Archives for January 2011

Standing up for democracy

As the Million Egyptian March takes to the streets of Cairo, is President Obama finally ready to take a strong stand on the side of the people?

In The Guardian, Michael Tomasky writes “Obama is in no position to offer the moral thunder the protesters and their supporters everywhere crave.” Why? Because “the US should not be dictating outcomes any more. The modern world requires a US posture that is more fluid and subtle, and that no longer seeks to call the global shots.”

Having watched events over the last week as closely as one can from a great distance, I would say there has been no lack of moral thunder. It has come from the voices of the Egyptian people.

Having demonstrated their pride, dignity, and collective power with such force, I don’t think they crave anything from Washington or anywhere else — bar the fulfillment of their single demand: that Hosni Mubarak stand down.

To the extent that the expectations of many Egyptians and others are directed towards Washington and Obama, it is perhaps with the hope that anyone who supports democracy would celebrate the extraordinary sight of democracy being born.

Obama’s inhibitions probably say less about the fear of being perceived in the Middle East as the leader of an imperial power which still insists on calling the global shots, than in being seen by his fellow Americans supporting a revolution that they fear.

Indeed, as Benjamin Netanyahu compares the Egyptian revolution of 2011 with the Iranian revolution in 1979, Obama surely fears some form of retribution from AIPAC in 2012 if he is portrayed as having undermined Israel’s security. Above all, the 2012 incumbent presidential candidate does not want to be cast as having played a role in shaping Egypt’s future.

The most courageous thing Obama could do at this point would not be to make some grandiose expression of American support for the Egyptian people — an expression which this late in the day would carry little credibility. No, if he wants to stand up in defense of democracy, he should addressing a domestic audience — one that apparently has lost faith that democracy is a good thing.

If Americans can’t support the democratic rights of Egyptians, what does that say about how seriously we want to protect our own rights? After all, the unalienable rights upon which America was founded were not conceived as American rights but universal human rights. If we don’t stand in solidarity with Egyptians, have we not also lost faith in the principles upon which America was founded?

Obama once declared:

I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.

But what held the greater significance? The sentiment and meaning of Obama’s words or the fact that he delivered them as the honored guest of Hosni Mubarak?


Egypt army will defend the freedom of the Egyptian people

It’s all over for Mubarak! Speculation that he might be able to turn the military against their own people can thankfully be laid to rest.


The army said on Monday it would not use force against Egyptians staging protests demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down, a statement said.

It said “freedom of expression” was guaranteed to all citizens using peaceful means.

It was the first such explicit confirmation by the army that it would not fire at demonstrators who have taken to the streets of Egypt since last week to try to force Mubarak to quit.

“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people,” the army statement said.

“Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.”

It urged people not resort to acts of sabotage that violate security and destroy public and private property. It warned that it would not allow outlaws and to loot, attack and “terrorise citizens”.


In Bibiland Iran was Germany but now Egypt is Iran

After for several years being convinced that it was 1938, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who appears to live in a time warp, has now decided that it’s 1979. Iran was Germany and now Egypt is Iran.

From Jerusalem, the prospect of Egyptians fully-armed with votes looks more dangerous than Iranians stockpiling enriched uranium.

Further evidence of Israel’s concerns in response to the dangerous proliferation of freedom in Egypt is that hundreds of Egyptian troops are now being rushed into Sinai, heading towards Sharm el-Sheikh — the location where Hosni Mubarak is rumored to be mounting his last stand. Under the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Sinai is a demilitarized zone and thus the troop movement required and received Israel’s consent.

Mubarak has ordered his new prime minister to begin talks with the opposition to find out their specific demands and protesters, recognizing that “Down With Mubarak!” might not be specific enough are now adding that he needs to be out by Friday.

Protesters gathering at Tahrir Square are now having their IDs check by the army. Heba Fatma Morayef, a Human Rights Watch Egypt researcher, said: “When I asked why a soldier replied: ‘it’s to keep the police out and make sure none of the escaped criminals get in.'”

Fear of public expressions of solidarity with Egyptians, now extends from Gaza, to the West Bank, and to China.

Israeli officials are appealing to Egypt’s newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman to maintain the siege on Gaza.

Meanwhile, Washington dithers — I mean, continues to monitor the situation.

After emerging from a White House meeting on Egypt on Monday, Marc Lynch, a foreign policy expert who blogs on the Middle East as Abu Aardvark, wrote on his Twitter feed: “as usual a lot of what you’re hearing about the administration’s policy is wrong.”

He then responded on the social network to a plea from the Cairo-based blogger and journalist Issandr El Amrani – who wrote: “@abuaardvark Since they can’t explain themselves clearly, perhaps you can translate for us!” – by summing up the Obama administration’s current stance in this simple Twitbite:

@arabist U.S. Egypt policy translated: keep army from using violence + get transition to a post-Mubarak real democracy, but not sure how.

One of the experts at the meeting told Politico:

While the administration is considering various options — including the possibility of at some point telling Mubarak privately it’s time to leave — “I don’t think they are there yet.”


The chimera of stability

However one views Hosni Mubarak, can anyone in their right mind still hold on to the idea that he is an anchor of stability?

Haaretz reports:

Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.

Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West’s interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime. The diplomatic measures came after statements in Western capitals implying that the United States and European Union supported Mubarak’s ouster.

Israeli officials are keeping a low profile on the events in Egypt, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even ordering cabinet members to avoid commenting publicly on the issue.

Senior Israeli officials, however, said that on Saturday night the Foreign Ministry issued a directive to around a dozen key embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries. The ambassadors were told to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt’s stability. In a special cable, they were told to get this word out as soon as possible.

Stability is of course a political cypher — like moderate — a term far removed from its literal meaning.

When Israelis and Americans refer to Mubarak’s capacity to maintain stability, they are simply referring to his willingness to implement policies that serve Israeli and American interests. He’s been useful. And the fact that calls are now being issued from Western capitals making it clear that now is the time for him to step aside, have less to do with support for the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people than the fact that Mubarak has clearly suddenly lost his utility.

