Tag Archives: oppression

Egypt At The Crossroads

by Florian Flade

There is a joke circulating on the Internet about the ongoing protests in Egypt against the Mubarak-Regime, now reaching the 11th day. It is a fictional phone conversation between the US President and Egypt´s leader.

Obama: “Hosni, you should send a farewell note to the Egyptians and say Goodbye.”

Mubarak: “Why? Where are they going?”

There couldn´t be more truth in a statement. Hosni Mubarak is just not giving up, he still remains in power and even justifies his decision of not stepping down by warning the world of an Egypt without him in power. “If I resign now…there will be chaos”, the Egyptian President told ABC´s Christiane Amanpour in a rare face-to-face interview in his palace.

Nevertheless, the 30-year ruling leader of Egypt did not totally ignore the millions out on the streets calling for the overthrow of his regime. Mubarak did react but he did not meet the demands of his people. “We want an overthrow of the system!” – the mob screams – “Mubarak no more!” As a first reaction to the violent protests, the President did announce he would form a new government and appoint new ministers.

One of these new faces of the same old regime is Ahmed Shafiq, the newly appointed Prime Minister. Shafiq is the former Minister of Aviation, was a pilot in the Egyptian Airforce and is regarded by many as a war hero. In the October War of 1973, Shafiq served as a figher jet pilot under then Chief of Airforce, Hosni Mubarak. He shot down two Israeli airplanes and was later awarded though Egypt lost the war against the Israelis. Between 1996 and 2002 he was the commander of the air force.

Mubarak also appointed a new Vice-President, the former head of intelligence Omar Sulaiman – he is now Egypt´s first Vice-President since 30 years. Sulaiman is a military man, too – educated in Egypt and Moscow – but is also a good friend of the United States and was Washington´s man in Egypt during the times of the secret rendition program of the CIA. As part of America´s War on Terror, al-Qaida suspects were captured and flown to secret prisons were they were questioned and tortured by US agents and their local allies.

The two new faces of the Egyptian leadership are Mubarak´s attempt to calm down the protesting masses in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Those demanding a real regime-change were not welcoming Mubarak´s announcement of re-structuring a new government. “We want the regime to change, not its colour!” – Egyptians answered.

All the signs are now indicating Mubarak is preparing for a regime-change, meaning he will leave power at a time which seems appropriate to him. In 1969 the Soviet-educated soldier Mubarak became head of the Egyptian Airforce and served as a general during the war with Israel in 1973. Two years later, Mubarak was named Vice-President to Anwar al-Sadat. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Vice-President Mubarak became President Mubarak – “father of all Egyptians”.

The Vice-President in Egypt is traditionally seen as the new leader taking over from the ruling person. Could that mean Mubarak will leave office and 74 year-old Sulaiman is then named President? This would in no way satisfy those millions of Egyptians protesting against the old system. What they want is a democratic vote on their new leader.

A great obstacle of the opposition-movement is the question of who would lead a new government. Their is no real leader figure among those opposing Hosni Mubarak. Muhammad ElBaradei is a popular politician but insiders think he would rather like to remain a symbol than a real acting leader.

Without any doubt, the Mubarak regime will collapse in the weeks to come. Eleven days of protest, violence, worldwide media attention and steady pressure on the President to act according to the will of the people will eventually lead to a new Egyptian leadership. It is legitimate to say, Egypt has several options of shaping its future. Basically three options are on the table for the Post-Mubarak Egypt.

“The Turkish Way”

Egypt could follow the Turkish Example and turn into a Muslim Democracy with a powerful military defending the state values and constitution against Islamist forces. This would mean the torture in the prisons continues, the military´s position would be strengthened and Generals would occupy powerful political offices.

The peace-treaty with Israel would remain in place when a military-dominated government takes over. Foreign policy would be kept in the hands of the military which would take all necessary steps to avoid religious forces to influence the relationships with other states, especially the European Union and the United States.

“The Iranian Way”

An Egyptian Islamic Revolution of an Iranian-model is a very unlikely outcome of the current uprising. Many factors in today´s Egypt do not match the situation of Iran back in 1979. Just take a look at the opposition elements: Egypt´s opposition does not have a Khomeini-figure living in exile, prepared and ready to take over the country.

Egypt´s youth has witnessed the results and the bloody reality of a theocratic regime on Al-Jazeera during protests in Iran after the 2009 elections. There is no majority in Egypt who would agree to be ruled by religious authorities. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 is no role model for Egypt in 2011.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt´s largest opposition party, have distanced themselves from the Iranian Mullah-regime. In Western Media, the Muslim Brothers are commonly referred to as Islamists and fundamentalists – the reality is somewhat different. Decades of political and social events have created a different Muslim Brotherhood then the one promoted by Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.

“The Burmese Way”

No other native force accept for the military is able to shape Egypt´s future right now. When Mubarak´s policemen were clashing with protesters, the people called for the army to intervene. Soldiers and their leadership harbor the sympathies of many Egyptians. If the mob is able to pull the military onto its side – then the security forces loyal to Mubarak have no other option than to retreat.

Up to this point the Egyptian military leadership has not clearly announced which side they are supporting. They wouldn´t fire at protesters, soldiers said, but on the other hand they are securing the Presidential palace. A Coup is highly unlikely because Mubarak himself is a military man and therefore the military in-fact is in power right now. Would could though, is Generals taking over all political power. Egypt´s highest ranking military leaders could install a council of Generals ruling in a way similar to how Myanmar (former Burma) is governed.

