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Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Change in Egypt?


Egypt Erupts in Jubilation as Mubarak Steps Down

An 18-day-old revolt led by the young people of Egyptousted President Hosni Mubarak on Friday, shattering three decades of political stasis here and overturning the established order of the Arab world.
Shouts of “God is great” erupted from Tahrir Square at twilight as Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

Tens of thousands who had bowed down for evening prayers leapt to their feet, bouncing and dancing in joy. “Lift your head high, you’re an Egyptian,” they cried. Revising the tense of the revolution’s rallying cry, they chanted, “The people, at last, have brought down the regime.”
“We can breathe fresh air, we can feel our freedom,” said Gamal Heshamt, a former independent member of Parliament. “After 30 years of absence from the world, Egypt is back.”
Mr. Mubarak, an 82-year-old former air force commander, left without comment for his home by the Red Sea in Sharm el Sheik. His departure overturns, after six decades, the Arab world’s original secular dictatorship. He was toppled by a radically new force in regional politics — a largely secular, nonviolent, youth-led democracy movement that brought Egypt’s liberal and Islamist opposition groups together for the first time under its banner.
One by one the protesters withstood each weapon in the arsenal of the Egyptian autocracy — first the heavily armed riot police, then a ruling party militia and finally the state’s powerful propaganda machine.
Mr. Mubarak’s fall removed a bulwark of American foreign policy in the region. The United States, its Arab allies and Israel are now pondering whether the Egyptian military, which has vowed to hold free elections, will give way to a new era of democratic dynamism or to a perilous lurch into instability or Islamist rule.
The upheaval comes less than a month after a sudden youth revolt in nearby Tunisia toppled another enduring Arab strongman, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. And on Friday night some of the revelers celebrating in the streets of Cairo marched under a Tunisian flag and pointed to the surviving autocracies in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen. “We are setting a role model for the dictatorships around us,” said Khalid Shaheen, 39. “Democracy is coming.”
President Obama, in a televised address, praised the Egyptian revolution. “Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day,” he said. “It was the moral force of nonviolence — not terrorism and mindless killing — that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist movement that until 18 days ago was considered Egypt’s only viable opposition, said it was merely a supporting player in the revolt.
“We participated with everyone else and did not lead this or raise Islamic slogans so that it can be the revolution of everyone,” said Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, a spokesman for the Brotherhood. “This is a revolution for all Egyptians; there is no room for a single group’s slogans, not the Brotherhood’s or anybody else.”
The Brotherhood, which was slow to follow the lead of its own youth wing into the streets, has said it will not field a candidate for president or seek a parliamentary majority in the expected elections.
The Mubarak era ended without any of the stability and predictability that were the hallmarks of his tenure. Western and Egyptian officials had expected Mr. Mubarak to leave office on Thursday and irrevocably delegate his authority to Vice President Suleiman, finishing the last six months of his term with at least his presidential title intact.
But whether because of pride or stubbornness, Mr. Mubarak instead spoke once again as the unbowed father of the nation, barely alluding to a vague “delegation” of authority.
The resulting disappointment enraged the Egyptian public, sent a million people into the streets of Cairo on Friday morning and put in motion an unceremonious retreat at the behest of the military he had commanded for so long.
“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.
It is now not clear what role Mr. Suleiman, whose credibility plummeted over the past week as he stood by Mr. Mubarak and even questioned Egypt’s readiness for democracy, will have in the new government.
The transfer of power leaves the Egyptian military in charge of this nation of 85 million, facing insistent calls for fundamental democratic change and open elections. Hours before Mr. Suleiman announced Mr. Mubarak’s exit, the military had signaled its takeover with a communiqué that appeared to declare its solidarity with the protesters.
Read on state television by an army spokesman, the communiqué declared that the military — not Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Suleiman or any other civilian authority — would ensure the amendment of the Constitution to “conduct free and fair presidential elections.”
