February 2, 2011

BREAKING NEWS!!!

Clashes rage in Tahrir Square: Al Jazeera online

At least one dead and hundreds injured as pro-Mubarak supporters attack protesters seeking his ouster in central Cairo.

Clashes have broken out between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Protesters from both sides threw stones at each other in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of ongoing opposition demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak for the past nine days

The health ministry said at least one person had been killed and another 400 injured in Wednesday’s violence.

Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from the scene, said clashes were still raging and that petrol bombs were being hurled.

Earlier, witnesses said the military allowed thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters, armed with sticks and knives, to enter the square. Opposition groups said Mubarak had sent in thugs to suppress anti-government protests.

One of our correspondents said the army seemed to be standing by and facilitating the clashes. Latest reports suggest that the centre of the square is still in control of the protesters, despite the pro-Mubarak supporters gaining ground.

‘Absolute mayhem’

Witnesses also said that pro-Mubarak supporters were dragging away protesters they had managed to grab and handing them over to security forces.

Salma Eltarzi, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera there were hundreds of wounded people.

“There are no ambulances in sight, and all we are using is Dettol,” she said. “We are all so scared.”

Aisha Hussein, a nurse, said dozens of people were being treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square.

She described a scene of “absolute mayhem”, as protesters first began to flood into the clinic.

“People are coming in with multiple wounds. All kinds of contusions. We had one guy who needed stitches in two places on his face. Some have broken bones.”

Meanwhile, another Al Jazeera correspondent said men on horseback and camels had ploughed into the crowds, as army personnel stood by.

At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten with sticks by the protesters and taken away with blood streaming down their faces.

One of them was dragged away unconscious, with large blood stains on the ground at the site of the clash.

The worst of the fighting was just outside the world famous Egyptian Museum, which was targeted by looters last week.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent added that several a group of pro-government protesters took over army vehicles. They also took control of a nearby building and used the rooftop to throw concrete blocks, stones, and other objects.

Soldiers surrounding the square took cover from flying stones, and the windows of at least one army truck were broken. Some troops stood on tanks and appealed for calm but did not otherwise intervene.

Many of the pro-Mubarak supporters raised slogans like “Thirty Years of Stability, Nine Days of Anarchy”.

Al Jazeera’s online producer in Cairo said rocks were continously being thrown from both sides. He said that though the army had put up barricades around the square, they let the pro-Mubarak supporters through.

“The people on horses are pro-Mubarak supporters, they are a very angry crowd looking for anyone working for Al Jazeera and for Americans. They are trying to get on the other side of the army tanks to get to the anti-Mubarak supporters. More and more pro-Mubarak supporters are coming in.”

Violence

Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, also in Cairo, said that security guards have also been seen amongst the pro-Mubarak supporters, and it may be a precursor to the feared riot police arriving on the scene.

Dutton added that a journalist with the Al-Arabiya channel was stabbed during the clashes.

Fighting took place around army tanks deployed around the square, with stones bouncing off the armoured vehicles.

Several groups were involved in fist fights, and some were using clubs.  The opposition also said many among the pro-Mubarak crowd were policemen in plain clothes.

“But we will not leave … Everybody stay put”

Khalil, anti-government protester

“Members of security forces dressed in plain clothes and a number of thugs have stormed Tahrir Square,” three opposition groups said in a statement.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, accused Mubarak of resorting to scare tactics. Opposition groups have reportedly also seized police identification cards amongst the pro-Mubarak demonstrators.

“I’m extremely concerned, I mean this is yet another symptom, or another indication, of a criminal regime using criminal acts,” ElBaradei said.

“My fear is that it will turn into a bloodbath,” he added, calling the pro-Mubarak supporters a “bunch of thugs”.

But according to state television, the minister of interior denied that plain clothes police had joined pro-Mubarak demonstrations.

Elbaradei has also urged the army to intervene.

“I ask the army to intervene to protect Egyptian lives,” he told Al Jazeera, adding he said it should intervene “today” and not remain neutral.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, told Al Jazeera that the clashes look to be orchestrated.

“It is not the first time the Mubarak government has provoked clashes to quell protests, but if it truly is orchestrated, this is a cynical and bloody approach,” she said.

“The army look to be not intervening at all, and the question remains as to whether they have been ordered not to step in.”

The army has told state television that citizens should arrest those who have stolen military clothing, and to hand them over.

Determined protesters

Despite the clashes, anti-government protesters seeking Mubarak’s immediate resignation said they would not give up until Mubarak steps down.

Pro-Mubarak supporters came riding on camels and horses [Al Jazeera/online producer]
Khalil, in his 60s and holding a stick, blamed Mubarak supporters and undercover security for the clashes.

“But we will not leave,” he told Reuters. “Everybody stay put.”

Mohammed el-Belgaty, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera the “peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square have been turned into chaos”.

“The speech delivered by President Mubarak was very provocative as he used very sentimental words.

“Since morning, hundreds of these paid thugs started to demonstrate pretending to be supporting the President. Now they came to charge inside Tahrir Square armed with batons, sticks and some knives.

“Mubarak is asking the people to choose between him or chaos.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s clashes, supporters of the president staged a number of rallies around Cairo, saying Mubarak represented stability amid growing insecurity, and calling those who want his departure “traitors.”

