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NightWatch 20110211


For the Night of 10 February 2011

Japan-Russia: Update. Japan stands by its claim to the disputed Kuril Islands/Northern Territories, which were occupied by the Soviet army in the closing days of World War II, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said on 10 February. Maehara said Russia has no claim under international law to occupy the islands despite the visits of Russian leaders and boosts to the islands' defenses.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Tokyo is closely watching Russian military activity in the region. A spokesman for the Japanese prime minister said Russo-Japanese bilateral ties have room for economic and energy cooperation but overcoming the territorial issue remains essential before such cooperation can expand.

Comment: Japan and Russia are engaging in public diplomacy over ownership claims to the Kuril Islands. That usually signifies they are not ready to move towards negotiations which are inevitable in such situations, eventually.

Egypt: 11 February is the Day of Confrontation. The evolution of the action should help clarify the actors. The international buildup leading almost everyone to expect Mubarak's resignation has intensified outrage over his refusal to resign. Violence is likely.

President Mubarak did not step down as President in his 10 February speech but said that a consensus was reached with the armed forces and the opposition on a roadmap (emphasis added) and specific timetable for constitutional reform.

Mubarak said two committees were set up, one to consider constitutional amendments and another to examine his commitments to the people. In response to the constitutional committee's proposals, Mubarak said in accordance with article 89 he recommended changes to articles 76, 77, 88, 93 and 189 as well as the abolition of article 179. The abolition of article 179 should balance the citizens' freedom with protection from terrorism, he said.

Mubarak said he had tasked Vice President Omar Suleiman with implementing the reforms and transferred some of his power (emphasis added) to Suleiman in accordance with the constitution.

Comment: The obvious inferences are that official Egyptian liaison channels misled top US government officials and the international press; were not as well informed as they professed; or Mubarak double-crossed his handlers for any number of reasons. A senior Egyptian general promised the demonstrators in Cairo that they would get everything they sought today.

So this was a historic day, if only for the magnitude of missteps, misstatements and confusion in multiple governments. Clearly one senior Egyptian general in Cairo misspoke in addressing the crowds, as events turned out.

One Brilliant and well-informed Reader noted that by doing his apparent double-cross, Mubarak and his cronies will have smoked out and identified his enemies and their allies.

The day was a turning point for the protestors because it is now clear that only coercion will remove Mubarak. The scenario of a peaceful hostile takeover has run its course. This is a compression situation. They always explode. Yesterday the People's Assembly building and the state TV station were mentioned as targets for storming by protestors.

Mubarak's statement contained some clues about some of the political maneuvering. The first bold statement above, about a military and opposition consensus and road map, is the language of power sharing. The opposition, not otherwise identified is the Muslim Brotherhood, an inference supported by Essam El-Errian's essay in the New York Times on 10 February, which is addressed below. Their long term interests do not look congruent, but in the short term neither profits from a fundamental change of the political system, the definition of a revolution.

Article 2 of the Constitution states "Islam the Religion of the state… and the principal source of its legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)." (source: Egypt's Government Services Portal-Egypt Constitution) This language was inserted pursuant to the plebiscite on the constitutional amendment on 22 May 1980. The point is that the framework already exists for the Brotherhood to join the government. Their goal would be to insist a new government adheres to the Constitution as amended.

Mubarak's statement does not indicate he approves of the arrangement only that it exists and its purpose is to reform the constitution, which includes making public practice match the law of the land. What is clear in context is that he is taking credit for it as President of the Republic.

The second bold quote contains coded language. Article 82 is the article that empowers the President to "delegate" his powers to a Vice President due to a "temporary obstacle" that prevents him from carrying out his duties.

Article 84 deals with permanent vacancy or disability. It designates the Speaker of the People's Assembly as the interim President, responsible for arranging elections in 60 days, pursuant to another article, Article 78. Ahmad Fathi Sorour is the Speaker since 1991. He is a Mubarak lackey.

The President may appoint more than one Vice President and delegate their powers and jurisdiction, pursuant to Article 139. The Vice President(s) is not an elected official. Neither is the Prime Minister, whom Article 141 stipulates "the President of the Republic shall appoint…"

Mubarak has surrendered no authority; he has delegated it owing to the "temporary obstacle," to a subordinate who has no authority to succeed him, assuming the government follows the constitution. Juridically, the actions of Vice President Suleiman are the actions of Mubarak.