“The armed forces are committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people,” the statement declared, and the military promised to ensure the fulfillment of its promises “within defined time frames” until authority could be passed to a “free democratic community that the people aspire to.”
It pledged to remove the reviled “emergency law,” which allows the government to detain anyone without charges or trial, “as soon as the current circumstances are over” and further promised immunity from prosecution for the protesters, whom it called “the honest people who refused the corruption and demanded reforms.”
Egyptians ignored the communiqué, as they have most official pronouncements of the Mubarak government, until the president’s resignation was announced. Then they hugged, kissed and cheered the soldiers, lifting children on tanks to get their pictures taken. “The people and the army are one hand,” they chanted.
Standing guard near the presidential palace, soldiers passed photographs of “martyrs” killed during the revolution through barbed wire to attach them to their tanks. At Tahrir Square, some slipped out of position to join the roaring crowds flooding the streets.
Whether the military will subordinate itself to a civilian democracy or install a new military dictator will be impossible to know for months. Military leaders will inevitably face pressure to deliver the genuine transition that protesters did not trust Mr. Mubarak to give them.
Yet it may also seek to protect the enormous political and economic privileges it accumulated during Mr. Mubarak’s reign. And the army has itself been infused for years with the notion that Egypt’s survival depends on fighting threats, real and imagined, from foreign enemies, Islamists, Iran and the frustrations of its own people.
Throughout the revolt, the army stood passively on the sidelines — its soldiers literally standing behind the iron fence of the Egyptian Museum — as the police or armed Mubarak loyalists fought the protesters centered in Tahrir Square.
But Western diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were violating confidences, said that top army officials had told them that their troops would never use force against civilians, depriving Mr. Mubarak of a decisive tool to suppress the dissent.
It has been “increasingly clear,” a Western diplomat said Friday, that “the army will not go down with Mubarak.”
Now the military, which owns vast commercial interests here but has not fought in decades, must defuse demonstrations, quell widespread labor unrest and rebuild a shattered economy and security forces. Its top official, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 75, served for decades as a top official of Mr. Mubarak’s government. And its top uniformed official, Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, has not spoken publicly.
Egypt’s opposition has said for weeks that it welcomed a military role in securing the country, ideally under a two- to five-member presidential council with only one military member. And the initial reaction to the military takeover was ecstatic.
“Welcome back,” said Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who administered the Facebook group that helped start the revolt.
Mr. Ghonim, who was detained for 12 days in blindfolded isolation by the Mubarak government as it tried to stamp out the revolt, helped protesters turn the tide in a propaganda war against the state media earlier this week, when he described his captivity in an emotional interview on a satellite television station.
“Egypt is going to be a democratic state,” he declared Friday, in another interview. “You will be impressed.”
Dr. Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, 32, a transplant surgeon who was among the small group of organizers who guided the revolution, said the leaders had decided to let the protests unwind on their own. “We are not going to ask the people to stay in the square or leave — it is their choice,” he said. “Even if they leave, any government will know that we can get them to the streets again in a minute.”
 “Our country never had a victory in our lifetime, and this is the sort of victory we were looking for, a victory over a vicious regime that we needed to bring down,” Dr. Harb said.
Amr Ezz, 27, another of revolt’s young leaders, said that calling the revolution a military coup understated its achievement. “It is the people who took down the president and the regime and can take down anyone else,” he said. “Now the role of the regular people has ended and the role of the politicians begins. Now we can begin negotiations with the military in order to plan the coming phase.”
The opposition groups participating in the protest movement had previously settled on a committee led byMohamed ElBaradei, the former diplomat and Nobel laureate, to negotiate with the army if Mr. Mubarak resigned.
Mr. ElBaradei could not be reached for comment on Friday, but in a television interview he indicated that he expected the talks with the military to begin within days.
“I’d like to see that started tomorrow so we can have a sharing of power, the civilian and the military, and tell them what our demands are, what they need to do,” he said.
