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NightWatch 20110130

NightWatch

For the Night of 30 January 2011

Egypt: Security.

The government. On Saturday and Sunday, Army units remained deployed but inactive except around the national museums. Police forces withdrew from the streets, prompting formation of neighborhood and building ad hoc security patrols to deter looters.

On Saturday, police withdrew from the streets of Cairo and other northern towns. The Army evidently had no orders to maintain law and order. The demonstrators were allowed free rein in somewhat confined space, curiously. For example there were no reports of widespread indiscriminate looting, which normally goes with this kind of uprising.

Later on Saturday the police seemed to regroup and tested their capacity for crackdown, but keeping several buildings in Cairo safe from arson.

On Sunday, security police closed al Jazeera's local offices. Al Jazeera has been streaming live video on the internet of the protests since last Thursday. Multiple news services reported the police returned to the streets Al Jazeera reported that the police will be redeployed in strength "throughout Egypt" on 31 January.

Xinhua reported Army soldiers opened fire on protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Comment: If confirmed this would represent the first time Egyptian soldiers fired on protestors in this crisis. All other reporting indicates soldiers have been sympathetic to the protests. This report looks like it was manufactured by Chinese media censors to intimidate China's student population.

On Sunday afternoon, President Mubarak met with newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Annan, according to Al Arabiya. In the meeting with his senior commanders, Mubarak reportedly told the armed forces operations to control the security situation.

The opposition. The demonstrations were huge on Saturday in multiple cities; the largest was in Cairo's Tahrir Square. They were only slightly smaller on Sunday. The Muslim Brotherhood emerged from the murk and attempted to provide some organization and guidance. The Brotherhood's efforts to take control began late and might not have worked.

Politics. The government. President Mubarak ordered his new Cabinet to preserve subsidies, control inflation and provide more jobs, according to state television.

In a letter to newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak also directed the new government should challenge all forms of corruption. The letter went on to stress the need for political reform in the constitution and in legislation via dialogue with all the country's political parties. In addition, Mubarak recognized as legitimate the concerns of the protesters, though he said religious slogans had penetrated their ranks, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, who Mubarak accused of instigating chaos. Egyptian media reported.

On Saturday, in a late night speech to the nation, Mubarak appointed his long time friend and chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman as Vice President, making him the first vice president in 30 years. Mubarak never filled the task, knowing the Egyptian penchant for conspiracies.

The government resigned and he named a new prime minister.

The Opposition. The protestors rejected Mubarak's changes and continued to call for his resignation. Egyptian opposition forces agreed on the 30th to support Mohamed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to negotiate with the government, according to a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam el-Eryan.

Mohamed El Baradei joined the protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo and told them, "What we have begun cannot go back." He said Egyptians have reclaimed their rights and have called for an end to Mubarak's regime. El Baradei also said that what the people have accomplished cannot be undone. He asked for the people's patience, as "change is coming in the next few days."

He called for Mubarak to leave office today to make way for a national unity government. The situation in Egypt clearly shows that Mubarak must leave, and his departure should be followed by a transition to a unity government with plans for a free and fair election, El Baradei added

In a statement issued today, two Egyptian protest groups --the National Assembly for Change and the April 6 group -- asked Egyptian opposition figure Mohammed El Baradei to form an interim salvation government, Al Arabiya reported. April 6 has called for a general strike.

One prominent opposition leader said his group would only negotiate with the Army because Mubarak's promises are the "same old nonsense."

Other reactions.

Royal Dutch Shell plans to remove its international staff and their families from Egypt on Jan. 30, an unnamed source said, Reuters reported. Around 60 families will leave as a safety precaution; they are waiting for final approval from the Egyptian travel authorities, the source said. According to a Shell spokesman, the company is carefully monitoring the situation and is preparing for several contingencies

Almost all international air service to Cairo has been suspended. Many countries ordered the withdrawal of non-essential personnel from their missions, advised against travel to Egypt and advised tourists to depart.

The Suez Canal remains open and functioning. The Port of Alexandria continues to operate, impeded only by the ability of workers to get to work safely.

General Comments: Mubarak has managed to rally his supporters sufficiently to organize a transition to a different leadership. The Army protected important buildings but did not execute the orders of the President during the weekend; not even the orders of Field Marshal Tantawi, the Minister of Defense.

The Army began to respond to the civilian chain of command only after the return from the US of the chief of staff, General Annan, and the appointment of Suleiman as vice president. That tends to reinforce the NightWatch hypothesis that the underlying issue in the government response is the succession after Mubarak.