“Yes to Mubarak, to protect stability,” read one banner in a crowd of 500 gathered near state television headquarters, about 1km from Tahrir Square.

A witness said organisers were paying people $17, to take part in the pro-Mubarak rally, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Other pro-Mubarak demonstrations occurred in the Mohandeseen district, as well as near Ramses Square.

EDITOR: The Dictator totters at last!

Now the that the US president has abandoned his pet, it seems the Egyptian tyrant is loosing some of his venom, but non of his self-deceit. While he now ‘agrees to to stand again’ in September, it is clear that this malignant politician will have to leave now, rather than to torment the Egyptians for another period of madness.

Last night, in a mad scramble to stick to his seat, he even sent a rent-a-crowd to chant “we want Mubarak” at Tahrir Square, as if this was going to fool anyone… He is definitely on his way out now.

Hosni Mubarak vows to stand down at next election – but not now: The Guardian

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement that he will serve out remaining term immediately rejected by angry crowds

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak said: ‘I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.’ Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Egypt’s embattled president, Hosni Mubarak, last night bowed to the pressure of millions of people massing on the streets, pledging to step down at the next election and pave the way for a new leader of the Arab world’s largest country.

But Barack Obama, who effectively withdrew US support for the leader of its key Arab ally in a day of fast moving developments, gave an equivocal welcome to the speech by saying that “change must begin now” while praising the “passion and dignity” of the demonstrators in the streets as an inspiration.

Mubarak said he would not be a candidate for a seventh term but would remain in power to oversee reform and guarantee stability – a position that was immediately rejected by angry crowds and promised yet more drama in Egypt’s extraordinary crisis.

“In the few months remaining in my current term I will work towards ensuring a peaceful transition of power,” Mubarak said. “I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history” – a clear reference to the fate of Tunisia’s president who fled into exile last month.

Looking grave as he spoke on state TV in front of the presidential seal, Mubarak attacked those responsible for protests that had been “manipulated by political forces”, caused mayhem and chaos and endangered the “stability of the nation”.

In a defiant, finger-wagging performance the 82-year-old said he was always going to quit in September – ” a position he had never made public until now.

Opposition leaders had already warned throughout a dramatic eighth day of mass protests that only Mubarak’s immediate departure would satisfy them.

The Egyptian leader made his announcement after meeting a White House special envoy who conveyed the message that Washington had in effect withdrawn US support for the man who had been the linchpin of its Middle East strategy.

The White House declined to reveal details of the message conveyed by the envoy, Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Cairo who is close to Mubarak other than to say he urged him not to seek re-election. But after the Egyptian leader’s speech, Obama spoke to Mubarak for 30 minutes and then made a statement at the White House in which he praised the protesters and called for the transition of power to begin immediately.

But the US president did not explicitly call for Mubarak to resign immediately, leaving open the possibility of Washington accepting the Egyptian leader overseeing the transition in the face of unprecedented protests and an insistence by opposition leaders that they would not negotiate while Mubarak remains in power.

“What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” said Obama.

“Furthermore the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair.”

But in Washington and Cairo there were questions over the Obama administration’s position with some Americanpoliticians, such as John Kerry, chairman of the Senate’s foreign affairs committee, saying Mubarak must resign immediately.

Certainly many Egyptians want that. “May it be tonight, oh God,” chanted the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as they waited to hear the historic speech.

Mubarak’s statement came at the end of a day that saw epic protests. Millions of people rallied across the country.

“Illegitimate,” chanted the vast crowds choking Tahrir Square. “He [Mubarak] will leave, we will not leave,” went another slogan, in a festive atmosphere that belied the tense stalemate that has emerged between the people and the regime over an extraordinary 48 hours.

With the army standing by its landmark pledge not to use force against demonstrators, Mubarak faced an intense and co-ordinated US campaign to persuade him and the powerful Egyptian military to effect “an orderly transition”.

But as troops barricaded the presidential palace with barbed wire, Egypt’s fractured opposition rallied together to reject any talks with the ruling National Democratic party on political reform, insisting the president must stand down before any dialogue can get under way.

On Monday, Mubarak ordered his new vice-president and intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, to begin a dialogue with opposition groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. “Omar Suleiman approached us, and we have rejected his approaches,” Essam el-Arian, a Brotherhood spokesman, told the Guardian. “As long as Mubarak delays his departure, these protests will remain and they will only get bigger.”

Mohammed ElBaradei, 68, the former UN nuclear weapons inspector who has been nominated to lead any negotiations, met protesters and the US ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, insisting afterwards that no talks were possible while the president remained in power.

“I hope to see Egypt peaceful and that’s going to require as a first step the departure of President Mubarak,” he told al-Arabiya TV. “If President Mubarak leaves then everything else will progress correctly.”Mass protests were reported across Egypt, including in Alexandria, Suez and many other cities.

Underlining the regional impact of the crisis, the Jordanian prime minister was sacked after weeks of protests over price rises and unemployment and inspired by events in Tunisia and now Egypt.

The Foreign Office said in a statement last night: “We have been clear in public, and with President Mubarak and his government in private, about the need for a transition to a broader-based government that will produce real, visible and comprehensive change.”

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said a charter flight would be sent to Cairo to bring Britons back but they would have to pay £300 for the service.

