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NightWatch 20110203

NightWatch

For the Night of 3 February 2011

North Korea-South Korea: In a letter to the South Korean parliament, North Korea proposed new talks between its parliament and South Korean lawmakers to defuse the situation of the Korean Peninsula, improve North-South relations and open a new phase for peace and reunification, according to the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA). According to the letter, bilateral parliamentary negotiations are a natural step following the recent opening of bilateral military talks and North Korea hopes for a positive South Korean response.

Comment: The South has not yet formulated its response.

On 3 February, KCNA reported Kim Chong-il attended a concert to celebrate the lunar new year, the year of the rabbit.

Yemen: Today was the Day of Rage in Yemen, featuring some of the largest anti-government demonstrations ever seen. Tens of thousands of Yemenis squared off in peaceful protests for and against the government on Thursday during an opposition-led "Day of Rage", a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh offered to step down in 2013.

After the afternoon's festivities, everyone went home.

Comment: Yemen experts opined that only a large showing from traditionally non-aligned Yemenis and disgruntled youths, experiencing high unemployment and low incomes, would create a watershed moment for farther-reaching unrest in Yemen. That did not happen today.

In Yemen, the grievances giving rise to protests are more clearly economic, as they were in Tunisia. Analysts who see aspirations for greater political freedom instead of more and cheaper bread are reporting the great fantasy narrative and not the facts.

Egypt: More clashes occurred in Cairo between pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Police were reported to have arrested waves of anti-government demonstrators. They arrested dozens on international media reporters and camera crews so that accurate information became scarce during the day.

Health Minister Ahmad Farid said eight people died and 890 were injured in the 3 February clashes at Tahrir Square, BBC reported. Nine of the 890 injured are in critical condition.

Friday, 4 February, is to be the Day of Departure, according to the anti-government protestors. The anti-government crowd has promised large anti-government demonstrations after prayers. Meanwhile, pro-government forces are preparing counter-action apparently with the support of the police. Friday, 4 February, will not be the day Mubarak departs.

President Mubarak will not step down early, Vice President Omar Suleiman said on 3 February. Such a move would lead to chaos, Suleiman said, adding that an early resignation would also be "unnatural." Suleiman described Mubarak in monarchical terms, as the father of the people and indispensable and in the ranks of Egyptian cultural heroes, who never fail to complete their missions.

The Brotherhood. Egypt will hold a referendum on the 1979 peace treaty with Israel if President Mubarak is ousted, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) spokesman Essam el-Erian told Israel's Channel 10 TV. El-Erian said Israel had only its own crimes to fear, offering reassurances that the MB was nonviolent and non-extremist.

Comment: A new review of Saddam Hussein's involvement with terrorist groups found only hostility to al Qaida but considerable engagement with a variety of other groups. Most notably, Saddam's intelligence services worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad in their efforts to overthrow the Mubarak regime. There has been no open source reporting on the activities of Islamic Jihad.

The point is that there are multiple anti-government groups in Egypt. The ten days of demonstrations in Cairo and other towns look far too organized to describe them as spontaneous. Who feeds the people who camp overnight in Tahrir Square? Who provides for other biological comforts?

American media are irresponsible for not asking simple questions about the how the necessities of all living systems are being satisfied for the people who camp out in Tahrir Square. Such questions might alter the great fantasy narrative of political freedom, rather than the alternative that focuses on more bread, clean water and jobs.

For the record. Thirwat Salah Shehatah, a senior member of al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group and a senior al Qaeda commander, issued a statement praising the Egyptian protesters and calling for them to overthrow the Egyptian government, Middle East Media Research Institute reported 3 February, citing a statement posted on multiple jihadist websites.

Comment: The best short term outcome of the protests is that they generate increased government help for the other 80 million Egyptians living in poverty. One of the worst outcomes is that they provide a springboard for the Brotherhood to legitimate its political influence so as to pursue its anti-Israel agenda and struggle. As of now, the Egyptian government is holding the line on its outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood, for many good reasons. The US and Europe would be well advised to not meddle in this issue.

An Arab commentator told a Japanese press outlet that food shortages and water shortages, compounded by unemployment, are the origins of the unrest which has escalated into a challenge to the government. The economics of the unrest have received no treatment.

Finally, a single media report indicated that Alexandria is quiet. Today there were no reports of clashes in Suez or other important towns. Egypt is not in chaos by a long shot; or unraveling or any other nonsense.

Comment: US media commentators have treated American audiences to excesses of hyperbole and exaggeration. Headlines described Egypt as on the brink (of what, pray?) and in chaos. This is entertainment not journalism.

A rather stern and methodical government crackdown continued for the second day, as NightWatch advised its Readers to expect. The effects of the crackdown have been to identify instigators and lawbreakers and to narrow the perimeter of discontent to the hard core who assemble at Tahrir Square.

The government action has been cool, calculating and harsh … and effective. Mubarak was in danger from the armed forces much more than from street protestors. He has papered over that rift. The Army is not sympathetic to the demonstrators, enjoys getting paid by the government and will follow orders to clear the Square. However, that task will probably be assigned to the police and paramilitary police.

Unless the anti-government entities can generate and sustain a nationwide uprising again, this protest will not generate revolutionary change and will fizzle. For now this episode has confirmed the rule of instability that the team with the most guns wins. That team is the Egyptian government thus far.

US Issue. The US administration has acted with insufficient data and prematurely. Cairo is not Egypt. Just as Washington is not the United States. Television images of events in Cairo are hardly an adequate evidentiary basis for abandoning a US ally of 30 years. It might be time for political change, but not based on superficial TV coverage of al Tahrir Square.

The US might have damaged irretrievably its relationship with Egypt because of inaccurate, incomplete analysis, biased advice and lousy timing, if Mubarak remains in office. He and his Saudi, Israeli and Jordanian supporters are likely and rightfully to resent the ill-advised, overt US siding with a small number of hard core demonstrators in Cairo. Moreover, it remains unclear whether the anti-government protestors are pro-democracy instead of pro-Sharia, in their hostility to a secular Presidential government.

There is still no good news from Egypt tonight and there is still no sign of a revolution, just poverty and unemployment.

Methodological comment: The collapse of a regime is not inevitable. The regime under stress always is trying to find a line it can hold. Some regimes retain the potential to muster sufficient resources to stop the decline, stabilize conditions, limit damage and trounce the opposition. In those infrequent cases, power sharing is avoided and the government recovers its power for a time.

In the cases in which a regime recovers its power, the underlying grievances almost always are economic, rather than ideological.

The new Army-backed government of Mubarak/Suleiman has stopped the decline, stabilized conditions and begun to limit the damage caused by the protestors. The anti-government elements have failed to capture Cairo. Failure to capture Cairo means failure.

In retrospect, they appear to have had a primarily economic agenda. This was treated as a challenge to authority by the government, a huge mistake that made matters much worse. Amending the constitution and other political reforms, which resonate so well in the US media, are irrelevant to the shortages of bread and water.

The Egyptians need food and water more than democracy. Political reform is cheap and easy to enact, but completely misses the point.

Algeria: For the record. President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika said Algeria's state of emergency, which has been in place since 1992, will be lifted in the near future. Bouteflika's statement contradicts an earlier report by Al Arabiya that said the state of emergency had already been lifted. Bouteflika added that he would allow peaceful protests to take place outside Algiers. The Algerian president made the statement at a Council of Ministers meeting.

End of NightWatch for 3 February.

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