Liveblogging Egypt: Day 4

By Max Fisher

Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response

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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."

12:25 p.m. EST / 7:25 p.m. Cairo  Pan-Arab TV network Al Arabiya, which has not suffered the same crackdown from Egyptian authorities as has Al Jazeera, recently broadcast this stunning image from Cairo's Tahrir Square. (Thanks to Sultan Al Qassemi.)

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12:11 p.m. EST / 7:11 p.m. Cairo  As the Egyptian police bleed back into Cairo, those who aren't part of the brutal riot police or security services, which have killed many in crackdowns, face an unusual challenge. Beneath the now seven days of demonstrations, some kind of regular life has to go on. But how can a regular policeman hand out parking tickets and direct traffic at a time when the police are synonymous with the regime's most hated behavior? Egyptian writer Amr El Beleidy posts two revealing moments on Twitter.

A policeman today on 6th Oct Bridge was asking ppl to please remove their cars double parked on the brdge, he was being widely ignoredless than a minute ago via web


Another policeman had a crowd of 20-30ppl around him, telling him off for what the police has done lately, he was just standing there!less than a minute ago via web



12:03 p.m. EST / 7:03 p.m. Cairo  How long can the protesters and soldiers occupying the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere maintain their peace? The protesters have largely welcomed the military and many of the soldiers (including the Army captain in the photo at the top of this post) have supported the demonstrations. But Shraf Khalil warns in Foreign Policy that, with emotions running high and situation deeply uncertain, conflict between protesters and soldiers is a real risk.

Even on Friday evening, when army tanks first deployed in the streets of Cairo, there were already scattered signs of friction. That night, I witnessed protesters openly berating and shoving soldiers -- who once again showed impressive patience. A few protesters behaved so aggressively toward the soldiers, without achieving a reaction, that I could only conclude the soldiers were under direct orders not to retaliate. But the longer the military is deployed in the streets, surrounded by hothead protesters, the greater the chances of the situation spiraling out of control. 

11:47 a.m. EST / 6:47 p.m. Cairo  Who's running Egypt? Issandr El Amrani, a Moroccan- American whose blog, Arabist, has been invaluable in covering the events in Egypt, helpfully puts together two charts explaining the country's political organization. See his chart explaining Mubarak's National Democrat Party here. His chart on the Egyptian military leadership is below.

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11:17 a.m. EST / 6:17 p.m. Cairo  Writing in the American Prospect, Matt Duss argues that now is the time for the U.S. to make up with Islamist political parties such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. He cites TheAtlantic.com contributor Shadi Hamid in explaining those parties' importance in Middle East politics, but warns that the biggest challenge could be not in Cairo but in Washington.

Getting our approach to Islamism right will be key element of our relationship with the changing region. "Political Islam is the single most active political force in the Middle East today," wrote the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid in a January 2010 report. While noting the variety of approaches and doctrines cast together under the heading "Islamist," according to Hamid, "The future of relations between Western nations and the Middle East may be largely determined by the degree to which the former engage non-violent Islamist parties in a broad dialogue over shared interests and objectives."

Given the amount of right-wing energy being spent scaring Americans about extremist Muslims under their beds and "creeping sharia" phantoms in their closets, such a shift in posture toward engaging with Islamists is far easier talked about than implemented. But this is a policy fight that the administration must take on.

11:06 a.m. EST / 6:06 p.m. Cairo  The sun is barely setting in Cairo and protesters are already looking ahead to tomorrow, when many plan what they're calling a "march of millions" against the regime. Both the protesters, who seized much of the city on Friday and Saturday, and Mubarak's government have dug in today, creating a deadlock that both sides are hoping to break tomorrow. With the brutal riot police back in the streets, such a march would risk repeating the violence of Thursday and Friday, when at least 100 civilians were killed, and could be much worse. But the dangers are so far doing little to deter the defiant protesters, of which this tweet from a Cairo-based reporters is just one small example.

woman tells me: We've been at this for 7 days & there's been no change. We'll try to march tomorrow to Mubarak's house. All of us. #Egyptless than a minute ago via Echofon