For the first time in 30 years, there is a constitutional successor. Mubarak has created conditions for him to leave office. Chances are that he, like so many other authoritarian rulers, will overstay his last days and misjudge a good time to leave, which would have been Sunday.

No one will trust that Mubarak is an agent of reform after 30 years of brutality that the West and the secular Arabs approved, supported, sold arms to, and extolled as a model!!

Suleiman can command the respect of the security forces and the Army, but not the Brotherhood or the inchoate protestors. Thus, an overreaction phase has begun. The regime will attempt to restore order, using the police. The Army will not lead this crackdown.

It is not clear that El Baradei will be more than a short term spokesperson for the opposition. The Islamists represent a powerful alternative that is much better organized and has much better credentials for leadership of a new regime.

What has occurred thus far is an uprising. The salient characteristic of all uprisings is the lack of leadership. If they do not evolve a higher level organization and become a movement, they collapse, if only because people must eat and take care of daily necessities. The key indicator that this is still an uprising is that there is no group with which the government can negotiate and the protestors have no goals except the ouster of Mubarak.

The past four days have shown that unemployed educated youth will burn things in protest of their plight and can make government quail. They have not shown they achieve fundamental change. In Tunis and Cairo, the old regime remains in power. There is no revolution yet in Egypt and a large government distribution of bread would go far to stabilizing the situation.

As in Tunisia, the Egyptian uprising looks to be more driven by economics than more cerebral ideas of politics. The revolutionary phase has not begun.

Somebody in Washington needs to be working seriously on the future security of Israel. There is no guarantee that an anti-Israel Islamist government will not emerge, in the revolutionary phase of this uprising, if it moves in that direction. Such a government would abrogate the peace treaty and large scale, conventional warfare with tanks would re-establish itself as the future of warfare.

Ripple effects.

China: Authorities blocked the word "Egypt" from micro-blog internet searches, including Chinese web portal sites Sina.com and Sohu.com which are comparable to Twitter. Search results for "Egypt" said the resulting page could not be found or displayed according to regulations.

Comment: This is cyber control in China. It probably is just one of a full-spread set of controls to safeguard against attempts by Chinese youths to mimic Tunisia and Egypt. When a government blocks specific search terms, that is an indicator of much more widespread interference with the internet and social media. They are vulnerable to interdiction and to the insertion of misinformation.

Egypt-US: The U.S. Embassy in Cairo asked American citizens to leave Egypt as soon as possible. The Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of diplomatic families, dependents and non-essential workers. It also is arranging transportation for U.S. citizens out of Egypt to safehaven locations in Europe with flights to begin departing on the 31st. The State Department statement said the evacuation is voluntary for those who wish to leave.

Comment: This action during an apparent lull in the disorders signifies that the US has intelligence that the situation is likely to get much worse. Any kind of evacuation is exceptional and exceptionally expensive. State would not order it, if its experts expected an early improvement. This is a behavioral indicator that more trouble is imminent.

US-Saudi Arabia: U.S. President Obama called Saudi King Abdallah the evening of 29 January to review the two countries' bilateral friendship and to discuss the events taking place in Egypt, state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on the 30th. According to SPA, the events in Egypt are accompanied by chaos, looting, intimidation of innocents, exploitation of freedom and expression as well as attempts to ignite chaos to achieve suspicious goals which are unapproved by either Saudi Arabia or the United States. Abdallah affirmed the importance of Egypt's stability, safety and security, adding Egyptian capabilities and achievements are integral to the accomplishments of Arab and Islamic nations.

Comment: Reading between the lines of an unusual Saudi press release about a conversation involving the King, the King's message is the US should not abandon the Egyptian leadership now by gambling on unknown opposition forces. That advice goes against thrust of the statements made by the US this weekend. The King's advice is sound under normal conditions, which these are not.

Sudan: For the record. More than 99.57 percent of voters from southern Sudan's 10 states voted to secede from the north in a referendum intended to end decades of civil war, according to the first official preliminary results released by Sudanese officials on 30 January. Mass celebrations began in the southern capital of Juba on the news.

Tunisia: Thousands of Tunisians on 30 January welcomed Islamist leader Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of the Ennahda party, at the airport in Tunis, Reuters reported. The reception was the largest showing of the country's Islamists in 20 years, as many of them were jailed or exiled by former President Ben Ali. Ghannouchi was exiled in 1989

Comment: This might be the beginning of the real revolution and the news is not necessarily good.

End of NightWatch for 30 January.

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