Still, if the US and its allies have provided a less than spirited defense of democracy, this does not mean that whatever government eventually replaces the Mubarak regime will be a Western-approved government. Mubark’s rule and his departure reflect the limits of Western power, while those who see an American imperial hand shaping all events are in varying degrees victims of the most disabling political mindset — one born from surplus powerlessness.

What Mubarak demonstrates is that stability is not a function of the power to exercise control, but on the contrary the ability to adapt. In a world in flux, adaptation is the key to survival. Stasis is not stability — indeed the longer change remains frozen, the more violent the subsequent rupture.


Israel and the new Middle East

Gideon Levy writes:

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.

The Egyptian regime became an ally of the Israeli occupation. The joint siege of Gaza is irrefutable proof of that. The Egyptian people didn’t like it. They never liked the peace agreement with Israel, in which Israel committed itself to “respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” but never kept its word. Instead, the people of Egypt got the scenes of Operation Cast Lead.

It is not enough to have a handful of embassies in order to be accepted in the region. There also have to be embassies of goodwill, a just image and a state that is not an occupier. Israel has to make its way into the hearts of the Arab peoples, who will never agree to the continued repression of their brothers, even if their intelligence ministers will continue to cooperate with Israel.

If there’s one thing shared by all factions of the Egyptian opposition, it is their seething hatred of Israel. Now their representatives will rise to power, and Israel will find itself in a difficult situation. Neither will anything remain of the virtual achievement that Netanyahu often paraded – the alliance with the “moderate” Arab regimes against Iran. A real alliance with Egypt and its sister-states can only be based on the end of the occupation, as desired by the Egyptian people, and not on a common enemy, as an interest of its regime.

Zvi Bar’el writes:

So what has happened so far? A corrupt president in Tunisia flees, to cheers from around the world. Protests erupt in Egypt, and gloom descends. Protests are held in Iran, and the world cheers. A prime minister is deposed in Lebanon, to fear and dread. An Iraqi president is overthrown in a military offensive, and it’s called democracy. Raucous demonstrations take place in Yemen, and they’re called interesting but not terribly important.

Why the different reactions? This is supposedly the new Middle East the West always wanted, but something still isn’t working out. This isn’t the Middle East they dreamed of in the Bush administration, and not what nourished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. A new, unexpected player has appeared: the public.

Up to now, the world has been divided into two camps: “complicated” countries where the government represents the public and every decision is subject to public oversight, and “easy” countries where business is conducted at the top and the public is just window dressing. The dividing line between the two has always been starkly clear. Everything north of the Mediterranean belonged to the first group and everything to the south and east to the second.

The north had political parties and trade unions, a left wing and a right wing, important intellectuals, celebrities who shaped public opinion, and of course, there was public opinion itself. In the south the division was simple. It was the distinction between moderates and extremists, meaning pro-Westerners and anti-Westerners.

If you’re a Saudi king who buys billions of dollars of American weapons, you’re pro-Western and therefore entitled to continue to rule a country without a parliament, one where thieves’ hands are amputated and women aren’t allowed to drive. If you’re an Egyptian president who supports the peace process, you’re pro-Western and have permission to continue to impose emergency rule in your country, jail journalists and opposition members, and fix elections.

Amos Harel writes:

The events of the last few days in Egypt – apparently the most important regional development since the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal of 1979 – are also an expression of the decision-makers’ nightmare, the planners and intelligence agents in Israel.

While in other countries many are watching with satisfaction at what looks to be possibly the imminent toppling of a regime that denied its citizens their basic rights, the Israeli point of view is completely different.

The collapse of the old regime in Cairo, if it takes place, will have a massive effect, mainly negative, on Israel’s position in the region. In the long run, it could put the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in danger, the largest strategic assets after the support of the United States.

The changes could even lead to changes in the IDF and cast a dark cloud over the economy.

Western intelligence in general and Israeli intelligence in particular did not foresee the scope of change in Egypt (the eventual descriptor “revolution” will apparently have to wait a little longer). Likewise, almost all of the media analysis and academic experts got it wrong.

In the possible scenarios that Israeli intelligence envisioned, they admittedly posited 2011 as a year of possible regime change – with a lot question marks – in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but a popular uprising like this was completely unexpected.

More than this, in his first appearance at a meeting last Wednesday of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the new head of military intelligence Major General Aviv Kochavi said to member of Knesset, “There are currently no doubts about the stability of the regime in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is not organized enough to take over, they haven’t managed to consolidate their efforts in a significant direction.”

If the Mubarak regime is toppled, the quiet coordination of security between Israel and Egypt will quickly be negatively affected. It will affect relations between Cairo’s relationship with the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, it will harm the international forces stationed in Sinai.

It will mean the refusal of Egypt to continue to allow the movement of Israeli ships carrying missiles through the Suez canal, which was permitted for the last two years, according to reports in the foreign press, in order to combat weapons smuggling from Sudan to Gaza. In the long run, Egypt’s already-cold peace treaty with Israel will get even colder.

From the perspective of the IDF, the events are going to demand a complete reorganization. For the last 20 years, the IDF has not included a serious threat from Egypt in its operational plan.

In the last several decades, peace with Cairo has allowed the gradual thinning out of forces, the lowering of maximum age for reserve duty and the diversion of massive amounts of resources to social and economic projects.

The IDF military exercises focused on conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas, at most in collusion with Syria. No one prepared with any seriousness for a scenario in which an Egyptian division would enter Sinai, for example.

If the Egyptian regime falls in the end, a possibility that seemed unbelievable only two or three days ago, the riots could easily spill over to Jordan and threaten the Hashemite regime. On Israel’s two long peaceful borders there will then prevail a completely different reality.


The Egyptian people’s uprising — driven by human voices (updated)

When we can watch a revolution live on Al Jazeera and follow its minute-by-minute progress through Twitter and Facebook, it’s easy to overlook the degree to which a people’s uprising hinges on simply that: people rising up and taking to the streets. In the video below we witness the simple and visceral demand that came from the streets as marchers called out to their neighbors to join the demonstration.