Hiding behind the tanks, by Carlos Latuff

Egypt protesters react angrily to Mubarak’s televised address: The Guardian

‘How dare he talk to us like children?’ say demonstrators. ‘If he’s here until September then so are we’

Egypt: Reaction from Cairo’s Tahrir Square Link to this video (use link above)
The crowd had rigged up a huge screen to show al-Jazeera. Mubarak’s speech was broadcast live. As he announced that he would not be standing for another term, the rally exploded in anger.

The screen was pelted with bottles and the cry “Irhal, irhal” went up repeatedly: “Leave, leave”. It was taken up by the hundred thousand people who thronged Tahrir Square. At one point demonstrators held up their shoes to the screen – an insulting gesture in Arab culture.

None of them were appeased by Mubarak’s announcement. If anything, they were emboldened to step up their protests and to push their demands further. Many were saying that not only must Mubarak leave immediately but that the whole of his National Democratic party regime had to go and should be put on trial.

“If he’s here until September then so are we,” said Amr Gharbeia, an activist who is camping out in the square.

“Perhaps this would have been enough to appease people a few days ago but it’s much too late now. He has to leave and he has to leave today,” added Ibraheem Kabeel, a 26-year-old physician.

“This has only made us angrier. He must leave today. He can’t wait until September. Mubarak’s plane is ready,” said Ahmed Defouki, a 30 year old pharmacist. “Everybody here has different opinions politically but on this issue we are united: Mubarak leaves today.”

A new energy infused the crowds. People seemed more excited, sensing that they could bring Mubarak down. Another protester added: “This is the Tunisian scenario, where Ben Ali promised to stand down eventually but was quickly removed.”

A prominent liberal dissident, Gamila Ismail, dismissed the president’s overtures. “He gave us nothing concrete,” she said. “You can’t have clean elections and a fair parliament until you have a political system untainted by emergency law.

“You can’t have political justice while the state security holds the political apparatus in its grip. Mubarak danced around these issues, preferring instead to show off his muscles to us. He’s trying to intimidate us.

“He did not mention the citizens who have died from the bullets and bombs of his police force. This will provoke us even more. He wants this country to be burned down. This is a president playing with fireworks.”

Karim Medhat Ennarah, a 27-year-old worker, said: “I watched this speech in a coffee house downtown where everybody was winding down after a long day’s protest but when the speech ended the whole coffee house rose as one and began marching back to Tahrir Square. He’s a man trying to bargain without realising that he has nothing left to bargain with.”

Another demonstrator, Abdallah Moktar, caught the mood. “This speech has angered us much more now. How dare he talk to us like naughty children? He must go immediately,” he said.

Egypt protests: In Alexandria, anti-government demonstrators clash with Mubarak supporters Link to this video
In Alexandria, however, following Mubarak’s broadcast his supporters clashed with protesters occupying the main square. Sticks were brandished and rocks thrown. Bursts of gunfire were heard, thought to have been soldiers shooting into the air in an attempt to separate the two factions. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

There were similar, small-scale confrontations in central Cairo. Hundreds of pro-Mubarak activists, some on motorcycles, tried to march on Tahrir Square following the speech but were repelled by the demonstrators. Some, carrying sticks, were chanting: “We love you Hosni” and “We will defend you with our blood and souls.”

Earlier hundreds of thousands of people had crammed into Tahrir Square to call for an end to Mubarak’s three decades in power. Government security forces were nowhere to be seen.

The protesters hung vast banners from buildings, beat drums and chanted, they picnicked with their children on patches of scrubby grass, and walked round the square holding up vast Egyptian flags.

Most of all they called for their president to go in a multitude of different ways. “Wake up, Mubarak, this is your last day,” they chanted. “We won’t leave until you do.”

Their banners – in Arabic, English, French and Spanish, a nod to the international audience watching this extraordinary uprising unfold – said “Game over” and “Leave now and we’ll leave you alone”.

Above the crowd a helicopter circled, feeding live images to Mubarak’s senior security officials.

They will have seen the crush below, but not the detail in it: families and friends, bearded Islamic students, work colleagues, the rich, the middle-class and the poor putting hands on shoulders to move through the vast press of bodies in snaking lines.

They won’t have seen the happy chance meetings of friends and colleagues; the intense pockets of debate about the future of the revolution that broke out on dozens of street corners; the faces lit up with the exhilaration of free expression and free assembly, as exciting as for any crowd at a football match or a rock concert. It was, as one banner had it, a festival of freedom. But what was truly extraordinary about this gathering was how far Egypt has come in a week.

People who once would not have thought of coming to protest, who would never have thought of speaking ill of a president who has ruled for 30 years or given their names to foreign journalists, have found a voice.

So they filed in their hundreds and thousands through checkpoints run by the army and checkpoints run by volunteers – who frisked all male protesters, checking their IDs to ensure that no plain clothes police officers could infiltrate the crowd. The volunteers passed out printed leaflets from soldiers asking for a peaceful assembly. Young men came with free boxes of mango juice and water to hand out, round bread and biscuits, cheese and dates. Others moved through the throng collecting litter and holding up signs for the camera.

It was a victory over fear that was assisted by a declaration from Egypt’s army last night that it would not use force against those who came out on the streets today.

So they came in numbers vaster than anyone had predicted, gathering not only in the capital, but also in Alexandria, Suez and other major cities. The march of the million, Egypt’s protest movement called it.

Even if it is not certain whether they reached that figure, it is clear that a transformation has taken place.

