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NightWatch 20110215


For the Night of 14 February 2011

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea sent letters to South Korean political parties on 11 February that proposed a dialogue between the two countries' legislators to help ease tensions. South Korea's Unification Ministry said the letters were delivered via China.

Comment: In the aftermath of the failure of military talks, the North has reactivated its earlier proposal for a dialogue among law makers. This is an attempt to bypass the executive branch in an appeal to ethnic identity. It is unlikely to work. It makes the North look desperate for dialogue with the US or South Korea.

North Korea-China: For the record. 16 February is the 70th birthday of Kim Chong-il. China's Minister of Public Security bestowed an unusual birthday gift on Kim Chong-il during the brief visit to Pyongyang, the first stop in his trip to four Asian countries. Minister Meng wished Kim a happy birthday and congratulated him on his 70th birthday and on his plan for succession by his son Kim Jong-eun.

Comment: This is the first time a senior Chinese official has made such a comment and represents a bench mark for analysis of future Chinese assessments.

Pakistan: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) submitted on Monday, 7 February, a fresh 57-page report in the Anti-Terrorism Court-III, declaring former President Pervez Musharraf as an accused in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case. FIA's Special Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali said in the court that investigators, while reinvestigating the case, had tried time and again to contact the former president for questioning him but he did not respond.

Comment: The prosecutors have no direct evidence linking Musharraf to the Bhutto murder, but cannot clear him because he is considered an "absconder," referring to the criminal presumption that innocent people have no need to flee the scene of a crime.

The effect of the indictment is to deter Musharraf from returning to Pakistan to seek public office again, as he has threatened. If he returns, he might be arrested on arrival.

Bahrain: At least 14 people were injured in small-scale clashes in parts of Bahrain, resulting from heightened security ahead of the 14 February "Day of Rage" protest inspired by the anti-government uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Al Jazeera reported.

Helicopters circled the planned protest site in the capital of Manama with greater police presence in Shia villages. Reports indicate police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters demanding the release of demonstrators arrested in earlier marches in the southwestern village of Newidrat. Police also clashed with residents in the village of Karzakan, injuring one protester and three police officers, according to witness and police statements.

Yemen: A crowd of about 3,000 protesters took to the streets of Sanaa for a second day, calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, AFP reported Feb. 14. The protesters, mainly students and lawyers, attempted to march from Sanaa University to Al-Tahrir Square in Sanaa's center where pro-government supporters have been camped since the week of 6 February, but security forces blocked the demonstrators with razor wire

Despite police efforts to avoid clashes, the sides still clashed, with the loyalists wielding broken bottles, daggers, rocks and batons and the anti-regime protesters throwing rocks. Police detained several thousand anti-government protesters on the Sanaa University campus in an effort to separate the sides. Five people were injured in the confrontation, according to an opposition source.

Comment: Yemen's approach to handling protestors is closer to the Algerian approach than to Egypt's.

Palestinian Authority: For the record. The Palestinian Cabinet resigned on 14 February at the request of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, according to Minister of Planning Ali Jarbawi. Fayyad will retain his post but will select new ministers.

A spokesman for Hamas said the reshuffle was made in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' fears that Palestinians would engage in protests similar to those recently witnessed in Egypt. Unless Abbas implements serious political and security reforms, his authority will be subject to the "wrath" of the Palestinian people, the spokesman added.

General Comment: The three reports above exemplify the range of tactics political leaders are applying to deal with the epidemic of anti-government protests after those in Tunisia. They also display traits of the outbreaks themselves. Some obvious characteristics of these outbreaks help explain the confusion leaders have in dealing with them.

The demonstrations seem to be a function of cell phone technology. In that respect, the anti-government protests are somewhat similar to Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, many of which rely on cell phones for organizing and directing an attacking force of tribal fighters.

Cell phones provide a unique capability to organize anti-government demonstrations, or attacks in Afghanistan, that are hard to prevent and control.

Unlike the Taliban attacks, however, the cell phone instigators of protests do not identify themselves as leaders. Thus, in Tunisia and Egypt the governments have had no one with which to negotiate, except the established opposition parties. The cell phone facilitates security for the instigators, but not resolution of grievances.

At least in Egypt and Tunisia, the cell phone crowds were educated and better off than the people who need relief the most. There is an element of elitism and adversity to risk taking.

Another characteristic is that the instigators have demands but no program. These people seem to be political dilettantes, capable of being against something or someone without having a way ahead. They aggravate instability, but not revolution, based on the results.

Now that the Egyptian movement has spent itself, some Arab governments apparently see the lack of an imminent threat in the demonstrations. They are recovering their confidence and are cracking heads. Others, such as the Palestinian Authority face real internal challenges that the dilettante users of the cell phones make much more complex to handle.

Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces released a fifth statement on 14 February urging citizens, professional syndicates and work unions to continue performing their duties in order to achieve security and stability for Egypt and its citizens. The statement said that protests were held in some sectors despite the return of normal life, and despite the fact that the current circumstances necessitate the unity of the population in support of the efforts of the Supreme Council.

The Supreme Council announced that it will hold a referendum on constitutional amendments within two months, Google executive and opposition figure Wael Ghonim said on his Facebook page after a 13 February meeting with two members from the council, Reuters reported. Reuters reported that Ghonim confirmed to them the accuracy of his Facebook post.

Military police ordered the last remaining protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, to leave or face arrest. Witnesses said the dozens of protesters were surrounded by soldiers and military police in red berets. The protesters had an hour to move out of the square, according to one of the demonstrators.

On 13 February, the military government announced that it suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament and would govern under martial law for the next six months or until elections could be held. It also announced it would appoint a committee to prepare amendments to the constitution. On 14 February, it announced the head of committee as a former respected jurist. It also announced that the civilian cabinet would continue to function to maintain continuity of government operations.

Comment: Investiture of a military government without a change of government system plus imposition of martial law, even benignly, are always measures to avoid power sharing. At this point, the opposition's role is that of consultant. It is not sharing in government and has not joined power sharing. It is being co-opted.

The military government denies a coup has taken place, but it has no constitutional authority to govern. Nevertheless, it has taken precisely the same initial actions General Musharraf took, after he overthrew the Nawaz Sharif civilian government in Pakistan.

The difference in process is important because Musharraf changed the Pakistani government, but it is not clear that Mubarak has. Field Marshal Tantawi and his cohorts in the Supreme Council are the backbone of the Mubarak government system.

Mubarak is out of office, but not necessarily out of influence, depending on his health. His system has not only survived the protests, but emerged with increased authority as the result of them ... and the protestors celebrated this outcome! The Mubarak System members, such as Tantawi, deny they want to govern and promised to transfer power to an elected civil government later. That is what military governments always promise.

Looking past promises, the political practice is that the military can and will ignore the constitution whose amendment process derives from the Supreme Council's orders, as will the future elected government. This represents the worst features of Egyptian government since the coup of Nasser. The government will remain dependent on the personality of the military strongman or council. That means there has been no revolution, yet, but it might be coming.

Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on 14 February saying it will establish itself as a political party once the constitution has been amended to allow it to do so, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. According to the statement, the group is confident the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will honor all of the promises made in its fifth communiqué. The group also asked the military to create a timetable for amending the constitution and holding a presidential election. It also called for free and fair parliamentary elections under judicial supervision, the abolition of the emergency law and the formation of a new Cabinet approved by the public.

According to a 14 February report posted on the Muslim Brotherhood's website, a number of factors will guarantee a peaceful transition to a legitimate government, the first of which is God's caring for his people. The second guarantee is the people themselves, while the third guarantee is the assurance from the military that it is not an acceptable alternative to a legitimate government, which has so far honored it promises.

Fourth, a free and equitable dialogue among constitutional experts and the political forces that brought about change will guarantee a transition to legitimacy. Last, the report urged the opposition forces and the country's elite, including the revolutionary youth, to make every effort to ensure unity in the country.

Another Brotherhood posting. The Egyptian military will guarantee there is no coup against the constitution as there was with former President Mubarak and his son and cronies, whose crimes became clear to the public, according to a report posted on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) website.

The Brothers claim the military has not revoked the constitution, but is functioning based on the strength of the constitution. The report urged Egyptians to stay calm and think clearly during this period of transition and to focus on the ultimate goal of achieving a new era with a free democratic system based on strong foundations. The military is not an alternative to the legitimacy accepted by the people, the report said. The issue to consider now is whether a peaceful transition of power into a legitimate government can be guaranteed, the report added.

Comment: The above reports are significant because the Brothers are showing they have a program for taking advantage of the present climate of relative political openness. They are about to steal the leadership of the opposition movement because they having a program and are ready for power sharing.


Demonstrations occurred in the cities of Aswan and Alexandria, Egypt, on 14 February, according to the Associated Press. In Minya Province, police and soldiers foiled an attempted prison break, reportedly killing four inmates and wounding 11. In the city of Beni Sweif, thousands demanded the distribution of promised state-built, low-cost apartments. A strike also occurred at the Sukari gold mine near the southern Red Sea coastal town of Marsa Alam.

The Egyptian Central Bank ordered all banks to close after employees of the National Bank of Egypt and other government banks went on strike. Hundreds of public transport workers protested, demanding better pay. Several hundred workers protested outside the Trade and Workers Federation, demanding the dissolving of its board, which they accuse of corruption. Dozens of graduates of archaeology schools demonstrated outside the office of Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, seeking jobs. Striking employees at EgyptAir, the national commercial carrier, succeeded in getting their boss fired.