Electronic Intifada: Philip Rizk (@tabulagaza on Twitter) took this remarkable video of huge popular protests in Cairo on 28 January. The crowds can be heard chanting “inzel! inzel!” — meaning “come down! come down!” — a call to neighbors to join the march, and “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

يوم الغضب- ٢٨ يناير ٢٠١١ Days of Anger- Arabic version from tabulagaza on Vimeo.

Philip Rizk writes:

Following Friday prayers on January 28 we joined protesters marching through the streets of Imbaba in Cairo, Egypt. The crowd of 100 that we joined kept increasing and continuously joined with other marches in the same quarter North West of downtown Cairo. By about 1pm the protesters numbered around 15,000 marching towards Galaa Square and attempting to get across the Nile to Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo. In Galaa square we met two other large marches from Giza and Mohandiseen that had already tried to cross to Tahrir and had come under heavy tear gas fire. Shortly thereafter the converged protesters stormed past the security forces and streamed into Tahrir Square. Soon thereafter the security forces that had used brutal force to stop the protests disappeared and the central square of downtown filled with demonstrators sharing one united call: “down with Hosni Mubarak.” In the early evening protesters burnt down the regime’s National Democratic Party headquarters. The streets were filled with tear gas, burning police vehicles and chants of celebration.

Protesters in Tahir Square — just posted on YouTube (don’t know when it was recorded):

“Leave, leave, Mubarak! Tel Aviv is waiting for you!” Protesters at Tahrir Square, January 30 2011:


Egyptian opposition rallies around Mohamed ElBaradei

Egyptian activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei addressing “those people who have been safeguarding democracy” in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “What we have begun cannot go back,” he told the crowd.

“We have a key demand: For the regime to step down and to start a new era.”

The National Coalition for Change, which groups several opposition movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, wants ElBaradei to negotiate with the Mubarak government, Al Jazeera reports.


The thrill and fear of freedom

When a brutal regime is struggling to survive it turns to desperate measures.

Even as low-flying Egyptian air force Lockheed F-16s are currently attempting to shake fear into the hundreds of thousands of people gathered now in the center of Cairo, the people are showing their increasing defiance. And even now the Obama administration remains afraid of taking a strong stand in support of the Egyptian people.

We cannot honor the revolution in Egypt as impartial observers, uncertain about its outcome or its virtue. To believe in the revolution is to hold the unshakable conviction that human beings have the capacity to govern themselves and the right to live in freedom.

Egypt exposes the divide between those who fearlessly feel the thrill of freedom and those for whom freedom has become an object of fear.

As freedom spreads across the Middle East the greatest test will be faced in Israel.

Let’s be absolutely clear that the timidity with which the United States government has at this time responded to the prospect of Egyptians’ freedom, is a measure of the extent to which the freedom of 80 million people appears to pose a possible threat to the security of seven million Israelis.

Many Israelis and Americans have come to accept an unspoken and inhuman proposition: that one person’s safety can be secured at the expense of another person’s liberty. This forced exchange is an assault on human freedom.

At the same time, many others, swept up in the spirit of this moment, will be tempted to declare, “We are all Egyptians now,” but we are not.

The giddiness of freedom is the reward for those who have risen above their fears.

For those who remain the hostage of their own fears, freedom itself is another source of danger.

Under the rule of the West’s national security states we have been indoctrinated to believe that the remedy for fear is safety.

It is not. Indeed, those who cling to the fiction of high security, merely compound their own fears.

If we are to rediscover the nobility and dignity of our common humanity it will only be by defying fear with courage.


The Egyptians are bringing our dreams true today

Waseem Wagdi, an Egyptian human rights activist living in London who joined fellow Egyptians protesting outside their embassy today, talks about recent events in Egypt and their significance, not just for Egyptians or for all Arabs, but as something that every single human being who cares for freedom, can celebrate.


On the streets, Egypt’s military defend the people

Even as the military-in-suits are being given positions in Mubarak’s newly-appointed government, there are signs that the troops and street-level commanders are willing to demonstrate their allegiance with the Egyptian people.

The New York Times reports:

[Mubarak’s] grip on power was further challenged Saturday as the military that he had deployed to take back control of the streets showed few signs of suppressing the unrest, and in several cases the army took the side of the protesters in the capital and the northern port city of Alexandria.

In the most striking instance, members of the army joined with a crowd of thousands of protesters in a pitched battle against Egyptian security police officers defending the Interior Ministry on Saturday afternoon.

Protesters crouched behind armored trucks as they advanced on the ministry building, hurling rocks and a few Molotov cocktails and setting abandoned cars on fire. But the soldiers providing cover for the advancing protesters refused their pleas to open fire on the security police, while the police defending the ministry battered the protesters with tear gas, buckshot and rubber bullets. There were pools of blood in the streets as protesters carried a number of wounded back out of their ranks.

In other parts of the capital, soldiers invited protesters to climb aboard their armored personnel carriers to have their pictures taken, and in Alexandria, demonstrators took tea to troops.

Michael Wahid Hanna puts the role of the military in historical context:

On July 23, 1952, a small group of Egyptian military officers, later dubbed the “Free Officers,” took advantage of simmering popular resentments against the ineffectual King Farouk and the lingering British colonial presence to seize power. The military-backed regime they installed on that day has remained in power, in one form or another, ever since. The fate of the successor to that regime — President Hosni Mubarak — now hangs in the balance, to be determined by a different but still-powerful group of military officers. With Mubarak’s decision to retrench in the face of the unprecedented political demonstrations throughout the country, he must now rely on the military and its willingness to suppress the tens of thousands Egyptians still in the streets.

When armored personnel carriers filled with soldiers began making their way into the heart of Cairo and other cities in Egypt on Friday January 28th, they were greeted with receptivity by protestors, who saw in the much-respected military a potential ally in their uprising against the regime. No doubt, the recent experience in Tunisia, where the military stepped in resoundingly on the side of the demonstrations and hastened the fall of the repressive regime of President Ben Ali, was fresh in their mind. The Tunisian military had intervened against the police forces, burnishing their image as popular heroes who shared the patriotic concerns of the brave Tunisians who defied the regime. The scenes that unfolded in Egypt made clear that the protestors there hoped to force a similar split between the security forces, run by the Ministry of the Interior, and the military.