In Alexandria, at the height of the demonstration, the crowd went wild as a man in army fatigues was hoisted on to shoulders and carried into the square. He brandished his ID card and waved a national flag before the cheering masses. Was he a soldier? “Of course,” said Marwa Massoud, 34. “We are the army and the people, united.”

The reasons protesters gave for their presence varied only in the words they chose, not their substance. “Mubarak has lost the legitimacy of his people. It is the end of 30 years of dictatorship,” said Khaled Mohammed, 52. “We want the same as every civilised nation, fair elections.” A man in a wheelchair grinned and gave a thumbs-up: “Egypt! Egypt!”

A group of doctors in white coats unfurled a banner demanding the fall of the president. Almost all the signs were scrawled on cardboard ripped from cartons, a sign of a grassroots revolt. The crowd roared: “Wake up, Mubarak, today is your last day.”

The streets belonged to Mubarak’s opponents; those with different views kept their heads down. “Not everyone wants him out,” said a taxi driver. “He’s not all bad. These people are crazy.”

Commenting on the military’s assurances regarding protesters’ security, Muhammad Warsi, a 60-year-old surgeon, in Cairo said: “The high command of the army delivered a hidden message.

“It is the same message that the elites of the country’s society are delivering. They’re saying [to Mubarak], ‘We loved you 30 years ago. We don’t want to humiliate you. We don’t want you to end like [Romanian president] Nicolae Ceausescu. Go in peace.'”

Admiration for Egypt’s youth was a common theme running through the crowd.

“I’m ashamed of my generation. We old people sat back and lived through decades of corruption without lifting a finger,” said Aza el-Hadari, a 63-year-old bookshop owner. “This new generation has given me the best years of my life back.

“I feel sorry that Mubarak, who was after all a hero of the 1973 war effort, should be reduced to leaving with such little dignity, but he has brought this upon himself.

“Mubarak will go down in Egyptian history as the president who ordered security forces to fire live bullets into the bodies of his sons and daughters. There’s no way back from that.”

Mohamed Warsi was sitting on a bench waiting for his daughters, like many other recent additions to Egypt’s burgeoning revolution. He told a joke doing the rounds. “OK,” he says, “So Hosni Mubarak is lying on his death bed and his doctor comes and says: ‘Hosni, you have to prepare a message to say goodbye to your people.’ ‘For my people?’ asks Mubarak. ‘Why? Where are the people going?'” Today the answer came – to Tahrir Square, to bid their president of 30 years goodbye.

Israel urges West: Make sure new Egypt regime honors peace deal: Haaretz

Prime Minister wants international community to make clear that new leadership must meet a series of conditions similar to those posed by Hamas in order to gain recognition of legitimacy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked U.S. President Barack Obama and a number of other Western leaders in recent days to make it clear to any new Egyptian regime that it must abide fully by the peace agreement with Israel.

Senior Israeli officials said that Netanyahu would like the international community to make it clear to any new Egyptian leadership that will emerge that it must meet a series of conditions in return for receiving legitimacy in the eyes of the West – similar to those posed to Hamas following the Islamist movement’s victory in Palestinian elections. The Mideast Quartet had demanded, and still requires, that in return for recognition, Hamas relinquish terrorism, recognize Israel and accept as binding previous negotiated agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

Although Netanyahu is not drawing a comparison between Hamas rule and a new Egyptian government, he would like to see, along with demands for democracy and respect for human rights, that the international community set as a condition that any new government in Cairo abide by the international agreements to which the Mubarak regime had signed, according to officials.

“The matter was made clear to the Americans and many other countries,” a senior official in Jerusalem said. “We are not opposed to democracy in Egypt but it is important for us to preserve the peace agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Bureau issued a special statement yesterday to clarify the Israeli position on the situation in Egypt.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s interest is to preserve the peace with Egypt,” the message read. “Israel believes that the international community must require any Egyptian government to preserve the peace agreement with Israel.”

EDITOR: Tony has now lost it altogether

Yesterday we thought only Peres and Netanyahu have been left as Mubarak’s friends, but here come the warmonger and war criminal Tony Blair, and throws his silly hat into the ring. If one was ever in need of proof that Blair is not connected to reality, and lives in his own Bushite world, this is it! While Tony may not know the first thing about Egypt, he certainly knows what his paymasters want him to say about it.

Tony Blair describes Mubarak as ‘immensely courageous and a force for good’: The Guardian

The former British prime minister praised Mubarak over his role in the negotiations and also warned against a rush to elections that could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power

Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak. Photograph: Reuters
Tony Blair has described Hosni Mubarak, the beleaguered Egyptian leader, as “immensely courageous and a force for good” and warned against a rush to elections that could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

The former British prime minister, who is now an envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, praised Mubarak over his role in the negotiations and said the west was right to back him despite his authoritarian regime because he had maintained peace with Israel.

But that view is likely to anger many Egyptians who believe they have had to endure decades of dictatorship because the US put Israel’s interests ahead of their freedom.

Speaking to Piers Morgan on CNN, Blair defended his backing for Mubarak.

“Where you stand on him depends on whether you’ve worked with him from the outside or on the inside. I’ve worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians so this is somebody I’m constantly in contact with and working with and on that issue, I have to say, he’s been immensely courageous and a force for good,” he said. “Inside Egypt, and I have many Egyptian friends, it’s clear that there’s been a huge desire for change.”

