Violent clashes sparked by fear of people power - February 3rd, 1960 - MICHAEL JANSEN, IRISH TIMES

Violent clashes sparked by fear of people power

February 3rd, 1960
MICHAEL JANSEN

ANALYSIS: Quest for democracy in Egypt has become a real threat as key players side with Mubarak

THE EGYPTIAN army, the three generals in charge of regime policy and the Obama administration have come down firmly on the side of President Hosni Mubarak who has deployed plain clothes internal security forces with the aim of clearing protesters from Tahrir Square at the heart of Cairo.

The military yesterday declared for commander-in-chief Mubarak in the contest between the regime and hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding an end to his 30-year reign.

While the military did not resort to the use of force to sweep the iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square of protesters who have massed there over the past nine days, soldiers deployed on tanks around the square disappeared in early afternoon, allowing Mubarak’s police and security men to breach the amateur defences of the peaceful demonstrators and attack them with sticks, stones, knives and Molotov cocktails.

The protesters, determined to hold their ground, defended themselves as best they could.

The military, which had pledged not to use force against protesters, signalled its intention to abandon them to the mercy of organised toughs by calling for an end to the occupation of the square and the demonstration. The army’s statement, issued during the morning, urged the protesters in an exasperated tone: “For the love of Egypt, go home.”

This made it clear that, in the view of the armed forces command, Mubarak had met the demands of the protesters by announcing late on Tuesday night that he would not stand for a new presidential term in the September election.

He also partly satisfied a protesters’ demand by promising a review of the results of the November parliamentary election which gave the president’s National Democratic Party more than 90 per cent of the seats in the people’s assembly.

However, Mubarak, who has appointed a new cabinet headed by three military men, also said that he intends to oversee the transition to a successor regime.

This outraged many of the protesters in the square who complain that for three decades he failed to reform the administration, fight corruption and share the country’s wealth with the poor.

“How can we expect him to fix the broken system in eight months?” asked one protester.

Now that the army has opted for Mubarak, many Egyptians fear a harsh crackdown on opponents and critics.

The assault on Tahrir Square, which has become a symbol of the nine-day protests Egyptians have dubbed their “second revolution”, can be expected to deepen the antagonism between the regime and opponents of all ages and from all walks of life. These have not only created an efficient and effective people power movement but also captured the imagination of many Egyptians who feared they had lost the ability to assert themselves against their authoritarian government.

The regime’s use of force has also made it all the more difficult for a committee of 10-12 prominent figures – including two Nobel laureates, respected judges and a leading journalist – to try to negotiate a deal to ease or end the crisis.

The protesters, backed by traditional opposition parties, had hoped vice-president Omar Suleiman, premier Ahmad Shafiq and interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy – all senior military men – would distance themselves from Mubarak.

However, this seems to have been a vain hope, perhaps because all three men have been closely allied to him for many years.

Unless there is meaningful dialogue between the two camps, Egypt is unlikely to bring an end to the crisis and restore stability in the Arab world’s largest and most populous country.

While the Mubarak camp accuses international media of intervening in Egypt’s internal affairs by giving massive publicity to the Tahrir Square protests, little is being said about the role played by the Obama administration.

When Obama personally put forward the idea that Mubarak should announce he would not seek re-election and would be stepping down in the autumn when his term expires, the US set the stage for yesterday’s violent drive to clear Tahrir Square and the streets of Alexandria and Suez of demonstrators.

Alarmed by rolling demonstrations in other Arab capitals and demands for reform, the US decided, along with the Egyptian military and the three generals in charge of governance, to opt for Mubarak, an old friend and reliable ally.

Washington cannot risk a victory for people power in Egypt, as this could prompt alienated and angry Arabs elsewhere to follow the Egyptian example.

Washington prefers the status quo and the leaders it knows to upstarts seeking democracy and liberation from external influences. The US prefers steady “moderates” who generally adhere to the US political line and do not make too much trouble for Israel, Washingtons friend and ally.

Democracy is a highly destabilising force.

Michael Jansen is Middle East analyst