While Egypt’s military is no longer an active fighting force, it still retains more credibility as a public entity than Egypt’s civilian institutions, crippled after years of neglect and one-man rule. In recent years, even some democracy activists, despondent from years of state repression and ineffectual organizing, have seen the military as the last hope for Egyptians against Mubarak’s efforts to orchestrate his son, Gamal, as successor to the presidency. Now that demonstrators have overwhelmed the police forces and built popular momentum, the military, were it to shift its allegiance from Mubarak to the protesters, could effectively end the regime.

Despite the scenes that played out in Egypt after the military’s deployment yesterday, with the military exercising restraint from violence and engaging in occasional fraternization with protesters, the military’s ultimate intentions remain a mystery.


Inside the Egyptian revolution

Recorded shortly before Friday prayers (yesterday), this discussion with three Egyptian political activists in Cairo reveals more about the passions that are driving the Egyptian revolution than any amount of analysis from outside observers.

The political power now unleashed across Egypt will topple the Mubarak regime not in spite of being leaderless but because it is leaderless — because it has no ideological or social bias but truly represents the will of the people.

Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent Egyptian blogger who was interviewed on Al Jazeera today, made the interesting observation that the uprising’s most effective organizational strength comes from a quarter that has been ignored by most of the media: soccer fans known as ultras.

“The ultras — the football fan associations — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment,” Alaa said. “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country,” he joked.

James M. Dorsey, an expert on soccer in the Middle East, writes:

Established in 2007, the ultras—modelled on Italy’s autonomous, often violent fan clubs—have proven their mettle in confrontations with the Egyptian police, who charge that criminals and terrorists populate their ranks.

“There is no competition in politics, so competition moved to the soccer pitch. We do what we have to do against the rules and regulations when we think they are wrong,” said an El Ahly ultra last year after his group overran a police barricade trying to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into the stadium. “You don’t change things in Egypt talking about politics. We’re not political, the government knows that and has to deal with us,” he adds.

The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government’s worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration.

President Obama and other Western political leaders profess their respect for people power but claim that it loses legitimacy if it fails to eschew all forms of violence. Let the people march in their tens or hundreds of thousands holding up signs and perhaps roses, but whoever picks up a rock must be condemned. In other words, let the people demonstrate their power so long as they do it in such a way that it does not challenge the power of the state and the state’s monopoly on the use of violence.

The sad truth is that when the people attempt to make their voices heard through such dignified expressions of civility, those from whom they are demanding a response find it all too easy to ignore the people’s voice.

Egypt can call out with one voice that it is time for Mubarak to go, yet what captures his and the world’s attention are images of his security forces being over-powered — images of policemen being chased off the streets while their vehicles go up in flames.

The West would like to see someone like Mohamed ElBaradei become a face of moderation who might tame Egypt’s revolutionary forces, yet it is Egypt’s angry youth including an ample sprinkling of ultras who are at the vanguard of this revolution. An ElBaradei revolution would have been a revolution postponed.


Egyptians defy the curfew

Whatever illusions Hosni Mubarak might have had about the uprising diminishing in strength, the scenes in Egypt right now in defiance of a curfew that was supposed to take force almost an hour ago, demonstrate that the power of the people is indomitable.

(Screen grab from Al Jazeera taken at 9.40 US Eastern.)


Lessons from Egypt

In its complacency, America views the democratic aspirations of others as the desire to possess what we already enjoy. Little do we imagine that these aspirations reveal what we have discarded or perhaps never even possessed.

President Obama packages what has driven Egyptians onto the streets within the banal phrase “the desire for a better life” — as though the world is captive to a vision of life in suburbia in which material comfort is the sum of human fulfillment.

We misinterpret the significance of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt if we look at these through the narrow prisms of dictatorial rule or economic hardship, because in truth they provide lessons about what it means to be human.

We are complex creatures and have advanced beyond the level of survival. Our needs go beyond material sufficiency.

Egyptians did not take to the streets today in order to fill their stomachs but in order to express their hearts. They were reclaiming their dignity by refusing to continue being the subjects of oppression.

But where is our dignity in accepting the fact that we have political representatives who do not represent our interests? Where is our dignity in having turned ourselves from citizens into consumers and having abandoned the idea of government by the people?

On the streets across Egypt today the single most important message from the people was this: we are not afraid.

Is this not a message that should shame the average American? Having spent a decade accepting the proposition that no expense should be spared to guard us against every imaginable fear, can we even imagine what it means to face danger yet not be afraid?

This perhaps more than anything else is the measure through which the bugaboo of 9/11 became the altar on which we sacrificed our dignity.

And should we pause to consider what the possible consequences are of empowering a national security state in the name of defense against terrorism, we could do no better than look at the example of the Mubarak regime.


One of the prevailing narratives in Washington has been that the US must tread a delicate line so that it does not undermine the flowering of democracy by providing unwelcome American support — as though the average Egyptian gives a damn about America’s position.

Egypt’s destiny is being determined by its people — not the Obama administration, which in its timidity and duplicity refuses to actually acknowledge the simple demand that is on the table: that Mubarak go.

And when from America we watch the Egyptian people assert their power, we should only imagine: what might this look like in America if we were not a nation filled with people so thoroughly convinced of our impotence?


Egyptians rising up to bring down the Mubarak regime — live updates


7.55 — After 12 hours of near-uninterrupted viewing of Al Jazeera English live television I can only shower this news organization with praise. They should set up an intern program for American news editors to show them how it’s possible to deliver news without being enslaved by commercial interests or showing unwarranted deference to the political establishment. It’s sad that the average American TV viewer has no idea what international news broadcasting of this quality could add to their understanding of the world.