Public transport workers gathered outside Cairo's Nile TV and radio station building to demand higher pay, and protesters from the state Youth and Sports Organization gathered in Tahrir Square with similar demands. In addition, ambulance drivers staged protests in Giza district while around 200 police officers continued their protests over higher wages in downtown Cairo for the second day.

About 7,500 workers in the central Egyptian city of Asyut staged a sit-in calling for better pay and working conditions and criticizing corrupt former officials, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. About 1,500 workers from businessmen's association held a second consecutive day of sit-ins demanding permanent contracts, higher pay and better working conditions.

About 4,000 workers at the Asyut Cement Company held a sit-in calling for permanent contracts and a profit-sharing system, and an end to daily-wage work, and 2,000 workers at the Asyut Fertilizer Factory demanded higher pay, permanent contracts and the ouster of the factory's manager.

A youth coalition called for the dissolution of the National Democratic Party and for the creation of a new Cabinet of technocrats within 30 days to replace the current caretaker government, AP reported. Ziad el-Eleimy, a member of the youth coalition, said that it is unacceptable that the same government which caused the revolution would oversee the transitional period

Ayman Nur, leader of Egypt's El Ghad Party, said on Egyptian radio and Israeli Channel 2 radio that the peace treaty with Israel is over and that Egypt must at least renegotiate the terms of the treaty. Egypt's new military leaders have said that they will honor the peace treaty.

Comment: el Ghad is a small centrist secular party, led by Nur and which seeks political and economic reform, human rights and solving Egypt's water crisis. It has not previously been known to advocate a review of the 1979 Treaty with Israel.

The expanding and increasing workers' protests, if they persist, will pose a serious threat to the System, unlike the recent protests.

Libya: Political activists have officially announced that 17 February will be the "day of people's anger," a day in which they will stage protests demanding the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi step down, according to a number of Libyan newspapers and internet sites, Algerian daily Echourouk El Youmi reported.

An anti-Qadhafi group, which was able to gather 2,000 members using Facebook, has been countered by a pro-Qadhafi group identified as "Young and daughters of Libya are proud of their leader Muammar Qadhafi," which seeks to counter any action that could compromise the stability of the country.

Qadhafi himself announced he will join the anti-government protests to show his solidarity with the people, according to a report from Al-Dar newspaper.

Comment: Qadhafi knows how to co-opt his opponents.

Algeria: The Algerian National Coordination for Change and Democracy announced a new march scheduled on18 February in May 1 Square, according to the president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Moustepha Bouchachi. Note: The first protest rally over the weekend fizzled.

Hundreds of demonstrators including youth from regional villages surrounded the police station on 13 February in the Algerian town of Akbou City in Bejaia Province about 180 kilometers east of Algiers, El-Khabar newspaper reported Feb. 14. More than 30 people were injured when the protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police station in clashes which continued until 7:00 p.m. locally. Note: this is the real thing.

Italy-Tunisia: Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini visited Tunisia to meet with the transition government to secure its cooperation and agreement in deploying Italian soldiers to handle the Tunisian refugees entering Italian waters, La Stampa reported.

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry is ready to work with the Italian and other governments to stem the wave of immigrants heading across the Mediterranean Sea, according to an unnamed ministry official. Tunisia insisted it would not allow other countries to interfere with its internal affairs but pledged to examine the immigrant problem in the coming days with Italian officials.

A Tunisian military source announced that Tunisia has deployed soldiers to stop illegal immigrants trying to reach Italy. The source said the military is controlling the coastline in Zarzis as well as the coastline and port in Gabes.

Comment: There is little sign of political reform in Tunisia. The refugee problem is a manifestation of the law of unintended but predictable consequences.

Special Comment: It has been three days since Mubarak resigned. It is increasingly clear that no revolution has transpired. Regional governments are wary, but are recovering their confidence.

The surprising disclosure over the weekend is that fundamental political change does not seem to have been the intention of the protest organizers. That conclusion emerges from the exclusive interview some of them gave to the New York Times, published on 13 February.

If the Times account is accurate, the demonstrations were not instigated by or for the mass of un- and under-employed. The instigators were doctors, students and lawyers with very high expectations, time on their hands and technology in their hands.

That explains why, as one Brilliant and perceptive Reader noted, there were crowds in Cairo, but no mobs. It also explains why workers did not protest until late and never marched on Cairo, possibly wary of the rich kids.

The apparent goal at the outset was literally to oust Mubarak, nothing more. The international news media misinterpreted that as a movement for general political reform. Revolutionary change is not what the interview indicates and not what the protest signs in Cairo indicated. That makes the demonstrations look like an 18-day act of petulance by elitists who benefit from the System, but want more.

Thus, the powers in the System waited until it spent itself after giving the "youngsters" the one thing they wanted - Mubarak - leading the movement to collapse. Three days later, only Back to NightWatch List