This solution is probably not welcomed by the majority of Egyptians – but the military could still try to convince the opposition forces that they are part of the new government and in fact able to make political decisions. If the Generals are able to assure more freedom, a brighter economic future and an end to police brutality, torture and the oppression of critics, a certain percentage of Egyptians would possibly support a military dictatorship consisting of not one but many leaders and decision-makers.

Egypt´s “Allahu Akbar”-free Revolution

by Florian Flade

Cairo – Police shooting at praying protesters with water cannon

“Ash-sha`ab yurid isqat an-nizam!” (the people want the overthrow of the system) – that was the slogan chanted by tens of thousands at Cairo´s Tahrir Square, the Square of Liberation, as Egyptians took to the streets yesterday in the biggest protest to topple the Mubarak regime in recent years. From Alexandria to Suez to capital Cairo – about a million angry protesters demanded President Husni Mubarak to step down from his decade-long dictatorship regime. Uncountable numbers of men and women, young and old, called for an end to oppression, one-party rule and police brutality. Encouraged by the events in Tunisia, a week-long protest that led to the collapse of the Ben Ali regime, Egyptians are now eager to bring change to the giant of the Arab world.

As events deteriorated and protest spread from neighborhood to neighborhood Egypt´s leader decided to fight the possibly most dangerous enemies of these riots – Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. All Internet service in Egypt was shut down yesterday in an historic cut-off by the government. In addition all mobile phone providers were informed to end service in the country.

Despite this unique procedure Arabic News was still covering events unfolding in Cairo. Especially Qatar-based Al-Jazeera did an remarkable job in reporting about the protests. While Egypt´s State TV was showing pictures of the sunset and talking about people on the streets in support of President Mubarak, Al-Jazeera aired live footage from the main squares of the city as well as from the fiercely disputed bridges where protesters and police clashed in heavy fights.

The pictures coming from Cairo yesterday were images of a revolution. Burning police cars, bleeding men on the ground, beaten by the regime-loyal security forces, the angry mob tearing shredding portraits of the Egyptian leader who rules his empire at the banks of the Nile since 1981. Eventhough the government imposed a curfew at 6 p.m., people were still on the streets, setting the National Democratic Party´s (NDP – Mubarak´s party) headquarter on fire.

When the army was sent into the major cities Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, the protesters welcomed the soldiers, chanting: “People and military – we are one!” Those believing in a regime change did not fear Mubarak´s soldiers or a possible violent crackdown of the riots – the people know the only force able to topple the regime within hours is the army. Winning the soldiers sympathies and convincing their leadership Mubarak´s last days have come is the ultimate goal.

More than 410 people were injured on “The Friday of Wrath”, up to 95 people lost their lives. Washington´s voice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gave a brief statement on Egypt yesterday, said the United States what´s partnership with the Egyptian people as well as with the government. The US, she said, was very concerned about the violence but called for Mubarak to listen to the people and restore the Internet and communication system.

The “rais”, the leader, himself spoke on State TV in the night hours of Friday. In a disappointing speech he promised democracy to the Egyptians and ordered the cabinet ministers to step down. He wants to create a new government to give more freedom to the Egyptian people.

First reactions on the streets of Cairo show: the cheap statement of the President is not enough to calm down the masses awaiting his resignation. “We don´t want him anymore” – is the message of the protesters. Mubarak, they say, has to step down.

An Egypt without the authoritarian, secular leader is a nightmare for most of the Western allies of Mubarak, including Israel and the United States. For decades Egypt´s leaders fought Islamist opposition with brutal force, torture and mass-imprisonment. Yet the poor of Egypt are still rallying for the Muslim Brotherhood and their social agenda. The “brothers” have given up their radical views and militant ideology and have entered the political stages – but they still want religion to dominate the state policy.

Interesting enough this idea didn´t play any role or influence yesterday´s uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood, it seems, is not able to channel the people´s anger and give it an Islamic face. If anything was very clear by watching the picture coming out of Cairo on Friday: it is not religion that is going to topple the Mubarak-regime, it is the call for basic human rights, for free speech and justice, and the end of decade-long oppression.

That of course does not mean Islamists did not take part in yesterday´s wave of protest, but they were in no way dominating the riots. It is the “Allahu akbar”-free revolution, as some called it on the Internet, a people´s uprising without an Islamist ideology in their mind, without the calls for the implementation of Shariah Law, without the calls for Jihad and “Death to Israel!” or “Death to America!”.

People were praying on the streets of Cairo while police was trying to crack down on the mob. However the religious moment was not a moment of Jihadi-like motivation to overthrow the secular leadership. “The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to burn Egypt. We will not let these thugs burn Egypt”, the Editor of regime-loyal Al-Ahram newspaper claimed yesterday. Did he really believe seeing what was going on in the streets?

A “Khomeini”-Revolution is not the future of Egypt´s protests. Too many Egyptians have realized what it means to live under an Islamist dictatorship. Most of them saw the picture coming from Tehran after the latest elections in Iran. Egyptians saw Iranian youth dying in the streets, trying to fight oppressive leaders who claim to have Allah on their side. At the banks of the Nile, the majority of Egyptians do not want an Islamisc revolution in 2011

And this is also due to the fact that Egypt´s religious parties lack a Khomeini-like leader. Apart from popular regime-enemy El-Baradei, the latest protest lack a real leadership figure. There is no charismatic person leading this revolution. And right there is where the weakness of this protest lays.

Muhammad Husni Mubarak is not willing to leave office. His reign is not coming to an end if he is able to calm down the people by granting them certain rights and liberties they are calling for. Question is: How much anger do the Egyptians hold? Will they accept the small gifts or rather continue to demand a real leadership change and way forward to a democratic, multiple-party system?