Ali Abunimah notes Israel’s admiration for Egypt’s security services as revealed in the Palestine Papers. In 2007 General Amos Gilad said: “I always believed in the abilities of the Egyptian Intelligence service (GIS). It keeps order and security among 70 millions – 20 millions in one city – this is a great achievement, for which you deserve a medal. It is the best asset for the middle east.”

6.38 — In his statement, Obama ducks the core issue: the demand from Egyptians for Mubarak to go. By prioritizing the need for the restoration of civil order — that security forces and protesters refrain from violence — Obama is treating the uprising as not being fully legitimate. Obama asserts that violence will not result in Egyptian citizens’ being met, yet the evidence is completely the contrary: the fearless and often violent resistance of the people in defying the intimidating strength of the security forces is what is driving change. And note: the administration has provided Mubarak with the key talking point with which he is attempting to retain his hold on power — the promise of “reform.” In their conversation, perhaps Mubarak sought Obama’s advice on what “reform” looks like. Perhaps something like “change.”

6.08 — Al Jazeera: Muslim Brotherhood calls for Mubarak to step down and for the military to intervene.

5.35 — Al Jazeera: Following Mubarak’s speech, protesters chant “Down, Down Mubarak! Down, Down Regime!”

5.29 — Mubarak offers new government and old president.

Noting the non-ideological foundation of the Egyptian intifada, Amr Hamzawy says “Egyptians are rediscovering that politics, before anything else, is concerned with citizens’ living conditions within the borders of the relevant nation-state.”

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah figures out how to keep his people happy: 1,000 dinars ($3,580) to each Kuwaiti citizen plus free distribution of essential food items for 14 months.

“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe.” George W Bush, November 6, 2003.

Der Spiegel: Why Israel fears Mubarak’s fall — “Democracy is something beautiful,” said Eli Shaked, who was Israel’s ambassador to Cairo from 2003 to 2005, in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. “Nevertheless, it is very much in the interests of Israel, the United States and Europe that Mubarak remains in power.” Democracy in Egypt opens the door to support for Hamas in Gaza.

Obama’s men on Mubarak’s payroll.

3.53 — Al Jazeera — Protesters saying the army and the people are one.

3.38 — Wafik Moustafa (Conservative Arab Network) speaking on Al Jazeera says that he believes the army has now assumed control – that Mubarak is effectively no longer president.

2.52 — AP – Obama administration reviewing its $1.5 billion aid for propping up the Mubarak regime – Obama “monitoring a very fluid situation”

Simon Tisdall writes:

Caught off guard by the escalating unrest in Egypt, the Obama administration is desperate to avoid any public appearance of taking sides. But Washington’s close, longstanding political and military ties to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, plus annual financial support worth about $1.5bn, undermine its claims to neutrality.

While the US favours Egyptian political reform in theory, in practice it props up an authoritarian system for pragmatic reasons of national self-interest. It behaved in much the same way towards Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s, when Iraq was at war with Iran. A similar tacit bargain governs relations with Saudi Arabia. That’s why, for many Egyptians, the US is part of the problem.

Helena Cobban notes that while Obama monitors the situation in Egypt, he does so surrounded by a group of advisers none of whom know much about the region.

Via TPM’s intriguing new “Egypt wire”, this:

President Obama was reportedly briefed for 40 minutes on the situation in Egypt today. Here, a photo of his meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Robert Cardillo, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration.

What is notable is the absence of anyone in the group who has any serious knowledge about either Egypt or the broader region.

So thorough-going has been the witch-hunt that AIPAC and its attack dogs have conducted over the past 25 years against anyone with real Middle East expertise that the U.S. government now contains no-one at the higher (or even mid-career) levels of policymaking who has any in-depth understanding of the region or of the aspirations of its people.

12.46 — Brian Whitaker‘s snap analysis of Clinton’s statement: “It looks to me as if Clinton is angling for a negotiated departure by Mubarak, accompanied by an increase in political freedom. I think the US is aiming to structure the solution in a way that would protect its key interests: the peace treaty with Israel, the Suez canal, and co-operation against terrorism.”

12.20 — Fawaz Gerges on Al Jazeera: the introduction of the army into Alexandria and Suez where the security services completely lost control, is an indication that the power is already shifting out of Mubarak’s hands over to the military. The military will decide Egypt’s future.

12.10 — Secretary Clinton reiterates the administration’s two-fold mantra: it is monitoring the situation and it presses the Egyptian regime to implement necessary reforms. The administration condemns violence on both sides. It refuses to support or utter the word democracy. It has yet to move to the position it took with Tunisia: “we don’t take sides.” In other words, Washington remains on the same side as its “partner”: Hosni Mubarak.

Dictatorial power is by its nature delusional in as much as it invests power in an individual which no individual can possibly possess. After it was announced over an hour ago that President Mubarak would address the nation, the longer the interval before he speaks, the more uncertain his power becomes. Has he been watching Al Jazeera or has he instead been briefed by advisers who played down the level of unrest and who assured him that the army would swiftly restore order? Mubarak’s silence now more say more than whatever he will have to say later.

11.35 — Ruling National Democratic Party headquarters in Cairo on fire.

11.29 — Al Jazeera — Loud explosions heard, but protesters still chanting loudly.

11.00 — As curfew begins, army deployed to take control of streets of Cairo. Smoke rising from the vicinity of the National Democratic Party HQ.

10.32 — Curfew announced to begin at 6pm (local 11am US Eastern). State security has entered the building in which Al Jazeera is based.

10.07 — Al Jazeera: Protesters are celebrating the appearance of the army in Cairo.

Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist and blogger for the website 3arabawy, underlines the significant role that the Palestinian resistance has played as a source of inspiration for Egyptian protesters. “The outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada [in 2000] was especially important because in the 1980s-90s, street activism had been effectively shut down by the [Egyptian] government as part of the fight against Islamist insurgents. It only continued to exist inside university campuses or party headquarters. But when the 2000 intifada erupted and Al Jazeera started airing images of it, it inspired our youth to take to the streets, in the same way we’ve been inspired by Tunisia today.”