By evening, Egyptian politicians were beginning to position themselves to run for office. Amr Moussa, one of the country’s most popular public figures, resigned his position as secretary general of the Arab League, and an aide, Hesham Youssef, confirmed that Mr. Moussa was considering seeking office.
In Switzerland, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had frozen possible assets of “the former Egyptian president” and his associates.
In the military’s final communiqué of the day, its spokesman thanked Mr. Mubarak for his service and saluted the “martyrs” of the revolution.
In Tahrir Square, protesters said they were not quite ready to disband the little republic they had built up during their two-week occupation, setting up makeshift clinics, soundstages, a detention center and security teams to protect the barricades.
Many have boasted that their encampment was a rare example of community spirit here, and after Mr. Mubarak’s resignation the organizers called on the thousands who protested here to return once again on Saturday morning to help clean it up.


Egypt’s Path After Uprising Does Not Have to Follow Iran’s

Two Egyptian leaders have been struck down in 30 years: one by an Islamist assassin’s bullets, the other by the demands of hundreds of thousands of protesters in a peaceful uprising. The first event, the death of President Anwar el-Sadat, marked a spectacle of the most militant brand of political Islam. The revolution the world witnessed Friday, the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak, may herald the dawn of something else.

There is a fear in the West, one rarely echoed here, that Egypt’s revolution could go the way of Iran’s, when radical Islamists ultimately commandeered a movement that began with a far broader base. But the two are very different countries. In Egypt, the uprising offers the possibility of an accommodation with political Islam rare in the Arab world — that without the repression that accompanied Mr. Mubarak’s rule, Islam could present itself in a more moderate guise.
Egypt’s was a revolution of diversity, a proliferation of voices — of youth, women and workers, as well as the religious — all of which will struggle for influence. Here, political Islam will most likely face a new kind of challenge: proving its relevance and popularity in a country undergoing seismic change.
“Choosing a regime will become the right of the people,” Ali Abdel-Fattah, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, said Saturday. “The nature of the regime will be decided by elections. And I think Egyptians agree on the demands and how to realize them.”
Of countries in the region, only Turkey has managed to incorporate currents of political Islam into a system that has so far proven viable, but its bold experiment remains unfinished. The rest of the region is strewn with disasters, from the ascent of the most militant strands in Iraq after the American invasion to the rise of populist and combative movements in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon that emerged under Israeli occupation.
In Egypt, repression of its Islamic activists helped give rise to the most extremist forces in the Muslim world — leadership of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and an insurgency against its own government in the 1990s.
But at its core the revolt that finally toppled Mr. Mubarak had a very different set of demands. Its organizers rallied to broad calls for freedom, social justice and a vague sense of nationalism that came together over a belief that distant and often incompetent rulers had to treat the opposition with respect. The demands were voiced by youth, women, workers and adherents of revived currents of liberalism, the left and Arab nationalism, spread by social networks made possible by new technology.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world’s Islamic movements, is of course also a contender to lead a new Egypt. It has long been the most organized and credible opposition to Mr. Mubarak. But is also must prepare to enter the fray of an emerging democratic system, testing its staying power in a system ruled by elections and the law.
“This is not yesterday’s Egypt,” declared Amal Borham, a protester in Tahrir Square.
“It is their right to participate as much as it is mine, as much as it is anyone else’s in this country,” added Ms. Borham, who considers herself secular. “They are part of this society, and they have been made to stay in the shadows for a very long time.”
The protests illustrated the challenges before the Brotherhood and other Islamic groups. While the Brotherhood eventually brought its organizational prowess to the demonstrations — organizing security and deploying its followers overnight when the protests lulled — it was reluctant to join at first. Indeed, many protesters saw it as a representative of an old guard that they believed had for so long failed to answer society’s problems.
Even some of the Brotherhood’s own youthful supporters expressed frustration with their leaders’ cautiousness.
