Liveblogging Egypt: Day 5

By Max Fisher

Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response108687113p.jpg
4:42 p.m. EST / 11:42 p.m. Cairo  A U.S. official tells BBC's Kim Ghattas that Mubarak's pledge is "not enough," suggesting that the Obama administration's stance is further aligning with that of the Egyptian popular protest movement.

4:20 p.m. EST / 11:20 p.m. Cairo  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mubarak's pledge has not mollified the protesters, and if anything appears to have emboldened them in the same mission they have clearly articulated all along: they want Mubarak to step down immediately. In Cairo's Tahrir Square, a crowd estimated in the hundreds of thousands responded immediately with deafening chants of "leave, leave." If this was Mubarak's bid for compromise -- to remain in power for a few final months with the promise that he will leave -- the protesters appear to have rejected it.

4:16 p.m. EST / 11:16 p.m. Cairo  National Journal's Marc Ambinder reports that President Obama and his national security team watched Mubarak's speech live.

4:05 p.m. EST / 11:05 p.m. Cairo  In a speech on state TV to the Egyptian people, President Hosni Mubarak declared he will not run for another term in the upcoming president election. "I am totally keen of ending my career for the sake of the nation," he said. "My top priority is to restore stability and security of the nation, and ensure a peaceful transition of power." He warned the country must choose between "choose between chaos or stability," portraying the protest movement as "targeting the safety and stability of the nation by enticement and incitement, looting and pillage, arson, hijacking roads, and assault on public and private and state property." He accused opposition of turning "a blind eye" to what Mubarak said was his offer for "dialogue." He added, "I never sought power or influence and people are away of the harsh conditions where I shouldered the responsibility." Ever-defiant, Mubarak insisted, "I'll die on the soil of Egypt."

3:42 p.m. EST / 10:42 p.m. Cairo  The U.S. has told Mubarak, through special envoy Wisner, that he should not seek reelection and should not attempt to put his son Gamal on the ballot, reports the BBC's Kim Ghattas. Mubarak has not yet given Wisner his answer. According to Ghattas, the U.S. has not explicitly told Mubarak to "stand down immediately" from office, "they are hoping he has figured that out on his own." This would seem to confirm that the U.S. position is now that Mubarak should resign immediately.

3:03 p.m. EST / 10:03 p.m. Cairo
  U.S. special envoy to Egypt Frank Wisner reportedly told Mubarak that he should step aside and should not be a part of any transitional government, according the Los Angeles Times. President Obama appointed Wisner specifically to address the current political crisis in Egypt. If this report is true, it suggests that the U.S. position is for Mubarak to step down from office, perhaps immediately. This would be a remarkable step for the U.S. against Mubarak and would align the Obama administration with the Egyptian protest movement in calling for regime change and a transition to democracy

2:46 p.m. EST / 9:46 p.m. Cairo  Egyptian state TV clarifies that Mubarak will release a statement, not give a speech. Al Jazeera reporters in Cairo's Tahrir Square say that the protesters there are unlikely to accept anything less than Mubarak's immediate resignation.

2:24 p.m. EST / 9:24 p.m. Cairo  Is this the beginning of the end for Mubarak? Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch thinks so. After all, Tunisian President Ben Ali made the exact same pledge Mubarak is expected to make -- not to seek reelection -- briefly before the undeterred protest movement forced him out of office and the country.

Mubarak pledging not to run again likely the next to last step before he runs out of gambits and is slowly led out the door.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck



2:16 p.m. EST / 9:16 p.m. Cairo  The New York Times reports that Obama is publicly urging Mubarak not to run for reelection, in the U.S.'s strongest move yet against the Egyptian president, a close U.S. ally since he took office in 1981. Given how much restraint and even support the administration showed only a few days ago, the U.S. has turned against Mubarak surprisingly quickly.

BREAKING: Obama Urges Mubarak Not to Run Again, U.S. Diplomats Sayless than a minute ago via TweetDeck


By telling Mubarak to pledge publicly not to run for another term, Obama effectively withdraws US support for its closest Arab allyless than a minute ago via TweetDeck



2:11 p.m. EST / 9:11 p.m. Cairo  State-controlled Egyptian TV says that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will speak soon and offer what they're describing as "a good solution." If earlier reports are correct, this will likely be a pledge not to run in the upcoming September presidential elections.