But asked if the west had not been an obstacle to change, Blair defended the policies of his and other governments.

“I don’t think the west should be the slightest bit embarrassed about the fact that it’s been working with Mubarak over the peace process but at the same time it’s been urging change in Egypt,” he said.

Blair argued that the region has unique problems which make political change different from the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe. He said the principal issue is the presence of Islamist parties which he fears will use democracy to gain power and then undermine the freedoms people seek.

“It’s perfectly natural for those of from the outside to want to support this movement for change at the same time as saying let’s be careful about this and make sure that happens in this process of change is something that ends in free and fair elections and a democratic system of government and it doesn’t get taken over or channelled in to a different direction that is at odds with what the people of Egypt want,” he said.

Blair said that meant there should not be a rush to elections in Egypt.

“I don’t think there’s a majority for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On the other hand, what you’ve got to watch is that they are extremely well organised and well funded whereas those people who are out on the street at the moment, many of them will be extremely well intentioned people, but they’re not organised in political parties yet. So one of the issues in the transition is to give time for those political parties to get themselves properly organised,” he said.

But Blair said he did not doubt that change is coming to Egypt.

“People want a different system of government. They’re going to get it. The question is what emerges from that. In particular I think the key challenge for us is how do we help partner this process of change and help manage it in such a way that what comes out of it is open minded, fair, democratic government,” he said.

Israel urges West: Make sure new Egypt regime honors peace deal: Haaretz
Prime Minister wants international community to make clear that new leadership must meet a series of conditions similar to those posed by Hamas in order to gain recognition of legitimacy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked U.S. President Barack Obama and a number of other Western leaders in recent days to make it clear to any new Egyptian regime that it must abide fully by the peace agreement with Israel.

Senior Israeli officials said that Netanyahu would like the international community to make it clear to any new Egyptian leadership that will emerge that it must meet a series of conditions in return for receiving legitimacy in the eyes of the West – similar to those posed to Hamas following the Islamist movement’s victory in Palestinian elections. The Mideast Quartet had demanded, and still requires, that in return for recognition, Hamas relinquish terrorism, recognize Israel and accept as binding previous negotiated agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

Although Netanyahu is not drawing a comparison between Hamas rule and a new Egyptian government, he would like to see, along with demands for democracy and respect for human rights, that the international community set as a condition that any new government in Cairo abide by the international agreements to which the Mubarak regime had signed, according to officials.

“The matter was made clear to the Americans and many other countries,” a senior official in Jerusalem said. “We are not opposed to democracy in Egypt but it is important for us to preserve the peace agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Bureau issued a special statement yesterday to clarify the Israeli position on the situation in Egypt.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s interest is to preserve the peace with Egypt,” the message read. “Israel believes that the international community must require any Egyptian government to preserve the peace agreement with Israel.”

EDITOR: A clear view from Israel

As usual, Amira Hass sees through the haze and deluded self-interest of Israeli political mumbo-jumbo.

When Israel’s protective net of tyranny tears: Haaretz

We have not yet reached the stage in which the machinery of Israeli repression breaks up into its component parts – the people – who instead of obeying, begin to think.
By Amira Hass
There is a miraculous moment in popular uprisings, when fear of the machinery of repression no longer deters people in their masses and that machinery begins to unravel into its component parts – who are also people. They stop obeying and begin thinking.

Where is that moment for us? A group of Palestinian businesspeople had discussed the possibility of joining the popular struggle in the villages near Ramallah against the separation fence. That was before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The conclusion, a participant told me, was that they cannot allow themselves to take part in those activities because the very next day “Beit El” (the nickname for the Civil Administration, whose base is located near the eponymous settlement ) will revoke all the special passes that allow their businesses to exist. The experiences of others in similar circumstances (for example, senior Fatah officials who deigned to take part in a demonstration or two and had their VIP passes revoked ) are enough to create the fear.

A machinery of repression depends not only on guns and torture in cellars. As the Soviet-bloc regimes proved, bureaucracy is central to the system. The same is true with us: Far from the barriers of transparency of a proper democratic society, Israel has created a complex and invisible bureaucracy that completely controls Palestinian freedom of movement, and hence freedom of employment, livelihood and studies, the freedom to fall in love and establish a family, to organize and other basic liberties.

Any regime that does not respect these liberties is automatically categorized as “tyrannical.” We have escaped this categorization because in our case it is a collective tyranny of Israeli-Jews (those who profit from the system ) over the Palestinians. The representatives of this collective tyranny, which systematically harms the sanctity of ownership of the other and discriminates against the other, are admired army officers, well-spoken Defense Ministry officials, architects, contractors and others. But the freedoms do not care about categories; an entire people is still denied them.

The Israeli-made machinery of repression has learned how to manufacture a protective net in the form of the Palestinian Authority. It does all it can not to upset the order of things, so no match will be lit that blows up the mirage of economic prosperity and the construction of national institutions.

The picket line organized through Facebook in front of the Egyptian representative office in Ramallah on Sunday was broken up by the PA’s security forces. The young man who initiated it was tracked down and detained for prolonged questioning. The Hamas regime is also afraid of matches. Some 25 people who organized through Facebook came on Monday to Gaza’s Unknown Soldier Square to express support for the Egyptian people. They, too, were set upon by enthusiastic security people. Six women were arrested.