“On Tuesday they were not convinced,” recalled Islam Lotfi, a 32-year-old organizer and leader of the Brotherhood’s youth. “On Wednesday, it was ‘maybe.’ And on Thursday, ‘It seems you did a great job. Go ahead and this time we will follow.’ ”
It will undoubtedly moderate its message in a campaign, trying to appeal to the broadest constituency. The next elections promise to be far more competitive than the shams of past years, when many Egyptians simply stayed home. That emerging diversity may prove more uncomfortable than the head-to-head confrontation with Mr. Mubarak’s enforcers that helped define the Brotherhood’s appeal.
“The system made them work in the dark and that made them look bigger than they are,” said Ahmed Gowhary, a secular organizer of the protests. “Now it will be a real chance for them to show that they are more Egyptian than they have appeared.”
“Their real power,” he added, “will show.”
The Arab world has a spectrum of Islamic movements, as broad as the states that have repressed them, from the most violent in Al Qaeda to the most mainstream in Turkey. Though cast for years as an insurgent threat by Mr. Mubarak, the Brotherhood in Egypt has long disavowed its violent past, and now has a chance to present itself as something more than a force for opposition to Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarianism.
Founded by a schoolteacher named Hassan el-Banna in the Suez Canal town of Ismailiyya in 1928, it quickly became the most important political contestant in the country, boasting a vibrant press, delivering weekly lectures from mosques and reaching out to students, civil servants, urban laborers and peasants. It was banned in 1954 under Gamal Abdel Nasser, the founder of Mr. Mubarak’s state, weathering a brutal crackdown that instilled in it the iron discipline of a clandestine movement.
The repression, which persisted until last month, produced some of the Muslim world’s most militant thinkers, among them Sayyid Qutb, who had a profound impact on militancy across the Muslim world. But remarkably, the movement also evolved over those same years, pursuing coalitions with other political parties since 1984, joining street protests with leftist groups and entering a feeble Parliament as independents, whose demands were not enforcement of Islamic strictures but opposition to martial law.
Its former leader turned heads in 2005 when he offered a play on the group’s traditional slogan, “Islam is the solution.” “Freedom is the solution,” he declared.
The Brotherhood’s relationship with the government came full circle last Sunday, when Vice President Omar Suleiman invited it to talks. The discussions were meaningless, but the symbolism was vast: only one seat separated the Brotherhood’s spokesman from a man whose intelligence apparatus deemed the group the greatest threat to its rule.
“It exposed the lie of the regime that the Brotherhood is a violent organization, anti-systemic and a threat to the country,” said Samer Shehata, a professor at Georgetown University.
Although Iran’s and Egypt’s revolutions share a date, Feb. 11, the comparisons end there. Millions welcomed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on his return from Paris. In Egypt, there was no charismatic figure of stature.
Unlike the Shiite Muslim clergy in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood is neither led by clerics nor based on a clerical organization. In many ways, it represents a lay middle class. The very dynamics are different, too: cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches helped drive Iran’s revolution, whose zealots sought to export it. The Internet helped propel the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the medium’s own diffusion helping carry it from the backwater town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia to Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Perhaps most importantly, the revolutions occurred a generation apart, a note echoed in the Brotherhood stronghold of Munira, along streets of graceful balustrades of the colonial era and the utilitarian architecture of Mr. Nasser and his successors.
“The people are aware this time,” said Essam Salem, a 50-year-old resident there. “They’re not going to let them seize power. People aren’t going to be deceived again. This is a popular revolution, a revolution of the youth, not an Islamic revolution.”
In the struggle, morality was rarely mentioned, even by the Muslim Brotherhood, which echoed the demands that swung broad segments of Egypt’s population to the revolution’s side.
“We’re a part of the people and there is a consensus over the people’s demands,” said Hamdi Hassan, another Brotherhood official.