1:56 p.m. EST / 8:56 p.m. Cairo  The Obama administration today sent former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner to Cairo to negotiate with Mubarak. Washington Post columnist now reports on Twitter, "Mubarak tells Wisner: I'm not going." It's not clear how definitive this is or who Diehl's source is. If Mubarak is still refusing to leave office, the deadlock will likely continue tomorrow as it has today and the day before.

1:41 p.m. EST / 8:41 p.m. Cairo  According to Reuters and Al Arabiya, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is reportedly planning to make a statement declaring that he will not run for reelection. Egypt's next president election is scheduled for this September.

1:33 p.m. EST / 8:33 p.m. Cairo  This extraordinary video by Daily News Egypt shows the Egyptian civilians who, with government services gone, have spontaneously volunteered to clean the streets, provide free health care, and even hand out free food. It's a remarkable indication of not just the jubilant and fraternal mood in Cairo's streets but also the strength of Egyptian civil society, without which this massive protest movement may not have been possible.



1:24 p.m. EST / 8:24 p.m. Cairo  Some protesters had hoped to lead the crowd in Cairo's Tahrir Square to Mubarak's presidential palace today, aiming to topple the president but also risking a potentially bloody clash with the security forces guarding that building. With night setting onto Egypt, it appears that this will not happen today. Reports that the military has surrounded the palace with barricades and barbed wire may have helped deter the march. Unless the crowd's emphasis on peacefully rallying changes, Mubarak will either leave by the military, of his own volition, or not at all. The New York Times and NPR reported this morning (see timestamp 9:02 a.m. EST) that the military appears to be maneuvering for Mubarak's exit.

1:17 p.m. EST / 8:17 p.m. Cairo  The New York Times has this video from earlier today, when many protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square broke for prayer. Media estimates of the crowd size today have ranged from 225,000 by the Times to 2 million by Al Jazeera.

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1:10 p.m. EST / 8:10 p.m. Cairo  State-controlled Egyptian TV, which has so far either denied the protests outright or run deeply implausible footage of pro-Mubarak demonstrations, has taken a surprising turn. According to Al Jazeera English's blog, "tone of Egyptian TV is changing - said to sound more sympathetic to protests and has sent reporters to Tahrir Square." State TV reports "large peaceful protests, tidy protest and pro-Egypt protests." It's unclear if this shows state TV breaking with the regime or reflects a softening regime tone on the protests.

1:05 p.m. EST / 8:05 p.m. Cairo  What can we learn from George W. Bush's struggles in Egypt? In The New Republic, Eli Lake carefully explores and reports the failures of the Bush administration to promote democracy there. Administration officials explain that, as one put it, the U.S. "blinked" when given the opportunity to push for reform in 2005.

Of course, it's understandable why the Bush administration had second thoughts about pushing forward with democratization in Egypt. Like Obama now, Bush was relying on despots across the Middle East to fight a war on terror. How could Bush simultaneously ask for favors from these leaders in the fight against Al Qaeda while also undermining them with his freedom agenda? What's more, in January 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories, with disastrous results. What if free and fair elections in Egypt had ended with the Muslim Brotherhood in control of parliament? This would not exactly been a welcome outcome. And yet, has six more years of completely authoritarian rule by Mubarak benefited either average Egyptians or, for that matter, the United States? Clearly not.

Today, the dilemmas facing U.S. policymakers are roughly the same ones the Bush administration faced back then. It's clear in retrospect that Bush's turn away from his freedom agenda in Egypt did not lead to particularly good results. Would the alternative have spurred a better outcome? We may soon find out.


12:13 p.m. EST / 7:13 p.m. Cairo  The New Yorker's John Seabrook posits the science of why Egypt's massive demonstrations may have been so well behaved.

There's a professor at M.I.T. named Richard Larson who has done some fascinating studies of the psychology of people waiting in lines and what makes certain people tolerate long waits better than others. His main conclusion is that people will wait peacefully and patiently when they perceive that the queue is just and fair, but they will become impatient or unruly if they think the line isn't just. In other words, the crowd expects to be treated with dignity. Maybe protesting a corrupt regime, and feeling that you are on the side of justice, supplies that feeling of dignity to the crowd, and that's why political crowds rarely turn violent when they are unprovoked.