Sooner or later, the protective nets the Israeli tyranny has excelled at creating will tear. Will the masses flood the streets then, will they break through the barriers and roadblocks, march to Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Psagot, as my colleagues Akiva Eldar and Aluf Benn have predicted?

Let us not delude ourselves. There will be no confusion here. Precise instructions, clear and immediate, will be given to the Israeli soldiers. The IDF of Operation Cast Lead will not give up its heritage. Even if it is a march of 200,000 unarmed civilians – the order will be to shoot. There will not be 10 dead, because the army of Cast Lead will want to outdo itself. We have not yet reached the stage in which the machinery of Israeli repression breaks up into its component parts – the people – who instead of obeying, begin to think.

Three questions for Marwan Bishara: Al Jazeera online

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst comments on the mass public revolt in Egypt.

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Nationwide public protests against Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, and his government shows no signs of abating.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, comments on three crucial issues.

Can Mubarak manage the overwhelming show of dissent and stay in political office until the Presidential elections later in the year?

For all practical purpose, Mubarak is history. It will take no less of a miracle or terrible bloodshed to keep him in office any longer.

The cosmetic changes he has carried out over the last few days are meaningless, no less because they have been carried through presidential decrees – this underlines his insistence to micro manage urgent state matters without any role or attention to parliament, the party, or the people in the street.

An orderly and peaceful transition is better off without him, or his new vice, Omar Sulieman, reportedly, among others, the CIA’s point counterpart in Egypt that partnered in the rendition programs that led to terrible torture of innocent people.

The longer they remain in power the messier the transition would be in Egypt. On the other hand, Mubarak and company could be offered assurances that if they agreed to step aside promptly and peacefully, that they would not be prosecuted.

That the revolution would welcome all into a new open and free political process.

Will the ensuing political instability be a boon for the people of Egypt, or will the vacuum be an opportunity for further repression?

Popular uprisings and revolutions are by nature fluid and unpredictable, as they are more concerned with getting rid of the old than defining the new regime.

They promise change, but can make no guarantees that such change is non violent in the short term or lead to pluralistic democracy in the long term.

A peaceful transition depends mostly on the existing power brokers, especially the military and its political partners in Cairo – they are to be blamed if it turns violent.

However, if they agree to cede power,  Egypt’s transition to a more open and pluralistic system promises to be less chaotic than many other revolutions. Already the nature of the uprising and its various networks and leaders have shown to be wise and responsible.

The speed in which they have organised their demonstrations building on its civic and political dimensions, and the skill in which they created temporary representation that can negotiate and manage a peaceful transition, is impressive and bode well for the future of the country.

But it will take more than elections and the rule of the majority to guarantee Egyptian democracy. The rule of democratic principles need to be enshrined in a new constitution that regulates among others the role of the military and the authorities of the president who must vow to respect and protect.

If Mubarak is ousted who or what has the likeliest chance of replacing him?

What’s important is WHAT replaces Mubarak the regime, not WHO will replace Mubarak the person. Replacing Mubarak the person but maintaining Mubarak’s regime would be meaningless,  as any new figure-leader will continue to answer to the same bankrupt power structure, not to the people.

On the other hand, replacing the Mubarak regime with a new democratic system could guarantee that whoever becomes president will abide by the will of the people and the country’s institutions.

Whether it’s one of the more pronounced opposition figures, or one of the nationally accepted figures, or even a temporary caretaker council of both, a transition period needs to be short and prepare for elections.

Transparent and free elections can bring more surprises than that of 3 decades of more of the same … ‘and the winner is, Mubarak..!!’

The guessing game has already started regarding the role and size of the liberal, Left or Muslim Brotherhood camps and popularity of their leaders.  At last, Egyptians will give us their own answer.

And eventually, amend or write up a new constitution that guarantees their right to change their mind about who will lead them next and after.

PACBI has inserted the above banner on its homepage today in solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt. If you wish to use the above PACBI design, just credit PACBI and go ahead!

The stanzas above are by Abu al-Qassim Ash-Shabbi, a major figure in Arab poetry from Tunisia. They are part of a poem that has become the “anthem” of the Tunisian popular uprising against the dictator, Ben Ali, and is now also chanted by the Egyptian youth demonstrating for freedom, social justice and dignity at Tahrir Square.

Clashes erupt amid Cairo protests: BBC

The struggle for control of the future of Egypt continued in Cairo

There have been fierce clashes in the Egyptian capital between supporters of President Hosni Mubarak and protesters calling on him to resign immediately.

State TV said a member of the security forces had been killed and hundreds of people wounded in pitched battles in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Gunshots have been heard in the area.

Earlier, the army urged people to go home following nine days of protests that led Mr Mubarak to vow not to stand for re-election in September.

The violence comes after more than a week of opposition demonstrations that have left about 300 people dead, according to UN estimates.

Counter-protests

Up to 2,000 anti-Mubarak demonstrators had spent Tuesday night in Tahrir Square, the main focus of the protests, saying the president’s pledge was insufficient and chanting: “We will not leave!”

Pro-Mubarak groups have been pushing their way to the edges of Tahrir Square all afternoon.

Fights have been breaking out and large numbers of missiles – bricks, stones and bits of ironwork – have been flying through the air on both sides.

During the day, about half the demonstrators in the square slowly filtered out.