10:48 a.m. EST / 5:48 p.m. Cairo  What happens if Egypt becomes a democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative opposition party that is not exactly in love with the U.S. or Israel, plays a role? We linked yesterday to this 2009 WSJ story on the group's democratic aspirations. Jeffrey Goldberg predicts of an MB-led Egypt, "the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which is responsible for 30 years of stability in the eastern Mediterranean, would be in mortal danger, but even if Egypt were to break relations with Israel, this does not mean that war would necessarily follow." It's not clear how popular the Muslim Brotherhood is in Egypt, but it seems to represent a vocal if not necessarily large minority. It's worth looking at the example of Iraq, where a far more conservative, far more anti-American (so anti-American, in fact, that they killed many U.S. troops during the Iraq War) political party has joined with the Parliament's ruling majority: the Sadrists, led by Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's rise has not been great news for the U.S., but it also portended disaster, and if anything has moderated the group by giving them a stake in peace and stability. In the Daily Beast, Bruce Reidel argues that we shouldn't fear Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood taking a role in politics.

10:31 a.m. EST / 5:31 p.m. Cairo  It's no secret that Mubarak has been a relatively strong ally for Israel, which is very unpopular among the Egyptian public, but this Ha'aretz story hints at just how big of a dilemma Egypt's possible move towards democracy has created. The Israeli government would obviously like to keep its very close ally, especially on matters relevant to the Gaza Strip, but it's put the Middle East's freest democracy in the unusual position of publicly backing a brutal autocrat. It's not clear that this will exactly endear them to the Egyptian people, many of whom explicitly object to Mubarak's relationship with Israel.

Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.

Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West's interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime.

10:13 a.m. EST / 5:13 p.m. Cairo  New York Times statistics blogger Nate Silver pushes back on a June 2010 Pew report showing that the U.S. has only a 17 percent favorability rating in Egypt, which The Atlantic and many others have cited in recent days. Silver makes a compelling case that Egyptians' attitude towards the U.S. is actually improving, though still generally negative. How Egyptians feel about the U.S. will play a significant role in guiding how involved the Obama administration gets in the political situation there, especially if it comes to setting up a transitional government.

The election of President Obama created a major change in opinion, however. In 2009, positive opinions about the United States rose to 40 percent against 48 percent negative. And last year -- the first survey conducted after Mr. Obama's well-received June 2009 speech in Cairo -- positive opinions became the plurality, at 45 percent, against 29 percent negative views, figures comparable to those for survey participants in the United Kingdom and France. Although opinion about the United States has also improved in most other countries since Mr. Obama's election, according to the survey, in perhaps no case has the change been quite so dramatic. 

9:52 a.m. EST / 4:52 p.m. Cairo  Earlier today, Egyptian security forces arrested six journalists with Al Jazeera, which had been officially banned from broadcasting in Egypt yesterday but continued anyway. The U.S. immediately called for their release, which came after a three-hour detention. The security forces kept the reporters' cameras, phones, and laptops. This tweet from U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley probably wasn't what made the difference, but it's an indication of where the U.S. is willing to draw its red lines.

We are concerned by the shutdown of #Al-Jazeera in #Egypt and arrest of its correspondents. Egypt must be open and the reporters released.less than a minute ago via web



9:32 a.m. EST / 4:32 p.m. Cairo  Both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the nationwide protest movement seeking his ouster are retrenching today, the seventh day of their ongoing conflict. After three days where police had been totally absent from the streets, replaced by army troops far more sympathetic to the protest movement, Mubarak is again cracking down, sending police back into Cairo and arresting journalists. If the mood yesterday was hopeful, even jubilant, today it is tense. Both sides seem to sense that the other will not back down without a conflict, which is looking more likely every hour. Protesters are calling for a mass rally on Tuesday.

Read our coverage from January 28, January 29 part one and January 29 part two, and January 30. The Daily Dish is also providing live coverage.

Photo: An Egyptian army Captain identified as Ihab Fathi holds the national flag while being carried by demonstrators during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 31, 2011, on the seventh day of mass protests calling for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. By Marco Longari/AFP/Getty.




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http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/liveblogging-egypt-day-4/70519/