President Obama demonstrates what it means to be an ineffectual, irrelevant leader. He says: “violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence.”

Meek resistance will be crushed and then ignored. The Egyptians who are now fighting for control of their own country refuse to be ignored and the only way to do that is to demonstrate that the people have more power than the regime.

9.21 — “AJ Arabic – Protestors control the streets of Suez”

9.12 — Al Jazeera presenter: There’s no turning back now. Egypt has reached the tipping point.

“In terms of regional affairs, Special Middle East Envoy Senator George Mitchell struck the right chord during his recent visit to Cairo when he told President Mubarak that he was here to ‘listen and hear your advice’.” — US Ambassador Margaret Scobey, February 9, 2009 (WikiLeaks)

President Obama, say the ‘D-Word‘” — Mark LeVine on Obama’s fear of democracy

“The Egyptian ‘people blame America’ now for their plight. The shift in mood on the ground is ‘mostly because of Mubarak and his close ties’ to the United States.” — US Ambassador Joseph E. LeBaron, February 12, 2010 (WikiLeaks)

Egypt’s struggle for freedom” — Yasser El-Shimy

Watching Egypt disappear from the Internet” — CPJ

The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera” — NYT

8.17 — “Journalists working for The BBC and Al Jazeera have been beaten by the police in Cairo, the networks report. Minutes ago a heavily bandaged journalist for The BBC’s Arabic service in Cairo described being brutally beaten with iron bars by plainclothes officers who seemed to be ‘targeting journalists,’ attempting to report on a protest by about 15,000 people in a square.”

AP – Protesters clashing with police:

Why fear of Islamists paralyzes the U.S. on Egypt” — Tony Karon.

We live in times where the power is coming to back the people” — watching Egypt from Gaza.

8.03 — “AJ Arabic: ~300,000 protesters in Tahrir.”

8.02 — “Tahrir sq. is now controlled by the protesters! Riot police is on the roofs shooting bullets and tear-gas grenades!”

8.01 — “+ 40,000 protesters destroy the National Democratic Party, the ruling party,HQ in Mansoura, a key city 150 Km north east of capital Cairo.”

7.53 — “Political Analyst Amr Hamzawy to BBC ‘It will not be enough for Mubarak to replace a minister or even the prime minister at this stage'”

7.35 — “Al Arabiya is reporting that some policemen r removing their uniform and joining protesters.”

7.23 — “BBC Arabic: Egyptian authorities have restricted @ElBaradei’s movements & not allowed him to join the protests.”


Biden shows his contempt for the people of Egypt

Vice President Joe Biden was asked on PBS this evening whether he views Egypt’s president as a dictator. Noting that President Mubarak has been a US ally and has normalized relations with Israel, Biden said: “I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

When asked whether the time has come for Mubarak to go, Biden responded:

No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there.

The protesters are not shouting about wanting a better life or the need for political reform. They’re shouting “Down With Mubarak!”

If the Egyptian president had any interest in being responsive to that demand, he’d be gone. But note that Biden was not suggesting that Mubarak be responsive to the Egyptian people’s demands — merely that he should be responsive to some of their needs, and then presumably they will quieten down.

At his most disingenuous, Biden even claims to have no idea what the Egyptians want or whether their aspirations are legitimate.

“We’re encouraging the protesters to – as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and – and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out,” Biden said. “I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable… accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt.”

Thus speaks the patrician who believes everyone has a price. Mubarak doesn’t need to go — he just needs to determine the right price for pacifying his subjects.


On the eve of Egypt’s day of reckoning

“No internet, no SMS, what is next? Mobile phones and land lines? So much for stability. #Jan25 #Egypt” tweets CNN’s Ben Wedeman.

The shutdown came shortly after the release of this AP video showing a protester being gunned down.

With major protests just hours away, scheduled to follow Friday morning prayers, Issandr El Amrani reports:

I have received eyewitness reports from three people that Central Security Forces (the riot control police) are pulling out of multiple locations in Cairo. Plainclothes security has been seen at various locations pouring gasoline on vehicles and setting them on fire, also trying to burn storefronts in the following Downtown Cairo locations:

  • Falaki Square
  • Omraneya
  • Near the American University in Cairo

Earlier in the day, I received an eyewitness report from a friend in Downtown Cairo (near Champollion Street) that policemen were loading vans with clubs, nails, metal bars and other objects that could be used as weapons by Baltaguiya, the hired thugs sometimes used by police to attack protestors.

The Guardian reports:

Anonymous leaflets circulating in Cairo also provide practical and tactical advice for mass demonstrations, confronting riot police, and besieging and taking control of government offices.

Signed “long live Egypt”, the slickly produced 26-page document calls on demonstrators to begin with peaceful protests, carrying roses but no banners, and march on official buildings while persuading policemen and soldiers to join their ranks.

The leaflet ask recipients to redistribute it by email and photocopy, but not to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are being monitored by the security forces.

Alaa Al Aswany, the Arab world’s bestselling novelist, describes his experience of participating in the demonstrations.

It was an unforgettable day for me. I joined the demonstrators in Cairo, along with the hundreds of thousands across Egypt who went on to the streets on Tuesday demanding freedom and bravely facing off the fearsome violence of the police. The regime has a million and a half soldiers in its security apparatus, upon which its spends millions in order to train them for one task: to keep the Egyptian people down.

I found myself in the midst of thousands of young Egyptians, whose only point of similarity was their dazzling bravery and their determination to do one thing – change the regime. Most of them are university students who find themselves with no hope for the future. They are unable to find work, and hence unable to marry. And they are motivated by an untameable anger and a profound sense of injustice.

I will always be in awe of these revolutionaries. Everything they have said shows a sharp political awareness and a death-defying desire for freedom. They asked me to say a few words. Even though I’ve spoken hundreds of times in public, this time it was different: I was speaking to 30,000 demonstrators who were in no mood to hear of compromise and who kept interrupting with shouts of “Down with Hosni Mubarak”, and “The people say, out with the regime”.