Mubarak mentioned in "accordance with the constitution." If the constitution is followed strictly, the Mubarak regime will not terminate immediately even if Mubarak died in office. The constitution is written for an autocratic leader and system in every article related to wielding power. Egypt cannot have a representative democracy while this document survives as it is now. It contains no checks and balances on the President.

Security. The central security office in Rafh was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade, Al Arabiya reported. No damage was reported, oddly.

Tens of thousands of Egyptian workers held nationwide strikes on 10 February to demand wage increases and to oppose President Mubarak's regime, Agence France-Presse reported. Private and public sector entities were impacted, according to unions.

Some 3,000 health workers in Cairo marched to join anti-regime protesters who have blockaded parliament and occupied Tahrir Square. A security official reported that thousands in the public sector were striking in Alexandria, Suez and cities on the north coast and on the Red Sea.

Comment: This is the first reported use of an RPG since 25 January. It has not been reported by any other news service, but others have reported troubles in Rafh.

With the news focus on Tahrir Square and the President, most services have neglected to report on workers' strikes or job actions. A second day of more and more widespread workers' strikes is a portent of unrest that is not part of the Tahrir Square action.

The Brotherhood.

A member of the guidance council of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam El-Errian, published in the New York Times on 10 February an essay about the intentions, goals and values of the Brotherhood and its reluctant participation in dialogue with the Egyptian government. El Errian wrote that Islam shares and incorporates western values and asserted that the Brotherhood is committed to them for all Egyptians. He denied the Brothers have a political agenda but the following two paragraphs are the most instructive and are repeated below:

"As our nation heads toward liberty, however, we disagree with the claims that the only options in Egypt are a purely secular, liberal democracy or an authoritarian theocracy. Secular liberal democracy of the American and European variety, with its firm rejection of religion in public life, is not the exclusive model for a legitimate democracy.

In Egypt, religion continues to be an important part of our culture and heritage. Moving forward, we envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets."

El Essian uses "civil" instead of "secular." They are not the same. Despite a misstatement by a US official today, the Brotherhood is not a secular entity. The essay is intended to reassure. The clear implication is that an Islamic republic is the Brotherhood's station stop on the democracy "streetcar" line.

Overall assessment: Mubarak's admission about the armed forces and opposition consensus is the first confirmation that a power sharing agreement has been reached. That is the direction of the next steps. The armed forces appear to be acting without the blessing of Mubarak. This looks like a military-backed takeover in preparation abetted by the now respectable Brotherhood.

The guns - the Army --will now have to decide who will lead the country. Moreover, a power sharing agreement with the Brotherhood suggests that some leadership echelons of the armed forces have become more devout, as in the Pakistan Army.

Another paroxysm of violence is likely which means that the two sides are still converging, while testing each other's position and strength in the final power sharing arrangement. Egypt is heading towards a government that will have a much more prominent role in government for Islam.

The outlier in the scenario remains the odd and sudden emergence of the workers and farmers in the movement. They work for the state enterprises and do not seem part of the inner circle of schemers in Cairo. They represent another level of action whose implications might be benign, but are not clear yet.

A final concern is the RPG round, if one was fired, because that is an Army weapon and a signature weapon of insurgents.

For new analysts. CNN reported that a senior US official remarked today, "The United States will have to determine legal and diplomatic arrangements for working with a new Egyptian military-led government in the event President Hosni Mubarak steps down from power…The United States does not work with governments that come to power by military coup, and while there is talk in Egypt that the transfer of power would be agreed upon by consensus, the move poses a problem for the Pentagon."

Comment: Hmmmm….The US dealt extensively with General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan who came to power by a military coup that was blatant even by Pakistani standards. Without his coerced cooperation the overthrow of the Taliban would have been much more arduous. He had not been elected to anything in 2001.

Plus the US has dealt with every other Pakistani coup leader: Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia ul Haq. The US has dealt or deals with coup leaders pretty much everywhere, including Qadhafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Sadat, Bouteflika, Saleh in Yemen, Marcos, a succession of Thai coup leaders, Suharto in Indonesia and the list goes on. The US usually plays hard ball in support of its national interests, fortunately, and has dealt with hundreds of coup-born governments; not always wisely, but usually hard.

Algeria: Authorities will deploy 25,000 policemen in Algiers ahead of an opposition rally scheduled for 12 February, according to the Algerian daily Echorouk. Half of the reinforcements will be riot police, senior officials said.

Comment: As reported earlier this week, Algeria is taking a very different approach to opposition rallies.

End of NightWatch for 10 February.

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