Why Suleiman's Concessions Aren't All That Big

The latest on Egypt

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Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman offered many concessions to protesters on Sunday, but not the one thing they want most: the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Suleiman met with opposition groups for the first time over the weekend and promised changes that would have been "unimaginable" only two weeks ago--more press freedoms, less police power. But opposition leaders are still demanding Mubarak immediately step down, and youth activists protesting in Tahrir Square say they won't talk until the president's gone, the Associated Press's Sarah El Deeb and Maggie Michael report.

Suleiman promised opposition leaders--including from the Muslim Brotherhood--to stop blocking the Internet and text messaging, release jailed protesters, set up a constitutional reform committee, and lift the emergency laws in place since 1981 that give police broad powers to arrest people. But protesters apparently worry that if Mubarak or Suleiman remain in power, police will hunt down protesters and torture them.

Other developments: leaders of Egypt's ruling political party resigned, and political prisoner Wael Ghonim--a youngish Google exec whose social networking aided protests--will be released Monday. Bloggers are puzzling over a report of an assassination attempt on Suleiman--and whether it could have originated from within the government. And the police charged with beating a young protester to death have escaped jail and are fugitives. Meanwhile, some signs of normal life appeared on Egyptian streets: banks opened for a few hours, as did schools.

  • Suleiman Isn't Boxing Himself In  Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell notes that Suleiman's declaration that "'the state of emergency will be lifted based on the security situation and an end to the threats to the security of society'" is "the same kind of thing the regime has been saying for the last three decades." The concessions have been a big deal, "but there are no signs that the regime is willing to concede any fundamental authority, and plenty of signs that it is trying to tire and isolate the protesters politically, divide opposition movements and groups in order to weaken them, and stall for time in the hopes of going back to business as usual."
The longtime intelligence chief is very much part of the system. ... For years, Suleiman oversaw the state's notoriously shady and abusive intelligence apparatus, maintaining a hard line on Islamists and working closely with the Americans and Israelis on issues of counterterrorism. He was the U.S.'s point man for renditions, including that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi — the man who made false allegations about Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda while being tortured by the Egyptians. ... Indeed, Mubarak may be more or less finished... but his police state — and the broader system he spent decades building — may still be up to the test.
  • Don't Believe the Media: The State Remains Strong, Foreign Affairs' Joshua Stacher argues. "The protests have certainly rocked the system and have put Mubarak on his heels, but at no time has the uprising seriously threatened Egypt's regime." He adds, too, that "by politically encircling the protesters, the regime prevented the conflict from extending beyond its grasp. With the protesters caught between regime-engineered violence and regime-manufactured safety, the cabinet generals remained firmly in control of the situation. ... The protesters have been given an ambiguous choice about this transition. Go home and -- perhaps -- be invited to the negotiating table later, or continue protesting and be excluded from Suleiman's negotiations."
  • Why Some Egyptians Are Sick of Protests, Maria Golia writes at The Arabist. "People are turning away from the demonstrators partly because they are confused, tired of the disruptions and generally broke, but also because the state is helping them along by pretending to compromise, by raising suspicions regarding the demonstrators’ motives... [and] by asserting that their resolve threatens Egypt's stability." 
  • Nervous About a Crackdown  "While the street protests are being tolerated," Brian Whitaker writes at Al Bab, "probably in the hope that the demonstrators will eventually wear themselves out, the old repressive tactics--arrests and so on--continue in the background. In the words of my friend's email [from Alexandria], 'The witch hunt has already started.' ... Meanwhile, there are various legal/constitutional obstacles blocking the way forward politically. This is not surprising because the legal framework was constructed to keep the regime in power and prevent it from being easily dismantled."
  • Meanwhile, Has the U.S. Bungled This?  That's another question being mulled over here at home. The New York Times' David E. Sanger reports. The administration sent out mixed messages on Mubarak over the weekend, but it's "hardly the first time the Obama administration has seemed uncertain on its feet during the Egyptian crisis," a consequence, perhaps, of being "caught by surprise," as one official put it. Center for a New American Security's Andrew Exum, though, who served on the U.S. military's CENTCOM Egypt team a few years ago, says "the blame being heaped on the intelligence community here is a little silly. Intelligence cannot predict the future, though it can assist policy-makers in gaming out possible contingencies, and I think our intelligence services did that here. It's hardly the fault of our nation's intelligence agencies that successive U.S. administrations from both parties decided it made more sense to continue backing a strongman than to prod Egypt's ruling party toward real and accountable democratic processes..."
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