I said I was proud of what they had achieved, and that they had brought about the end of the period of repression, adding that even if we get beaten up or arrested we have proved we are not afraid and are stronger than they are. They have the fiercest tools of repression in the world at their disposal, but we have something stronger: our courage and our belief in freedom. The crowd responded by shouting en masse: “We’ll finish what we’ve begun!”

Mohamed ElBaradei, who many in Egypt are calling a latecomer to the revolution, returned to Cairo from Vienna on Thursday.

“This is a critical time in the life of Egypt and I have come to participate with the Egyptian people,” he said. “The regime has not been listening.

“If people, in particular young people, if they want me to lead the transition, I will not let them down. My priority right now … is to see a new regime and to see a new Egypt through peaceful transition.

“I advise the government to listen to the people and not to use violence. There’s no going back.”

In reference to reports from commentators who point to the apparently small role that the Muslim Brotherhood has played in the Egyptian intifada so far, Jonathan Wright says:

From my own experience on the streets (see my earlier reports passim), I believe people are understimating the level of participation by members of the Brotherhood, though I will readily concede that they have not taken part at full strength and at a level which reflects their demographic weight. There are several possible and obvious reasons for this. Let me offer a few of them:

The Brotherhood, from long experience of confrontation with the Egyptian authorities, is always wary of commitment to street protests. It will calibrate its level of participation to its assessment of the chances of success. If it overreaches, it runs the risk of a massive crackdown. For the moment, probably rightly, it is not convinced that the protests will overthrow the regime.

The Brotherhood knows that the world (especially the United States and Europe) are watching events in Egypt closely. If the protests appear to be Brotherhood-led, the government will feel free to use much more brutal methods to disperse protesters. For the moment it suits the Brotherhood’s interests to give the impression that there is a broad coalition united against Hosni Mubarak, including liberals and leftists. This explains why Brotherhood members who have taken part in the protests have refrained from chanting slogans with religious connotations. The impression of a broad coalition also helps domestically — if the Brotherhood take the lead, it would frighten off some of the other groups.

At Wired, David Kravets puts the significance of social media and the internet in perspective.

Don’t call it a Twitter Revolution just yet. Sure, protesters in the Middle East are using the short-messaging service — and other social media tools — to organize. And yes, there are sporadic reports coming out of Egypt that the Mubarak regime has shut off Internet access — despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call “not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including social media.”

But don’t confuse tools with root causes, or means with ends. The protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are against dictators who’ve held power — and clamped down on their people — for decades. That’s the fuel for the engine of dissent. The dozen or more protesters that self-immolated in Egypt didn’t do it for the tweets.

“It’s about years of repression and dictatorship. Revolutions existed before Twitter and Facebook,” Issandr el-Amrani, a Cairo-based writer and activist, says in a telephone interview from Tunisia. “It’s really not much more complicated than this.”

Only about a quarter of the Egyptian populace is online, el-Amrani estimates. So street protests have grown the old fashioned way: via leaflets and spontaneous amalgamation.

“I’ve seen a lot of small groups of people wandering the streets and people spontaneously joining them. At every house, they would yell, ‘Come Down,’” says an expert on Middle Eastern censorship in an interview from Cairo.

The source, who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution, added: “This is much, much bigger than Twitter and Facebook.”

Meanwhile, Simon Tisdall writes:

Rising food prices, corruption, endemic poverty, high levels of youth unemployment and authoritarian governance are common factors linking street protests currently raging through the Arab world from Algeria to Egypt.

But as seasoned Middle East analysts such as the Financial Times‘s Roula Khalaf have noted, grassroots opposition to the increasingly prevalent practice of dynastic succession or tawrith – inherited rule – among non-monarchical, secular regimes is also fuelling the unrest. Across the region, Arab rulers are seeking to perpetuate their rule by passing on power to favoured sons or other male family members. But such cosy succession schemes are anathema to demonstrators pushing for expanded democratic rights. They also underscore the low status afforded to women.

After this month’s successful intifada in Tunisia, which overthrew the self-perpetuating ruling family, would-be dauphins, pretenders and heirs-apparent throughout the Middle East are wondering whether their dynastic great expectations may yet be thwarted.


Mark Perry: Inside the Palestine Papers debate

Before publishing the Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera invited a group of experts and journalists to Doha to study the documents. The group included political and military analyst, Mark Perry, who provided analysis in this week’s special report and the following background for War in Context. He is the author of eight books, including Partners In Command and the recently released Talking To Terrorists.

We Better Get Used To It
Inside The Palestine Papers Debate
By Mark Perry

Back in 1989, I was the recipient of hundreds of State Department cables dealing with nearly every aspect of American foreign policy. The material was breathtaking: cables on CIA support for the non-communist Cambodian resistance, a DIA report on a PLO political team in Central America, the theft of U.S. monies by Thai Generals in Bangkok – accounts of changes of government in half-a-dozen developing countries. The cables were marked “Top Secret” and provided me with the opportunity to write a series of articles for a number of major dailies. Until the leaker was caught.

What surprised me the most was not the subject matter of the cables, but the rumors surrounding them. The then-head of the Senate Intelligence Committee blamed “State Department officials” for the leak, the State Department blamed the Senate. Everyone was convinced – the cables were leaked by top officials for political purposes. In truth, the leaker was an overweight late-20s State Department polymath named Bill with a habit of dribbling salad dressing on his tie. His one notable tic was an uncontrollable stutter. Worried that his discovery would lead to his arrest, I felt itmy duty to warn him that his actions would mean the end of his career. “Why are you doing this, Bill?” I asked him. He blinked for a moment, hesitated, then told me: “Shhhh . . .she . . . mmm … makes fffff . . . fun of me.” There you have it: the reason he was leaking the cables was because his supervisor at the Cable Secretariat, cruelly caricatured his stutter in front of his fellow workers – to their great amusement. “I . . I . . . I’m going to gggggee . . . get her,” he said.