11:58 a.m. EST / 6:58 p.m. Cairo  Protesters in Cairo today held a "mock trial" of Mubarak and member of his National Democratic Party, represented by dummies. Pan-Arab TV network Al Arabiya broadcast images of the event, two of which are below. One of the dummies is wearing a Star of David. An isolated number of protest signs have associated Jewish imagery with Mubarak and the government. It's not clear to what extent this is in protest to Mubarak's support of Israel, which is very unpopular in Egypt, or is an expression of anti-Semitism. Al Arabiya did not show how the trial ended. Update: This recent Getty photo shows Mubarak mocked up as Hitler, which if nothing else is an important reminder that Egyptians, just like everyone else, see Hitler's anti-Semitism as the evil that it is.

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11:36 a.m. EST / 6:36 p.m. Cairo  Syrian activists are using Twitter and Facebook to organize for protests in Damascus on this Friday and Saturday, the Associated Press reports. So far, "The number of people who have joined Facebook and Twitter pages calling for protests on Friday and Saturday is still relatively small, and some are believed to live outside the country." Yesterday we explained why an Egypt-like uprising in Syria currently looks unlikely (see time stamp 1:48 p.m. EST / 8:48 p.m. Cairo). Will the people of Syria prove us all wrong?
 
11:04 a.m. EST / 6:04 p.m. Cairo  Any large gathering contains an element of danger, as the normal order gives way to mob rule. The hundreds of thousands-strong crowd in Cairo's Tahrir Square, though largely peaceful, is no exception. The Wall Street Journal's Margaret Coker and Charles Levinson describe an isolated but disturbing incident.

There were, however, disquienting moments that served as a reminder of the unpredictability and potential danger as Egypt's ruling order tilted at the brink. Men wearing jeans and sweaters have been stopping women in the vicinity of the square. A reporter for The Wall Street Journal was surrounded by such men, who demanded to know if she was for or against Mubarak.

Suddenly, a person dressed in an Army uniform approached her as well with an unsheathed knife. This man threatened her, forcing her to leave the square immediately.

Political opposition leaders said they also received reports of demonstrators being threatened by men dressed in Army uniforms, men who emerged from the crowd alone. An army officer told The Wall Street Journal that two military supply stores had been robbed and that the men may not actually be in the army.

 
10:59 a.m. EST / 5:59 p.m. Cairo  What's happening in Jordan, where King Abdullah II has dissolved the government in response to the rising protests there? The country's Islamist opposition has begun talks on "reform" with the government but is not calling for regime change. Abdullah has pledged $125 million in subsidies to alleviate the country's economic downturn, but political and speech restrictions -- which are plentiful in Jordan -- remain unchanged. The Daily Beast's Rebecca Davis O'Brien writes:

In the West, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is either known as a bulwark of regional stability or scarcely known at all. Jordan is a safe and moderate ally, with a tradition of beautiful female monarchs and reasonable kings in Western suits. But Jordanians live a different reality, one marked by widespread unemployment (estimates range from 12 to over 30 percent); soaring gas and food costs; and a stagnant economy. That the empowered elite seems totally out of touch with the exigencies of an expanding, impoverished, disenfranchised populace, has only added insult to injury. 

10:50 a.m. EST / 5:50 p.m. Cairo  Comedy break: Fox News Host Glenn Beck "explains" the events in Egypt, comparing Mohamed ElBaradei to Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, helpfully noting that Hezbollah is Iranian and Hamas Egyptian, and predicts the coming global war. Conor Friedersdorf and Anthea Butler have thoughts.

10:35 a.m. EST / 5:35 p.m. Cairo  Information out of Alexandria, where thousands of protesters rallied today along the Mediterranean coast, is so far sparse. Al Jazeera English reports that, as night falls, protesters are beginning to march into the city center -- something that Cairo's much larger gathering has not done. There are fragmentary but difficult to confirm reports of 100 or more civilians killed in a police crack down. Sky News reports that, unlike in Cairo, the army is largely absent from Alexandria's streets. This would certainly add a degree of instability to the situation there.

10:23 a.m. EST / 5:23 p.m. Cairo  With hundreds of thousands of people gathering for hours or days of protests across Egypt, and with so many stores closed, the availability of food is becoming a real problem. Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin tweets, "Cairo food supplies running low but anyone who has anything 2 spare has brought it 2 protesters in tahrir sq." Human Rights Watch reported from Alexandria, "Food and other prices have risen at least 20% in most shops since last week, and shortages are starting to show up. Bread, milk, cheese and other main foods are hard to find as shops can't replenish." It's been said that no government is more than three days from revolution.