There are too few soldiers here to keep any kind of order. The most they can do is prevent the big numbers of Mubarak loyalists from getting into the square, bottling them up into huge groups on the edges.

From time to time in the side streets, big pro-Mubarak groups gather around people who have left the square, shouting at them and punching them.

There have been reports of people being knifed, but the casualties you mostly see are from the bricks and stones which have been raining down indiscriminately.

The net effect of the arrival in force of groups of Mubarak supporters seems to have been to strengthen the resolve of the hard-line demonstrators to stay inside the square. The gradual drift away from the square seems to have stopped.

For now, it is the only place where the demonstrators can feel more or less safe.

On Wednesday, thousands of supporters of President Mubarak arrived in buses and surged into the square, dismantling barricades.

“Let the man (Mubarak) take care of you until his time is up,” Mohamed Shafik, 51, told Reuters news agency. “Mubarak wants stability and we want stability as well.”

One anti-government protester told the BBC that pro-Mubarak activists had initiated the violence.

“They started throwing stones at us,” the man, named as Zaccaria, said. “Then some of us started throwing stones at them and then we chased them out of the square. They returned once again with the horses and the whips and the thugs.”

Opposition supporters say many in the pro-government camp were paid by the authorities to demonstrate, and allowed into the square by the troops surrounding it.

Repeated bursts of gunfire have been heard. Some reports say troops fired warning shots to disperse the crowds.

Ibrahim Zadran, co-ordinator of the opposition National Association for Change, told the BBC that some pro-government activists had used firearms and shot 15 protesters.

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, who has been to Tahrir Square, said he had seen people with nasty wounds.

A health ministry spokesman quoted by state TV said 400 people had been injured so far and that one security-related man had been killed in Wednesday’s clashes.

In a BBC interview, a doctor treating victims at a Cairo hospital put the number of wounded at 500.

As darkness fell, people were seen throwing rocks and petrol bombs from rooftops on to the protesters below.

The clashes later died down, although there were petrol bomb incidents into the night. Many anti-government protesters remain in Tahrir Square.

International reactions

Clashes between the rival groups were also reported in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria.

Late on Wednesday Vice-President Omar Suleiman urged “all citizens to return to their homes and abide by the curfew”.

The violence drew condemnation from British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“If it turns out that the regime in any way has sponsored or tolerated this violence, that is completely unacceptable,” he said after meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in London.

Mr Ban said: “Any attack against the peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable and I strongly condemn it.”

In Washington, the state department reiterated a call for all sides to show restraint.

In its earlier statement, Egypt’s army called for demonstrators to return to their homes.

“Your message has arrived, your demands became known… you are capable of bringing normal life to Egypt,” said a spokesman in a message broadcast on state television.

With these ‘supporters’ Mr Mubarak can deny that he has ordered a crackdown”

In a speech on Tuesday night Mr Mubarak – who has been in office for nearly 30 years – promised to leave at the next polls and pledged constitutional reform.

He said he would devote his remaining time in power to ensuring a peaceful transition.

US President Barack Obama responded by saying an orderly transition “must begin now”.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei dismissed Mr Mubarak’s move as “a trick” to stay in power, and Tahrir Square protesters have vowed to continue their demonstrations until Mr Mubarak quits.

Abdelhalim Kandil, leader of Egypt’s Kifaya (Enough) opposition movement, said Mr Mubarak’s offer not to serve a sixth term was not enough.

“I will tell you very simply that there is an unprecedented popular movement that rejects the presence of the president on a scope that has not been seen before, that is calling for the will of the people to be imposed,” he said.

If Mr Mubarak does not step down, demonstrators have planned to march on the presidential palace.

Meanwhile, internet services were returning to the country, having been cut off for days by the government.

An Arab Sprting?: BBC

By Roger Hardy

Protesters in Cairo have made it clear they want President Mubarak to leave

The Arab order is crumbling. But whether it will collapse or somehow re-invent itself is far from certain.

Arab rulers, from North Africa to the Gulf, in rich countries and poor, find themselves in essentially the same boat.

Virtually without exception, they preside over corrupt autocracies with little or no legitimacy in the eyes of their people.

All of them now watch Egypt’s “days of rage” with mounting trepidation. In the fate of the ailing Egyptian ruler, 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, they see their own.

Western commentators are right to say the protests are about “them” rather than “us”.

The anger of the protesters is largely directed inwards – at a bankrupt Arab order – rather than outwards at Israel, the United States or the West.

Largely, but not entirely. The West is complicit in Arab autocracy.

For decades, American and European leaders chose stability over democracy. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Jordan has announced political reforms following rallies in the capital, Amman
President George W Bush tried, briefly, to pursue a “freedom agenda” in the Middle East but it failed, and ageing autocrats could once again breathe freely.

Now, Western leaders including Barack Obama find themselves essentially onlookers as events move with dizzying speed towards an outcome none can foresee.

Others are spectators, too, even if they pretend otherwise.

Iran is acting as if the Arab masses are belatedly following the example of the Khomeini revolution.

In fact, if the young demonstrators have a role model – and some actively disavow one – it is democratic Turkey rather than theocratic Iran.

Also a bystander is al-Qaeda, whose pretensions to being the voice of Arab and Muslim discontent have been punctured.

Who owns the future?
Analysts would do well to exercise a little humility.