Across the Arab world, the most militant Islamic movements are those embedded in conflict — Hezbollah and Hamas — or stateless, like Al Qaeda, celebrating in mystical terms this generation’s equivalent of armed struggle. Iraq’s bloodiest spectacles, claimed by a homegrown Islamic militant movement, occurred in a civil war that followed the American invasion.
In many ways, the Brotherhood is the counterexample, echoed in the success of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. It has de-emphasized the mainstays of Islamic activism — charity and proselytizing, for instance — for the prize of political success in Parliament.
While it remains deeply conservative, it engages less in sometimes frivolous debates over the veil or education and more in demands articulated by the broader society: corruption, joblessness, political freedom and human rights abuses.
The shift illustrates both its strengths and its weaknesses.
“The ability to present a mainstream national reform agenda and mobilize and galvanize Egyptians around this agenda, this is something the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do,” said Emad Shaheen, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “The youth have achieved in 18 days what the Brotherhood failed to achieve in 80 years.”


Military Offers Assurances to Egypt and Neighbors

As a new era dawned in Egypt on Saturday, the army leadership sought to reassure Egyptians and the world that it would shepherd a transition to civilian rule and honor international commitments like the peace treaty with Israel.
Exultant and exhausted opposition leaders claimed their role in the country’s future, pressing the army to lift the country’s emergency law and release political prisoners and saying they would present their vision for the government. And they vowed to return to Tahrir Square next week to celebrate a victory and honor those who had died in the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.
In an announcement broadcast on state television, an army spokesman said Egypt would continue to abide by all its international and regional treaties and the current civilian leadership would manage the country’s affairs until the formation of a new government. But he did not discuss a timetable for any transfer of power, and it was unclear how and when talks with opposition figures would take place.
The army spokesman said the military was “aspiring to guarantee the peaceful transition of power within the framework of a free democratic system that allows an elected civilian power to rule the country, in order to build a free democratic state.”
The impact of Egypt’s uprising rippled across the Arab world as protesters turned out in Algeria, where the police arrested leading organizers, and in Yemen, where pro-government forces beat demonstrators with clubs.
The Palestinian leadership responded by announcing that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September. And in Tunisia, which inspired Egypt’s uprising, hundreds demonstrated to cheer Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Jordan and Israel for talks as both countries deal with the reverberations from Egypt’s revolution.
In Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, some members of the broad movement that toppled Mr. Mubarak vowed to continue their protests, saying that all their demands had not yet been met.
A long list included an end to the emergency law that allows detention without charges, the dissolution of the Parliament, seen as illegitimate, and for some of the protesters, the prosecution of Mr. Mubarak. About 50 stood in the square on Saturday morning, as the military removed barricades and concertina wire on the periphery.
But the uprising’s leading organizers, speaking at a news conference in central Cairo, asked protesters to leave the square.
The group, the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, which includes members of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth and young supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, said that it had not yet talked with the military and that on Sunday it would lay out its road map for a transitional government.
The coalition said that Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, and other respected figures would work as intermediaries between the youth group and the country’s new military chiefs.
“The power of the people changed the regime,” said Gehan Shaaban, a group spokeswoman. “But we shouldn’t trust the army. We should trust ourselves, the people of Egypt.”
Again, there were signs that not all the protesters were willing to give up. During the news conference, a woman yelled: “We should all head to Tahrir and stay there, until we ourselves are sure that everything is going as planned! The government of Ahmed Shafiq has to go!” Mr. Shafiq is the prime minister. The woman’s shouts brought the news conference to a close.
As the protesters and opposition groups prepared an agenda, they sought clues about exactly whom they were negotiating with. On Friday, Vice President Omar Suleiman said that Mr. Mubarak had authorized the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs, marking the transition from civilian to military rule.
