Egypt uprising: ElBeredei makes his move, U.S. public posture shifts, and Israel’s fears

Key News and Twitter feeds on #Egypt:

  • LIVESTREAM: Al Jazeera English (Twitter)
  • The Guardian UK
  • Jan25 Live
  • Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy (Twitter, blog)
  • Columnist Sultan al Qassemi
  • Sarah Cosgrove
  • (Please email me if I’ve missed any key feeds, and especially looking for any emanating from inside Egypt)

    UPDATE: 11:30 p.m. It’s still not clear where the Egyptian Army stands.

    But in the U.S., the Obama administration sought to make it more clear where they stand, and are now calling for an “orderly transition” to a more representative government. (Egypt analysts welcomed the tougher tone.)

    That call was echoed in the U.K., by a cautious David Cameron, who also seemed to be scrambling to get on the right side of events.

    Meanwhile, back in Egypt, newly crowned opposition leader Mohamed ElBeredei called for the U.S. to cut off the “life support” to Mubarak. He called the fears from some on the right of the Muslim Brotherhood a “myth” designed to malign the opposition movement.

    An inevitably, here come the oil fears.

    UPDATE 1:35: Per Reuters Africa: Hosni Mubarak has reportedly met with his military commanders and with his new cabinet, to include Omar Suleiman, an army leader who Mubarak placed in the long vacant vice presidency. The move could be a signal of a transition of power, or a sign of Mubarak’s determination to hang on.

    Meanwhile, Sudanese police clash with students in Khartoum, in what could be a sign that the anti-authoritarian uprising that began in Tunisia and now grips Egypt is spreading further.

    UPDATE: 1:24 p.m.: GOP hopefuls take sides … but not with the Egyptian protesters.

    UPDATE 12:53 p.m.: Al Jazeera English is reporting that the Muslim Brotherhood has confirmed that Mohamed ElBeredei is the chief spokesman for the opposition movement and they’re calling on all opposition groups to unite. The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for the Egyptian years long state of emergency be ended, and a new unity government formed without Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Story here

    Egypt’s uprising continues unabated Sunday, with reports that the police there have abandoned the streets, possibly to looters drawn in part from criminals deliberately released from prisons in a desperate bid by the Mubarak regime to hang on to power. People are forming ad hoc neighborhood watches to protect their homes from looters and vandals, who many believe are being egged on by the regime.

    Other reports are more troubling: some protesters are telling Al Jazeera that Israel send two planes loaded with supplies for the police, who have taken the lead in trying to crack down on the protesters filling the streets, while the Egyptian army as largely stood down. A big exception: military jets that buzzed the crowds in Cairo early Sunday in an apparent show of force.

    The Mubarak regime actually shut down Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, and state television has been broadcasting scenes of empty streets, apparently trying to project the image of a country obeying the state-imposed curfew.

    Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBeredei, who has spent many years in exile, mostly in Europe, flew back to Egypt earlier in the week, and for a while was said to be under house arrest. He emerged Sunday, appearing on Sunday shows in the U.S., including CNN, where he called on Hosni Mubarak to step down “if he has an ounce of patriotism,” and ABC, where he likened the Muslim Brotherhood to American evangelical Christians or Israeli Orthodox Jews, and said they should be included in a new government “like anybody else.”

    The new face of the opposition? Mohamed ElBeredei

    ElBeredei made his way to Tahir Square in Cairo Sunday, telling the crowd that “what we have begun cannot be turned back,” and demanding again that Mubarak stand down.

    Meanwhile, amid stories that the Obama administration has been much more involved behind the scenes than they are publicly credited for (including by many of the Egyptian protesters, who have begun demanding more vocal American support), including backing some of the opposition groups behind the protests, and quietly urging Mubarak to step aside (see here and here) the public stance of the Obama administration shifted markedly on Sunday, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an “orderly transition” to democracy in Egypt. This as three European leaders also call for a transition to a new government, despite markedly muted comments by British P.M. David Cameron on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” Sunday morning.