9:58 a.m. EST / 4:58 p.m. Cairo  The Atlantic's Derek Thompson explains the economics behind the events in Egypt.

Egypt's brand of socialism strangles the private sector in at least two significant ways. First, most investment projects must be reviewed by the government and with public ownerships dominating finance, that makes it especially difficult for entrepreneurs to get access to funding. Second, corruption is rank. Egypt ranks 111th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2009, according to the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedoms, and "bribery of low-level civil servants seems to be a part of daily life."

The foundation of Egypt's economy is broken. Even worse, there is the acute shock of global food prices rising. Agricultural inflation puts a particular squeeze on Egypt's middle class, because their paychecks go overwhelmingly toward nourishment.

9:31 a.m. EST / 4:31 p.m. Cairo  The Los Angeles Times says Al Jazeera English is having an "American moment." TV sets in the White House are mostly tuned to the Qatar-based network for its coverage of the events in Egypt. Online, Al Jazeera reports that their streaming viewership has increased by a factor of 25 since Friday, half of that from the U.S., so clearly Americans want to watch. But Al Jazeera English is still only available in Washington, Toledo, and Burlington, due to "its inability to secure deals with major cable and satellite operators." U.S. cable companies declined to comment for the L.A. Times on whether this may finally bring AJE to American viewers. In the October 2009 issue of The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan explained why he loves Al Jazeera.

9:21 a.m. EST / 4:21 p.m. Cairo  Al Jazeera now estimates two million people in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

9:19 a.m. EST / 4:19 p.m. Cairo  As a similar protest movement roils Jordan, King Abdullah II has responded by dissolving the civilian government, naming Marouf al-Bakhit as the new Prime Minister. Bakhit was previously Prime Minister from 2005 to 2007 and also has served as Jordan's Ambassador to Israel. Abdullah has pledged "true political reforms." Jordan is not Egypt, and neither is it Tunisia, but both Mubarak and Tunisian President Ben Ali had dissolved their governments in failed bids to appease protesters. We will have more coverage of the events in Jordan throughout the day.

9:07 a.m. EST / 4:07 p.m. Cairo  The Atlantic's Justin Miller tells the story of Egypt's protest movement from the "Tunisian spark" through today:


9:02 a.m. EST / 4:02 p.m. Cairo  Is the military leadership, perhaps including just-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, maneuvering Mubarak toward the exit? According to the New York Times, citing a "Western diplomat," says "Monday night's moves by the military were believed to be part of choreographed maneuvers by the most senior people around Mr. Mubarak to set the stage for his eventual exit." NPR talks to the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development's Stephen Cohen.

Two of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's closest allies, his new vice president, Omar Suleiman, and his defense minister, Hussein Tantawi, are quietly working on a plan under which Mubarak would step down from power, according to a U.S. scholar who has been staying in regular touch with the Egyptian political and military leadership.

... The two-part plan, according to Cohen, would involve the immediate removal of 100 members of the Egyptian Parliament whose election this past fall was seen as illegitimate. They would be replaced by 100 candidates who were barred from running in the election or who were defeated because of government meddling in the election process.

A second possible step would be the organization of new parliamentary and presidential elections. The plan, according to Cohen, "requires [Mubarak] to give up his office." Asked whether Mubarak would do that, Cohen answered, "He is getting ready to do so."


8:46 a.m. EST / 3:46 p.m. Cairo  As Egyptian protesters rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in numbers that the New York Times estimate to be in excess of 100,000 and Al Jazeera pegged at one million, it's still not clear if they will succeed in ousting President Hosni Mubarak and securing legitimate elections. While protesters in Tahrir Square are at their largest numbers yet, and while they enjoy a pledge from the military not to fire on civilians, Mubarak remains in power, his ministries guarded by the heavy-handed internal security forces. Key events to watch today will be whether the protesters push beyond Tahrir Square, what happens with the similar protest movement in Jordan, and whether the maneuvering within Mubarak's inner circle leads the president toward a quiet departure.

Read our coverage from January 28, January 29 part one and January 29 part two, January 30, and January 31. The Daily Dish is also providing live coverage.

Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty


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