I was reminded of Bill when Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat requested the U.S. and U.K governments investigate Al Jazeera reporter Clayton Swisher (a U.S. citizen) and Alastair Crooke (a former British government employee – wink, wink), for leaking over 1600 documents on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Al-Jazeera. This is complete eyewash. As a part of a group of experts and journalists invited to Doha two weeks ago by Al-Jazeera to study the documents, it was clear to me then that the leaker was probably an employee in the PLO’s Negotiations Department. Of course, I could be completely wrong: I have no idea who the leaker is and was given no hint of his (or her, or their) identity by anyone at the network. That hasn’t stopped me from speculating: the leaker could be a Palestinian employee who wants to embarrass the Palestinian Authority, a translator who sat in on the meetings, a janitor with access to offices and files, or Erekat himself – who wanted to embarrass George Mitchell.

Even so, Erekat’s demand that the U.S. and U.K. search for the leaker provides an interesting sidebar to the papers’ release: for having initially denounced the 1600 documents in Al-Jazeera possession as “fabrications,” Mr. Erekat is now willing to concede their authenticity. His response might be a model for all those caught out by the truth – a narrative reminisicent of that common to terminal patients: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In truth, while the identity of the leaker has now become a kind of cottage industry in the Arab press, the leaker’s name is not nearly as important as the leaker’s motives.

This came through clearly during my reading of the documents, for I focused initially on on a series of six meetings in September and October of 2009 between Saeb Erekat and George Mitchell. For me those documents showed Erekat as a tough, savvy, committed and stubborn nationalist, while George Mitchell appeared and talked like “Israel’s lawyer” – abandoning prior U.S. positions on the negotiation’s terms of reference and on the Road Map. I argued to my colleagues that Al-Jazeera’s “lead” should focus on Mitchell and the U.S., as Israeli supplicants. Whoever leaked these documents, I said, wanted to show us the depravity of the American position. My colleagues disagreed, though not because they had a different agenda – they had simply read different documents. For them, Erekat was a serial compromiser, having conceded traditional Palestinian positions on Jerusalem, refugees and borders.

I did not win this argument, but on reflection it’s easy to understand why. If the Palestine Papers had been leaked to CBS, NBC, ABC or CNN (for example), there’s no doubt in my mind that Mitchell (and the Obama administration) would have been the focus of subsequent reports. If the papers had been leaked to the BBC, the focus would have been on Tony Blair and MI-6. In a sense, then, my initial discomfort with Al-Jazeera’s coverage is a reflection of America’s discomfort: we say that Al-Jazeera has an “agenda” – that their journalism is not as credible as ours. And we’re right, but only to this degree: Al-Jazeera is an Arab network with an Arab viewership that covers Arab politics and leaders. Their coverage of the world isn’t less credible – it’s different. What we’re really uncomfortable with (and what I was uncomfortable with) is that Al-Jazeera doesn’t put America at the center of the world. What we have to say is less important to them than what they have to say – their focus is on what is happening outside of their door, not ours. We better get used to it.

Here’s a coda: after feting my own leaker through six months of dinners and discussions, I showed up at his apartment to find him gone. There was simply no trace of him, and all of my attempts to reach him by other means led to nothing. But one day, in 1994, I received a call from him from his mother’s home in Nevada. He confirmed that the State Department had identified him as my leaker and he’d been summarily fired. He told me he was lucky he hadn’t been prosecuted – but he seemed happy and was starting his life over again. “So,” I asked. “Did you ever get her? You know, your supervisor – the woman who made fun of you.” There was a moment’s hesitation: “Oh yeah,” he said. “I got her good. She got a bad evaluation and left her job.” It was only after I hung up that I realized: his stutter was gone.


Egypt opposition arrive late to the revolution

There’s a thin line between well-organized and over-organized. On the one hand, the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood will be joining tomorrow’s regime-crushing demonstrations in Egypt looks likely to bring mass mobilization to a level that even an authoritarian government lacks the power to stop. At the same time, the fact that the Islamist movement has waited this long to join the action calls into question its capacity to lead the revolution and dominate a new government.

The Financial Times reports:

After decades of political apathy in this society of 80m people where few bothered to vote and protests usually drew tiny numbers, the explosion of anger has also taken the country’s opposition politicians by surprise.

Although the demonstrations are essentially leaderless, organised by youth activists on the internet, the opposition is now scrambling to use the opportunity to press for an end to the Mubarak era.

Politicians in Cairo say the National Association for Change headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency who was due to land in Cairo last night, will emerge from the Egyptian “intifada”, or uprising, with enhanced credibility. But whether the regime will allow Mr ElBaradei to assume a leadership role remains to be seen.

The national association comprises several leading political figures and intellectuals, youth groups like April 6 which has been instrumental in mobilising demonstrations through the internet and a few political parties, including representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamist group is considered the movement with the largest grassroots support in the country but has always been reluctant to provoke the regime. It gave only timid support to the youth activists’ call for a “day of wrath” on Tuesday, though it is calling for participation in the rallies that are planned on Friday.

Opposition leaders say Mr ElBaradei, in particular, has played a crucial role in encouraging young Egyptians in their activism. He returned to Egypt a year ago, after living abroad for three decades, amid activists’ calls on him to run against Mr Mubarak in the September presidential elections.

His response was that he would heed the calls if the constitution was changed to allow independent candidates. Recent amendments to the constitution, as it stands today, give the ruling National Democratic party of Mr Mubarak control over the presidential election process.

Mr ElBaradei’s contribution, say opposition leaders, was to articulate the calls for reform and demonstrate that there are alternatives to Mr Mubarak. “No one can claim this wave . . . but what ElBaradei said and did helped light the flame,” said Osama el-Ghazali Harb of the Democratic Front party, which is part of Mr ElBaradei’s National Association. “He put forward the demands of the opposition and he gave them international attention.”

Issam el-Erian, a brotherhood leader, concurs. “El Baradei had a big role in starting this wave,” he says. “The system was always saying there is no alternative and the only one is the Ikhwan (Brotherhood), but he offered an alternative, and he has a Nobel prize, so he’s a respectable alternative.”