    The movement — now largely seen as inevitable — to a new government in Egypt is alarming Israelis, who have counted Mubarak among their few friends in the region, and by American conservatives, who on Fox News and in interviews with other news outlets are beginning to frame the Egyptian uprising in apocalyptic terms, pushing a narrative that Islamic extremists — and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood — will take over the largest Arab country in the region and wreak havoc. This despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood are a recognized political organization in Egypt, and have stated they decry violence.

    From the New York Times:

    WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday urged Egyptians to take up a national dialogue that would lead to free and fair elections this fall and, while not explicitly distancing the United States from the embattled President Hosni Mubarak, said that the United States stood “ready to help with the kind of transition that will lead to greater political and economic freedom.”

    She issued a strong endorsement of key groups working to exert their influence on the chaotic Egyptian protests – the military, civil society groups and, perhaps most importantly, the nation’s people – but carefully avoided any specific commitment to Mr. Mubarak.

    Her phrasing seemed to imply an eventual end to Mr. Mubarak’s 30 years in power. But when asked whether the United States was backing away from Mr. Mubarak and whether he could survive the protests, the secretary chose her words carefully. His political future, she said, “is going to be up to the Egyptian people.”

    Making the rounds of the Sunday television talk shows, Mrs. Clinton urged the government in Cairo to respond in a “clear, unambiguous way” to the people’s demands and to do so “immediately” by initiating a national dialogue. At the same time, she was supportive of the Egyptian military, calling it “a respected institution in Egyptian society, and we know they have delicate line to walk.”

    Mrs. Clinton seemed to indicate that the Obama administration’s best hope was for a dialogue to channel the enormous energy on the streets, clearing the way for national elections already scheduled for September, presumably by reaching agreement on a fair and open framework and a corps of international observers.

    “We have a calendar that already has elections for the next president scheduled,” she said. “There is an action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar.” …

    And here is the recent statement from the leaders of Great Britain, France and Germany:

    The three — Prime Minister David Cameron, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — fell short of calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, despite the protests against him on the streets, and cited his modulated approach to the region.

    “We are deeply concerned about the events that we are witnessing in Egypt,” the three leaders wrote in a statement. “We recognize the moderating role President Mubarak has played over many years in the Middle East. We now urge him to show the same moderation in addressing the current situation in Egypt.”

    The statement also called on Mr. Mubarak to avoid “at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians and on the demonstrators to exercise their rights peacefully.”

    The three leaders said it was essential that Mr. Mubarak quickly introduce the reforms he promised during his nationwide television address Friday.

    “The Egyptian people have legitimate grievances and a longing for a just and better future,” their statement said. “We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections.”

    From Politico, signs the U.S. is pulling away from Mubarak even faster than Europe is:

    The Obama administration Saturday continued inching away from the besieged government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as observers in Washington and Cairo began to conclude that the autocrat has little chance of restoring his authority.

    Key American officials spent Saturday morning in a two-hour meeting and another hour briefing President Barack Obama that afternoon.

    Obama “reiterated our focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform within Egypt,” according to a White House description of the later meeting.

    But in terms of officials words on the spiraling crisis — one that holds enormous stakes for U.S. foreign policy — administration officials spoke only in a Twittered whisper, allowing Obama’s Friday night call on Mubarak to move swiftly toward political reform to set the tone.

    “The people of Egypt no longer accept the status quo. They are looking to their government for a meaningful process to foster real reform,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley wrote Saturday morning. “The Egyptian government can’t reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President Mubarak’s words pledging reform must be followed by action.”

    Obama’s pressure on Mubarak and the fact that defenses of Mubarak and the “stability” he brings the region from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden earlier in the week haven’t been repeated, have led many observers to conclude that the administration is readying for the end of the Mubarak era.

    Foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan, who co-chairs the bipartisan Egypt working group that has been urging the administration to prepare for the post-Mubarak era, said he welcomed Obama’s comments, which came after the president spoke with Mubarak Friday night.

    “They’re not as on the fence as people think,” Kagan, of the Brookings Institution, said by e-mail Saturday, referring to the U.S. administration. “I think the administration knows there has to be some kind of transition soon.” …

    The U.S. can do little, and indeed analysis say should do little, to impose itself on the Egyptian revolution. They must let it play out, and be prepared to support a transitional government.

    And now, the dissenters, starting with Lesley Gelb, who hails from the neocon side of the ideological spectrum:

    Difficult as it may be, let’s try for an honest and realistic discussion of Egypt. Of course, the Obama administration, most Americans, most Egyptians, and I myself would prefer a democratic government in Cairo instead of President Mubarak’s corrupt and repressive establishment. That’s not the issue. The real issue is this: If Mubarak tumbles and if Washington uses its influence—and yes, it does have influence at approximately $3 billion in annual total aid—to push him out, what kind of government will follow his? Will it be even less democratic and more repressive? And what will be the implications for U.S. security in the region?

    So, let’s stop prancing around and proclaiming our devotion to peace, “universal rights” and people power. Instead, let’s step back and look hard at what we know and don’t know about this popular explosion in the bosom of one of America’s most vital allies—and what the United States can and can’t do about it.

    The devil we know is President Mubarak. In the history of Mideast bad guys, he’s far from the worst. Remember Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomenei, President Ahmadinejad, President Assad of Syria, and the many and varied leaders of Muslim terrorist groups? No sensible American would excuse Mubarak’s corrupt regime—a bureaucracy that would make Kafka blush, a nasty police force, and a repressive political system. Very bad, indeed. On the plus side, he’s led Egypt’s economy to 6 to 7 percent real growth in past years and has conducted a foreign policy highly supportive of U.S. interests.
    Most seriously, he failed to institute gradual political and economic reforms. Consequently, his nation is in flames. U.S. administrations haven’t been successful in the past when they tried to push Mubarak in this direction. But it stands to reason that he might now be more amenable to reforms and transitions as long as he is not humiliated.

    Now, what about the devils we know less—like the protesters? Of course, there’s a slew of journalists, pundits, policy experts and professors who say these aren’t devils at all, just “the people”: democrats, lawyers, and college-educated and moderate women. No doubt, many of the protesters fit that description. But the dutiful press has interviewed only, say, a few hundred of these good souls. Perhaps many are not so democratic. Perhaps many are Egyptian Tea Partiers who want every Egyptian to have Islamic guns like the Founding Pharaohs. Or perhaps many are just furious and poor and unknowledgeable. My guess is no one really knows a great deal about the protesters.

    As for most of the other “devils,” they are pretty well known. One leadership candidate, of course, is Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. chief nuclear inspector and a good man. But he has almost no constituency inside Egypt, where he’s spent little time in recent years. The people aren’t going to give him power, and he probably wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway. But he could be part of a future government in an ideal world.

    The other “devil,” now being proclaimed as misunderstood Islamic democrats, is the Muslim Brotherhood, and they should give us great pause. Baloney and wishful thinking aside, the MB would be calamitous for U.S. security. What’s more, their current defenders don’t really argue that point, as much as they seem to dismiss it as not important or something we can live with. The MB supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, makes friendly noises to Iranian dictators and torturers, would be uncertain landlords of the critical Suez Canal, and opposes the Egyptian-Israeli agreement of 1979, widely regarded as the foundation of peace in the Mideast. Above all, the MB would endanger counterterrorism efforts in the region and worldwide. That is a very big deal.

    As for the MB’s domestic democratic credentials, let me show some restraint here. To begin with, no one really has any sound idea of how they might rule; they haven’t gotten close enough to power to fully judge. But they’d be bad for non-orthodox Islamic women. … (Read the rest here)

    And worth a read from the Washington Post: the CIA and Egypt.

