For the Night of 28 January 2011
Jordan: Protesters across Jordan called for the government to step down. In Amman, more than 5,000 marched. Demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans, blamed the government for rising prices and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
Egypt: Today was the Day of Rage and so it has been. Roughly an hour after Friday prayers, the demonstrations began in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, then spread and continued into the night. Buildings were set alight; curfews ignored and the Army moved in. The night closed with President Mubarak's mildly concessional speech which promises to incite the protestors, more than placate them. Expect more confrontations on 29 January.
Special comment: Background. Research and analysis of more than 50 internal instability episodes since 1980, NightWatch has tracked order in what appears to be chaotic security situations. Once internal discontent metamorphoses into a breakdown of public order, the government begins searching for a set of responses that will halt the decline in its fortunes. A government will follow a three-phase cycle in applying different ideas and resources alternately to placate or crush an insurrection or to buy time to try to find "a line it can hold." That phrase refers to a set of actions over an expanse of national territory that will stabilize internal conditions.
If the government finds a set of responses that match the protestors' grievances, the downward cycle can be halted. If not, it will continue until the government falls or is changed, usually by the Army, the ultimate guardians of the state.
The cycle begins with an under reaction phase of more or less tolerant behavior. This phase almost always begins quietly with increased police presence, but no extraordinary force deployments. In most instances, the anti-government protestors are prone to misinterpret tolerance as weakness or indecision and will escalate demands and attract more protestors and usually looters.
When efforts at conciliation fail, the government has not choice but to escalate the security response. Unless the response is well-planned, swift and overwhelming, this overreaction will incite more demonstrations. At that point the government has not choice but to offer concessions so as to gain time for regrouping. The first concession is always people, rather than policies or practices.
Concessions always convey the perception that the demonstrators are winning and invariably provoke more demonstrations. In fact, concessions always start out as sops for the protestors. They do not mean that the government has fallen or that a revolution has succeeded.
Once a cycle is complete without improving the situation, the next cycles accelerate and power transfers from the government to the protestors heading towards power-sharing or bypassing power sharing and heading towards revolution.
In Tunisia, a single cycle was completed in the past three weeks. The departure of President Ben Ali on 10 January indicated the start of the concession phase, which appears to be continuing. Note the first concession of that government system was the head of state because he lost the support of the security establishment, especially the Army and its leader General Ammar.
With Ben Ali's departure, the pace of events has slowed, but it is clear that fundamental change has not occurred. The lack of cohesion, organization and leadership in the Tunis demonstrators enabled the government to stabilize the situation by dumping the president. That gesture failed to satisfy the protestors so more people have been dumped, but fundamental policies are not changed.
The concession phase is slowing blending with under-reaction and transitioning towards another crackdown. Today's efforts by the police to terminate a sit-in protest outside the prime minister's office are an indicator of an under-reaction. The protestors did not depart and the stage is set for more confrontations.
In Egypt, a single cycle has run in four days, but President Mubarak is clearly made of tougher stuff than Ben Ali.
On Tuesday, the police were tolerant of the political protest gatherings in Cairo. When these escalated and spread outside Cairo, the police used more force and the paramilitary forces showed up in armored cars. Much of that occurred on Thursday and early Friday.
On Friday, Mubarak called in the Army after the paramilitary police were swamped by protestors and made his first dump of loyal people. He has thrown his government under the bus, so to speak, dumping people, but not changing policies. His promises of political reform represent promises to do things he was supposed to have been doing all along.
Dumping the government, meaning the parliamentary cabinet, will do nothing to satisfy the crowds. The next phase is likely to be a very short period of tolerance of public discontent to confirm that the concession phase failed and that he has no choice but to crackdown, this time using the Army.
On Saturday morning a new cycle will begin for the Mubarak regime, but the situation looks complex, as described below. Things are not as they are reported by western media.
Differences between Tunisia and Egypt
The predominant pattern in internal instability is that it begins in the periphery and moves to the center of power. In that sense it is centripetal. The periphery exists in several senses. Geographically, it represents the regions where the government mandate is weakest, usually in remote border regions. Politically, it represents the domain of the disenfranchised and powerless. Economically, it is the pool of those who cannot make ends meet no matter how hard they work.