My own guess, for what it is worth, is that this is not the beginning of an Arab spring, but of something more messy and drawn-out.

The old order still has plenty of fight in it.

The battle for the Arab future is under way. Since the stakes are high, the struggle will be fierce.

Roger Hardy is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC.

Jonathan Cook: Can the Palestinian Authority survive?: IOA

31 JANUARY 2011
‘Our leaders are negotiating the terms of our imprisonment’

Jonathan Cook

With the 18-year-long Middle East peace process finally pronounced dead, is the Palestinian Authority finished too?

That is the question being asked by Palestinians in the wake of a week of damaging revelations that Palestinian negotiators secretly made major concessions to Israel in talks on Jerusalem, refugees and borders.

The PA — the Palestinians’ government-in-the-making, led by Mahmoud Abbas — was already in crisis before the disclosure of official Palestinian documents by Al Jazeera television last week.

Now, said George Giacaman, the head of the Ramallah-based research centre Muwatin, which advocates greater Palestinian democracy, the PA’s “back is to the wall”.

The question of the PA’s survival, and the future direction of Palestinian politics, has gained added urgency as the wider Middle East is rocked by unrest, from Tunisia to Yemen.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of the Jerusalem think-tank Passia, said the Palestinians were “at a crossroads”. Although the streets had remained largely quiet until now, he said it was only a matter of time before Palestinians started to make clear their revulsion at their leadership.

“It is now much clearer to Palestinians that they are living in a prison and that the PA leaders are there only to negotiate the terms of our imprisonment,” he said.

He, like many other Palestinian analysts, declared the negotiations for a two-state solution over.

That sentiment appears to be shared by a majority of Palestinians. A survey in December, before the leak of 1,600 official documents, by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that 71 per cent of Palestinians believed they would not have a state within five years. The percentage is likely to have risen sharply.

In a sign of the mounting panic in Ramallah, Palestinian leaders frantically launched a rearguard action last week. Initially, they claimed the documents were fabricated, and suggested that Al Jazeera was siding with Mr Abbas’s political rivals, the Islamic party Hamas, to bring down the PA.

But several officials have confirmed the papers’ authenticity, and the PA has redirected its main attention to discovering who was behind the leak.

Mr Abdul Hadi said Palestinians would increasingly draw the conclusion that their intended future was living in “one binational state under an apartheid regime” administered by Israel.

“At the moment Abbas has his followers out on the streets but the Palestinian people are awakening to the reality of their situation,” he said.

Samir Awad, a politics professor at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, agreed that Israel was imposing a de facto one-state solution. “The fight for national independence is over and, if it is to survive, the PA must quickly reinvent its role. Palestinians are now in for the long haul: a struggle for their civil and political rights in a single state,” he said.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University in Israel and an expert on Palestinian politics, warned, however, that, as the PA faltered, Israel and the US would intensify their efforts to strengthen the authority’s security forces and its repressive role.

With politics stifled inside the occupied territories, said Mr Ghanem, it was crucial that outside Palestinian leaders step in to redefine the Palestinian national movement, including Palestinians such as himself who live inside Israel and groups in the diaspora.

Mr Giacaman said the PA had long ago outlived its official purpose.

It was created by the Oslo accords as a temporary administration in the transition to Palestinian statehood, proposed as a five-year period during which Israel was supposed to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza in stages.

Since the Camp David negotiations ended in deadlock in 2000, the PA has clung to power, with limited control over less than 40 per cent of the West Bank as Israel has continued to build settlements in the area under its rule.

Mr Abbas has threatened on several occasions to dissolve the PA, most recently in December, when he warned: “I cannot accept to remain the president of an authority that doesn’t exist.”

But Mr Giacaman said such threats were hollow, designed to put pressure on Israel to return to negotiations out of fear that it would otherwise have to take on the heavy financial burden of direct military reoccupation.

The PA, however, was in much deeper trouble after the leaking of the documents, Mr Giacaman said. “Without a peace process, it needs to justify its continuing existence.”

The most likely immediate focus, he said, was intensifying international action through the United Nations, by pushing for a resolution at the Security Council against the settlements.

He also thought the PA would consider changing its position and actively championing the Goldstone Report, the findings of a UN commission that suggest Israel committed war crimes during its attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

One of the leaked papers revealed that Mr Abbas had agreed under US pressure to shelve the report rather than take it to the UN General Assembly.

“The problem for the PA is that it needs to generate diplomatic crises to get the international community to intervene. But this will put it in confrontation with Israel and the United States. Israel can always threaten to cut the $60 million taxes it transfers every month to the PA,” Mr Giacaman said.

The PA’s threat to unilaterally declare statehood and then seek recognition at the UN, he added, would not change the reality on the ground. “Even if most countries recognise the state, it will still be a state under occupation,” Mr Giacaman said.

In the meantime, the diplomatic vacuum was likely to be filled by Israel. It could promote a plan similar to the one being advanced by Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right foreign minister, to recognise a Palestinian state in temporary borders. Or it could continue its separation policies, withdrawing from more of the West Bank and encouraging the Palestinians to take over what was left behind.

Mr Awad said the collapse of the PA held out many dangers for the Palestinians. One was the possibility of a convulsive civil war between the Fatah party of Mr Abbas and Hamas. Another, he said, was the “Aghanistanisation” of the occupied territories, as tribal warlords took limited control of the territorial enclaves Israel was not interested in.

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