of wrath' and days of national wrath will be inevitable. Pharaohs usually hear the voice of the nation when it is too late. Our nation deeply respects the glorious uprising of the brave people of Tunis and that of the people of Egypt, Yemen and other countries in quest for their rights."

Today, the slogan of "Where is my vote?" of the people of Iran has reached Egypt and transformed into "The people want the overthrow of the regime". In order to discover the secret of these links and these similarities, one does not have to go too far. You just have to compare the recent elections in Egypt with our own and compare it with the chairman of the Guardian Council who explicitly says there is no need for millions of votes by Green citizens. If we look at the collapsing political regimes in the Arab world and the Middle East carefully, we can identify a similar pattern of invading and shutting down social networks, the press and the cyber space. In an amazingly similar fashion, they have all blocked SMS systems, mobile phones and the internet, have banned all writers and taken dissidents to prisons.


11:19 a.m. EST / 6:19 p.m. Cairo  It's been taken as an assumption in most analysis of the Egyptian protests that any popular uprising could be bad news for Israel, as Mubarak has been a crucial figure in the Israel-Palestine negotiations and a true Egyptian democracy could empower the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not supportive of Israel. But are analysts overestimating the danger to Israel? Mubarak has appointed long-time loyalist Ahmed Shafik as his new Prime Minister. One of Shafik's greatest claims to fame in Egypt is his service during the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel, when Shafik is purported to have shot down two Israeli jets. That he has traded on this story for so long suggests that Egypt's government may already be less pro-Israeli than many analysts assume it to be. 

11:06 a.m. EST / 6:06 p.m. Cairo  Who is Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman, whom Mubarak just appointed as the first Egyptian vice president since 1981? Suleiman's appointment makes him the likely successor to Mubarak, ruling out long-presumed Gamal Mubarak, the president's son. Issandr Amrani profiled Suleiman in 2009 for Foreign Policy, concluding, "neither Gamal Mubarak nor Omar Suleiman presents a clear departure from the present state of affairs." Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell pulled out this excerpt from a 2007 U.S. State Department cable, released by WikiLeaks, offering one diplomat's opinion on Suleiman.

HIS LOYALTY TO MUBARAK SEEMS ROCK-SOLID. AT AGE 71, HE COULD BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE RULING APPARATUS AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE AS A RELIABLE FIGURE UNLIKELY TO HARBOR AMBITIONS FOR ANOTHER MULTI-DECADE PRESIDENCY. A KEY UNANSWERED QUESTION IS HOW HE WOULD RESPOND TO A GAMAL PRESIDENCY ONCE MUBARAK IS DEAD. AN ALLEGED PERSONAL FRIEND OF SOLIMAN TELLS US THAT SOLIMAN "DETESTS" THE IDEA OF GAMAL AS PRESIDENT, AND THAT HE ALSO WAS "DEEPLY PERSONALLY HURT" BY MUBARAK, WHO PROMISED TO NAME HIM VICE-PRESIDENT SEVERAL YEARS AGO, BUT THEN RENEGED.

10:58 a.m. EST / 5:58 p.m. Cairo  In a small but telling sign of the regime's struggle to respond to the protests over which they have largely lost control, an official with the ruling National Democratic Party called in to Al Jazeera English to explain Mubarak's decision to appoint Suleiman as Vice President. Flustered, stuttering, and unintentionally hitting the buttons on his phone, the official was clearly unprepared for the often aggressive interview. When pressed on how Mubarak could offer democratic reforms despite keeping himself in power for 29 years, the NDP official countered that no one would complain if a U.K. prime minister held office for three decades. He insisted that the government was only looking to protect the people.

10:47 a.m. EST / 5:47 p.m. Cairo  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has named Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman as his vice president, the sole important duty of which is as successor to the president. Egypt has not had a vice president since 1981, when the post was held by Mubarak himself. This move would seem to rule out the succession of Mubarak's son, Gamal. It has long appeared that 82-year-old Mubarak wanted to establish Gamal, who is unpopular like his father, as his successor. Al Jazeera reports that Gamal and his brother Alaa have just landed in London.

10:29 a.m. EST / 5:29 p.m. Cairo  Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told Al Jazeera, "Reforms have to take place immediately and they have to be sustained. The message of the people is clear," according to the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. The Cairo-based Arab League is a diplomatic collective of 22 Middle Eastern and North African states. Moussa, himself Egyptian, was floated by reporters as a possible opposition candidate in the January 2011 presidential elections.