In Tunisia, the disorders began in southern Tunisia, according to well-informed news sources, and slowing spread to Tunis, where the center of power resides. The politically disenfranchised and economically destitute, embodied by the under- and unemployed coalesced and moved to Tunis during a two week period.
Climactic action occurred in Tunis with Ben Ali's departure. However, news sources report that little has changed in southern Tunis, providing more indications that a revolution has not occurred yet. The kinetic movement and the geometry make Tunisia almost a text book case of the dynamism in internal instability. There are dozens of instances from communist Eastern Europe to Soeharto's Indonesia that follow broadly similar patterns.
In Egypt, the dynamics of the action have been much different. The unrest began in Cairo, the center of power and the center of the government's strength. That is so unusual and such an anomaly that that fact alone is a red flag for skullduggery.
There is no spontaneity in the heart of the government. No body starts a revolution in the center unless he has cover and high level backing. The government was fully aware of the emerging unrest after the first day. The whole world knew for that matter, but the unrest grew for two days unchecked.
The Egyptian security services are highly competent in internal security. They routinely crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, if members identify themselves in public, but not this time.
The second major anomaly is that kinetics of the movement. The unrest spread outwards from Cairo to Suez, then Alexandria and other towns, according to press reports. This is centrifugal movement, precisely the opposite direction of spontaneous unrest. Thus having drawn security attention away from Cairo, the day of rage occurred in Cairo and other cities, almost simultaneously. This is shaped, organized behavior.
The third anomaly is an inept response despite extensive preparations. Earliest news reports from Egypt confirm that the government had gone to considerable lengths to prepare for today's demonstrations. The disruption of the internet and social networking systems began hours before Friday prayers. Even without the internet and social networking, large demonstrations in the thousands managed to get organized, coordinate and stage simultaneously.
The fourth anomaly, which also occurred in Tunisia, is the opposition has no guns, no means of coercion. That is always the signature that the opposition is being manipulated, if not supported, by disaffected factions in the existing leadership. That is certainly what happened in Tunisia and appears to be the case in Egypt.
The paramilitary police and Army armored units were sighted in Cairo hours before unrest surged into the streets. The forces were ready, but did not act effectively or apparently cohesively. This looks contrived. Plus the Army was cheered when it finally moved into the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
The demonstrators attacked the same set of targets in every city; police stations and local chapters of the government party. Museums and other symbols of the state were actually protected from looters by the demonstrators. That is not what happened in Kyrgyzstan last year, for example. There is an underlying order to what is taking place in Egypt.
News commentators have worked hard to try to explain the anomalies without success. The NightWatch hypothesis is that Egypt is not experiencing a revolution so much as a transition to a new leadership. That transition is not complete.
Some inside group that has been loyal to Mubarak has abetted this popular uprising. One expert suggested that it has been staged to prevent Mubarak from investing his son Gamal as his successor, in an Egyptian caricature of North Korean dynastic succession.
The group with the motive, intention and the means is the Army, according to that expert. Indirect evidence supports that hypothesis. The implications are that Readers should expect more street clashes that justify Army intervention, but are surprisingly not bloody. Mubarak will step down after a decent, brief interval.
The tradition of military-backed government that Nasser began and Sadat and Mubarak perpetuated will be handed on to a new generation of officers. Prices will be lowered, but there are no jobs.
Tunisia: Police attempted to disperse a group of protesters conducting a five-day sit-in outside the prime minister's office. The protestors consider Ghannouchi a holdover from the Ben Ali regime and want him out. The police failed.
Hundreds of independent officials will head key Tunisian interior, foreign and defense posts, acting Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said on state television on the 27th. Abed Karim Zbidi was named minister of national defense, replacing Ridha Grira. Farhat Arrajhi will head the interior ministry, taking over from Ahmed Friaa. Foreign Minister Ahmed Wenniss takes over from Kamel Morjane. This is a temporary government with a clear mission to allow a transition to democracy, Ghannouchi stated, adding the mission is to organize elections
Yemen: For the record. After prayers thousands of people protested the government of President Saleh. Saleh let it pass and the protests ended.
Correction: In the third paragraph of the commentary following the Algerian entry, the brain thought "containing," but the fingers typed "continuing." "Containing" is correct. Regrets for any inconvenience from a senior moment.
End of NightWatch for 28 January.
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