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NightWatch 20110309

NightWatch

For the Night of 9 March 2011

Egypt: Security. The Egyptian army cleared protestors from Cairo's Tahrir Square on 9 March. Actually, the army intervened to stop stone-throwing. Hundreds of protestors and counter-protesters threw rocks at each other in Tahrir Square. Some tear gas and warning shots were fired, but after the army joined the counter-protestors, the protestors fled.

Comment: Activists are still waiting for the revolution, after having trusted the army too readily. Realists knew the activists were gulled and that the army has always been in charge.

Politics. Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said he will run for Egypt's presidency as long as a new democratic system is in place. ElBaradei said the new constitutional amendments proposed to move Egypt toward democracy, which limit a president to two four-year terms and open the door for independents and opposition members to be candidates, are superficial.

ElBaradei said he appealed to Egypt's military rulers to get rid of the amendments or to delay a scheduled 19 March vote on them. The changes do not limit the powers of the president nor give enough time for political parties to form, ElBaradei said.

Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader Mohamed Badie said in a statement released 9 March that the ousted National Democratic Party and state security are trying to ignite sectarianism in the current circumstances and that everyone should safeguard state institutions, adhere to the law and present demands in a peaceful manner, Ahram reported. The statement said that "sectarianism is asleep" and "God curse anyone who wakes it."

Comment: ElBaradei has identified the heart of the problem. The constitution provides so much power to the president that amendments that purport to strengthen parliament are meaningless.

The Brotherhood's comments match what the army wants. The Brotherhood wants power and will work with the army to get it. Last December the Brotherhood was running for cover from the army to avoid arrest. Now it is a coadjutor to the army in shaping Egypt's government, which looks to be another variation of strong man rule.

Thus far the only clear winner is the Brotherhood. The big losers are the young men who started the turmoil. Mubarak is gone, but not in disgrace or loss of resources, and his cronies are faring as well as before with no restraints from Mubarak.

Libya: Security. An engineer working at a major oil terminal in As Sidra, eastern Libya, on 9 March said airstrikes on the city had destroyed storage tanks and other facilities such as power and water plants. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the engineer said he saw government aircraft attacking the terminal, during which four tanks holding 150,000 gallons of oil were destroyed.

Comment: Protection of the oil-producing infrastructure is another, economic, reason for destroying anything Libyan that flies. Qadhafi's air attacks are degrading the country's economic future. He has not ordered all out destruction of the oil infrastructure which implies he still thinks he and his family will need to and be able to exploit its profits. Thus, attacks against oil facilities held by the rebels provide a measurement of Qadhafi's stress.

Libyan authorities offered a reward of 500,000 Libyan dinars (about $400,000) to anyone who captures rebel leader and former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and turns him in, according to Libyan state TV. It was also announced that a reward of 200,000 dinars would be given for information leading to the capture of Abdel-Jalil

Libyan loyalist Major General Abdul-Rahman bin Ali al-Saiid al-Zawi, the head of Libya's logistics and supply division, delivered a letter from leader Moammar Qadhafi to Egyptian authorities requesting military assistance against Libya's rebel movement, according to dissident Libyan diplomats, Al-Masry Al-Youm. The diplomats said Qadhafi's letter threatened to expel hundreds of thousands of Egyptians working in Libya should Egypt side with the Libyan rebels.

Comment: Most of the 18,000 or so Egyptians have fled or are at the borders trying to leave, according to international news services.

Diplomacy. Libyan government envoys flew to Malta on 9 March to meet with Maltese officials before flying to Portugal. Another Libyan aircraft was en route Brussels from France, according to a Maltese official.

Comment: Either the rats are abandoning ship or a small diplomatic offensive is in progress. It is not possible to tell the difference because the mission of the diplomats might be to arrange a place for the Qadhafi's to land.

Benghazi Council-Qatar: The Libyan rebels would have no trouble acquiring more weapons and have received offers of support from Qatar and others, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council said9 March. The council's military committee is assessing the rebels' needs, the spokesman said, adding that the council would decide if it needs to purchase arms. A no-fly zone would help, but rebels would still be faced with tanks, he said.

Morocco: King Mohammed VI directed far reaching reforms that significantly alter the nature of Morocco's constitutional monarchy.

In a speech 9 March which Moroccan TV broadcast, the King said that reforms will call for the judiciary to be elevated to the status of an independent power and that the Constitutional Council will continue to promote the primacy of the constitution. The principle of the separation and the balance of powers will be applied through a parliament emerging from free and fair elections in which the house of representatives plays the lead role.

An elected government will reflect the will of the people, King Mohammad said, adding that the government will enjoy the confidence of the majority of the house of representatives. A prime minister will be appointed from the political party that wins the most seats in parliamentary elections. The prime minister will be head of an effective executive branch that is fully responsible for government.

Regarding local government, the King said that reforms will allow regional councils to be elected through direct universal suffrage and will give the presidents of regional councils, instead of governors and mayors, the power to implement the decisions taken by the council. He said Morocco's ultimate objective is to strengthen the foundations for a regionalization system throughout the country, particularly in the Western Sahara region.

The King said that reforms in the country will aim to give greater power to Morocco's regions and that a new commission created to examine the constitution will present recommendations for revisions to the royal palace by June. He said women's rights and political participation will be strengthened so that men and women have equal access to elective positions.

Comment: The sweep of the reforms is comprehensive. Many officials that the King appointed will now be elected, including regional heads of government and the national prime minister. The language suggests a government closer to a Westminster parliament with a monarch as a titular head of state, more than to an Arab hybrid constitutional monarchy.

The King has acted preemptively against political activists in the interest of stability. His action constitutes a third path, distinguishable from the armed confrontations by governments in Yemen and Libya and the cautious conciliation of the King of Bahrain and Sultan of Oman.

For now, the King has laid out a coherent program that exceeds anything suggested by opposition groups in Morocco. If the Moroccan way succeeds in updating the political system without violent protests, it might be a model that encourages protestors in other countries and which other Kings and Sultans regret and oppose. Thus, Mohammed VI's reforms could be a catalyst for upheavals in other Kingdoms.

It might work and yet still not avoid the "rights of passage" component of young Arab political activism. Demonstrations might still occur for no apparent purpose except venting.

End of NightWatch for 9 March.

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