10:24 a.m. EST / 5:24 p.m. Cairo  How is the U.S. handling all this? Brian Whitaker writes at al-Bab, "the US is focusing more on the post-Mubarak situation than on trying to save him. It is trying to engineer (and manipulate) a smooth transfer of power." Dan Nexon is sympathetic to the Obama administration's dilemma, but warns, "If things go badly, the ultimate fault will lie with decades of U.S. policy." Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch says Obama is actually doing a pretty good job, given that turning against Mubarak outright "would have been irresponsible and would have sent a very dangerous message to every other U.S. ally."

However, many Arab activists and writers have been more critical. Sultan Al Qassemi, a columnist for the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National, wrote that the administration "gave cover to Mubarak yesterday." U.S.-based Mauritanian activist Nasser Weddady urged Obama to "grow a spine."

9:53 a.m. EST / 4:53 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera reporter Ayman Mohyeldin reports on Twitter of "sporadic gunfire and teargas coming from direction of Ministry of Interior towards crowds." He wrote moments earlier, "fallen protester soaked in blood carried on shoulders of protesters as crowd roars on behalf of him." Democracy Now's Sharif Kouddous reports:

Crowd just started running away from interior ministry. Some say they're firing. Lots of confusion,not much fear. #Egyptless than a minute ago via Echofon


People running back again toward Interior Ministry #Egyptless than a minute ago via Echofon



9:44 a.m. EST / 4:44 p.m. Cairo  With both the protesters and the regime entrenched against one another, will the Egyptian military pick sides? The power and influential institution is in a clear position to join with protesters and topple the regime or to crack down as Mubarak no doubt wishes. The New York Times' Neil MacFarquhar says the  "tipping point could come, analysts believe, if the military is ordered to fire on demonstrators in any large numbers. It is one thing to protect government buildings from looters, but something else to tarnish the reputation of the army by killing citizens." The New Yorker's Steve Coll says the military "could deliver an ultimatum to Mubarak, but fashion it to allow Mubarak to remain in office in exchange for an announcement of reforms and free elections. That is unlikely to quiet the streets, but it might. Or the generals could decide, as in Tunisia, that only Mubarak's departure from office will create the necessary space for a transition." Michael Wahid Hanna writes for The Atlantic:

Senior military leaders will likely focus on how to best protect and expand the institutional prerogatives and interests of the armed forces. If the military's senior leaders decide that Mubarak's ouster and a subsequent democratic transition would unacceptably risk reducing the military's political and cultural power, they will be more likely to defend the regime. But, for the military to defend Mubarak against the protesters, senior officers would have to believe that the current system of government is sustainable, even in the face of continuing protest and escalating violence. Tying their future to a crippled regime might in the end destroy their reputation and undermine their ability to maintain their position of privilege. 

9:34 a.m. EST / 4:34 p.m. Cairo  There looks to have been three key trends in the day so far in Cairo: the protests are only getting larger; the notorious police forces have mostly retreated from the streets to guard key government buildings, sometimes violently; and the military has moved in, but so far refuses to move against either the protesters or the government. The New York Times sees signs that the military is "showing sympathy" for protesters and, according to one soldier speaking in a bullhorn, "would stand with the people."

9:20 a.m. EST / 4:20 p.m. Cairo  According to a Reuters report from 40 minutes ago, police opened fire on a large crowd of protesters attempting to storm the Ministry of Interior. That ministry, which is responsible for the police and domestic security forces, is a key pillar in President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

9:10 a.m. EST / 4:10 p.m. Cairo  Egypt has been under a state of national curfew for ten minutes now, to no apparent effect.

9:09 a.m. EST / 4:09 p.m. Cairo  Welcome to day two of The Atlantic's live coverage of the demonstrations in Egypt, which are themselves in their fifth day. Click here for day one of our coverage. Here's where we left things off yesterday at 7 p.m. EST, 2 a.m. Cairo time:

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.

There's much more at The Atlantic's International Channel and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish is also covering events live. Check back regularly.

Photo at top by Peter Macdiarmid/AFP/Getty

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/liveblogging-egypt-day-2/70467/