Just this evening, today’s New York Times reports that the Obama administration is in discussions with Egyptian officials about a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and to turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military. The proposal calls for the new government to ‘invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September.’
The uprising in Egypt entered its tenth day with more reports of violence and with the government arresting foreign journalists and human rights activists. The Feburary 3rd Guardian reports that, since violence between protesters and supporters of Mubarak broke out on Thursday, thirteen people have died and some 1200 injured. While the government seems to be making some concessions, Mubarak continues to refuse to step down immediately and claimed that, should he do so, there would be even more disorder and chaos in Egypt.
Christiane Amanpour Interviews Mubarak
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour of ABC News, Mubarak said that he is ‘”fed up”‘ with being Egypt’s president and that ‘”after 62 years in public service I have had enough. I want to go.”‘ With his son Gamal—who has resigned from the ruling National Democratic party, according to Egypt Daily News–beside him, Mubarak said that he had told President Obama:
“You don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now.”
The New York Times notes that the Egyptian government has been seeking to ‘increasingly spread an image that foreigners were inciting the uprising’ in which tens of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the street to call for Mubarak to step down after thirty years in power. These suggestions, the New York Times notes, are ‘part of a days-long Egyptian news media campaign that has portrayed the protesters as troublemakers and ignored the scope of an uprising that has captivated the Arab world.’ In Jordan, King Hussein dissolved his cabinet on Tuesday while in Yemen, the government offered concessions to the opposition, which has promised to call a demonstration every Thursday until March. And in Syria, there were calls for a “day of rage” this weekend against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Egyptian Government Appears to Offer Political Concessions
In an interview on Egyptian state television, recently appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman stated that Mubarak’s son, Gamal, would not run for president in September. He also ‘called for dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains banned, even though it is the country’s most influential opposition group.’ In referring to the Muslim Brotherhood by name ‘rather than the government’s usual coded language,’ Suleiman suggested a significant change in the government’s position toward the group.
However, it seems that the Egyptian government has embarked on a strategy of ‘turning broader opinion in the country against the protests and perhaps wearing down the protesters themselves, some of whom seemed exhausted by two days of clashes.’ Suleiman ‘appealed to Egypt’s sense of decency in allowing the president to serve out his term,’ and he spoke of the ‘mounting losses’ that have been ‘inflicted on a crippled Egyptian economy’ by the uprising.
Violence Against Foreign Observers Rises
Supporters of Mubarak and the Egyptian government have attacked journalists—including CNN’s Anderson Cooper—and smashed their equipment. News media outlets with operations overlooking Tahrir Square, which has been the ‘epicenter’ of the protests, were shut down, today’s New York Times reports.
The attacks on foreign journalists suggest that the government is attempting to control the flow of information about what is going on in Egypt. The Guardian reports that two journalists from the New York Times were detained overnight by the police. the Washington Post’s bureau chief and a photographer were among two dozen journalists detained by the Interior Ministry on Thursday morning.
And it is not only American journalists who have been attacked: The Greek newspaper Kathimerini said that one of its journalists was treated in the hospital for a stab wound to the leg after being attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters. Al-Jazeera—whose Cairo bureau was shut down by the authorities on Sunday—reports that three of its reporters have been detained. Reporter Jean-Francois Lepine of Canada’s CBC all-French RDI network said that he and a cameraman were ‘surrounded by a mob that beat them until they were rescued by the Egyptian army’: ‘”Without them, we probably would have been beaten to death,” he added. White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, has condemned these attacks on journalists as ‘“completely and totally unacceptable.”‘
In addition, two employees of Amnesty International and one from Human Rights Watch have been detained and an informal center set up by human rights workers in Tahrir Square seized by Mubarak’s supporters. The offices of two groups in Cairo – the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights – have been raided and some of their staff arrested.
Said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the regional coordinator of the Campaign to Protect Journalists in the Guardian:
“The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions.”
United Nations Orders Evacuation of Its Staff; World Leaders Call for Immediate Reform in Egypt
With the violence rising, the United Nations has ordered the evacuation of much of its staff on Thursday. And the American Embassy, which has ordered the compulsory evacuation of some diplomats and their families, said that more than 1900 American citizens had been flown out of Egypt on Monday, with more scheduled to leave on Thursday.
Many foreign leaders have been calling for an ‘immediate and profound reform’ of the Egyptian government. A joint statement by the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain reads:
“Only a quick and orderly transition to a broad-based government will make it possible to overcome the challenges Egypt is now facing. That transition process must start now.”
Like President Obama, European leaders ‘stopped short’ of calling for Mubarak’s immediate resignation. As the Guardian notes, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was more direct, saying:
“President Mubarak’s announcement that he will stay until the end of his term and will not run for re-election – I’m not sure that will satisfy the demands of his people. If there is a need for change, it should happen now.”
Friday could ‘prove decisive to the uprising,’ says the New York Times. Organizers have declared tomorrow a ‘Friday of departure’ for Mubarak, and plan to march on the presidential palace. Many Egyptians continue to post updates via Twitter directly from Tahrir Square. They include Hossam el-Hamalawy, who writes on Twitter as @3arabawy; Mona Seif, who writes on Twitter as @monasosh; Seif’s brother, Alaa Abd El Fattah,who writes on Twitter as @alaa; and Ramy Raoof, who writes on Twitter as @ramyraoof. Other activists and bloggers are noted on the New York Times’ Lede blog. If you follow their updates, you get a sometimes minute-by-minute view of what is going on in Egypt, right from Tahrir Square.
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Photo taken on January 29, 2011, by RamyRaoof.