    As the neocons completely miss the point

    Meanwhile, alarm inside Israel: Gideon Levy:

    The hypocritical and sanctimonious division of countries by the U.S. and the West between the “axis of evil” on the one hand, and the “moderates” on the other, has collapsed. If there is an axis of evil, then it includes all the non-democratic regimes, including the “moderates” and the “stable” and the “pro-Western.” Today Egypt, tomorrow Palestine. Yesterday Tunis, tomorrow Gaza.

    Not only is the Fatah regime in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza destined to fall, but perhaps also, one day, the Israeli occupation, which certainly meets all the criteria of criminal tyranny and an evil regime. It too relies only on guns. It too is hated by all levels of the ruled people, even if they stands helpless, unorganized and unequipped, facing a big army. The first conclusion: Better to end it well, with agreements based on justice and not on power, a moment before the masses have their say and succeed in banishing the darkness.

    A second, no less important conclusion: Alliances with unpopular regimes can be torn up overnight. As long as the masses in Egypt and in the entire Arab world continue seeing the images of tyranny and violence from the occupied territories, Israel will not be able to be accepted, even it is acceptable to a few regimes.

    Amir Oren:

    Israel, under the rubric of “risk management” and “prioritizing,” translated the small likelihood of the collapse of the peace with Egypt into a reduction of forces in the regular army and the avoidance of sensitive intelligence activities. New theaters, such as the Egyptian-Sudanese border, could give rise to threatening breaches, even without considering the possibility of the Suez Canal being sealed off to the Israel Navy, which is responsible for a large share of the operations carried out in distant quarters.

    The peace with Egypt has been a decisive strategic boon to Israel, which must refrain from any action that could jeopardize it. Yet the relative complacency – relative to the concern over other threats, near and far – has a price. Experienced generals who fought in Sinai in the Yom Kippur War as young officers and went to command armored divisions, are discharged not only from the standing army but also from active reserve duty. Various units that specialized in planning and in knowledge of the territory and of the enemy were disbanded. The only Sinai veterans remaining in the top ranks of the defense establishment are Ehud Barak, who during the 1973 war commanded an armored battalion and afterward was a brigade and a battalion commander, and Ashkenazi, who fought in Sinai as a military cadet.

    With a different Egypt, one that could react harshly, and with oil prices threatening to climb precipitously, the slim chance of an American assent to an Israeli strike in Iran – thought by some to be the main reason for Barak’s support of Yoav Galant as chief of staff – fades to zero.

    And wither Bibi Netanyahu, who is about to have a lot less room for brashness in the region…

    In his first official comments on the situation in Egypt, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel is “anxiously monitoring” the anti-government protests.

    “Our efforts are designed to continue and maintain stability and security in our region,” the prime minister said during the weekly cabinet meeting.

    On Saturday “I spoke with US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. I also held consultations with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and with Israeli intelligence officials,” Netanyahu said.

    “I remind you that the peace between Israel and Egypt has endured for over three decades and our goal is to ensure that these relations continue,” the prime minister explained.

    Netanyahu advised ministers not to express their personal opinions on the tensions because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Of course, at this time, we must show maximum responsibility, restraint and sagacity and, to this end, I have instructed my fellow ministers to refrain from commenting on this issue. Naturally, we are also holding consultations in the appropriate government forums,” he said.

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    2 Responses to Egypt uprising: ElBeredei makes his move, U.S. public posture shifts, and Israel’s fears

    1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Egypt uprising: ElBeredei makes his move, U.S. public posture shifts : The Reid Report --

    2. Fil Munas says:

      I was appalled by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s supremacist comments yesterday on the CNN program, GPS. Mr. Cameron eagerly revealed his elitist view that Egyptians were not quite ready yet for one-person, one-vote democracy, implying that the great unwashed masses of Egypt needed further education to qualify for this privilege. What would he have said when blacks in America, and later women, were suddenly enfranchised?

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