Mr. Suleiman, a former general who became Egypt’s foreign intelligence chief, straddled the two worlds. But Hosam Sowilam, a retired general, said Mr. Suleiman no longer played a leadership role. “Omar Suleiman finished his time,” he said. “He’s 74 years old.” Others were not so quick to dismiss Mr. Suleiman, a close ally of Mr. Mubarak who was mentioned as his successor.
In interviews, protest leaders said they assumed that the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, who was considered a loyalist of Mr. Mubarak, was now the country’s de facto leader. On Saturday morning, his convoy tried to drive to Tahrir Square, according to a paratrooper stationed there. But he did not leave his car.
The military chiefs worked quickly to exert their influence, calling on citizens to cooperate with the police, after weeks of civil strife, and urging a force stained by accusations of abuse and torture to be mindful of the department’s slogan: “The police in the service of the people.”
Security officials said that the recently appointed interior minister, Mahmoud Wagdy, visited units of the department’s feared security services on Saturday, in the hope of returning police officers to work. The officers vanished from Egypt’s streets on Jan. 29 after violent clashes with protesters, and only small numbers have returned.
Reuters reported that Field Marshal Tantawi met with Mr. Wagdy to discuss the officers’ return.
That security force, including plainclothes officers widely accused of abuse, are loathed by the protesters, who have demanded police reform to end brutality and, in particular, torture in police stations. Prosecutors are weighing charges against the previous interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who seemed to ignore or encourage police abuses. But some analysts have suggested that he is a scapegoat, and that the real problem was a government that relied on harsh tactics.
At the same time, neighborhoods in Cairo and other cities have for weeks been forced to function without the police. The lack of public safety was underscored on Friday, when security officials said hundreds of inmates, freed by armed gangs, escaped from a prison in Cairo.
While the Egyptian military’s commitment to international treaties reassured the United States and Israel, there was no indication whether such a pledge would survive a new government. The protesters in the square made it clear that they would reconsider all of Mr. Mubarak’s foreign alliances, and many frequently referred to the deposed president as an Israeli or American agent.
Hamdy Hassan, a former member of Parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood, said the military had “acknowledged the revolution’s legitimacy,” but added that there were still doubts about its intentions. “We want a guarantee that we do not have another tyrant.”
In Cairo, citizens embraced their new reality with humor, mild arguments and celebrations. The official state press gave a measure of the changes.
“The People Toppled the Government” said the headline in Al Ahram, the flagship state-owned national newspaper and government mouthpiece, borrowing a line from the protest movement. Another article noted that Switzerland had frozen the assets of Mr. Mubarak and his aides.
On state television, which for weeks depicted the protesters as a violent mob of foreigners, an anchor spoke of the “youth revolution.”
Security officials said Saturday that the information minister, Anas el-Fekky, who many of the protesters say should be fired, was placed under house arrest.
In Tahrir Square on Saturday, thousands of volunteers who brought their own brooms or cleaning supplies swept streets and scrubbed graffiti from buildings. On the streets around the square, the celebrations from the night before continued, spurred on by honking drivers.
At night, the party started early, as tens of thousands of Cairo residents and visitors from all over Egypt filled the square, dancing and snapping pictures of their children standing on vigilant tanks.
The president’s departure to his home by the Red Sea in Sharm el Sheik seemed for some to have stripped the country’s political woes of some urgency.
Mr. ElBaradei’s brother, Ali ElBaradei, said Mr. ElBaradei was taking the day off and had not been contacted by the military. “They will call when they call,” he said.
Amr Hamzawy, who has acted as a mediator between the protesters and the government, said that “everyone is taking a break,” though he expressed concern with the vague nature of the army’s most recent statements.
“What is the timeline we are looking at?” he said. “Is it September?” He also said it was unclear whether the army council ruling the country favored amending the Constitution or starting from scratch, which is the preferred solution for many of the protesters.
There was also no clear sign from the military about whether it intended to dissolve Parliament, Mr. Hamzawy said, adding that so far the military’s tone had been “very, very positive.”

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