February 9, 2011

EDITOR: The Egyptian Revolution stands firm!

Today unions across Egypt have joined the protest, making it crystal clear that it will not be over until Mubarak is out. In his bizarre speech he has claimed that he must stay to make sure there is ‘no chaos’! It is exactly his remaining as president which causes and deepens the chaos. While he does OK with Israel and the US, and few other lackeys including the UK, he is not chnging what all Egyptians are saying for over two weeks now.

In the article from Cairo by Hani Shukrallah, the shenanigans of the regime are laid out to dry, and the impressive steadfastness of the protest movement is clear. While the regime has all the time in the world, as well as all the money in Egypt (see yesterday’s entry about the bounty of £70 Billion stolen from the poor of Egypt by the dictator Mubarak) so this is still unequal battle, what with Obama switching sides again to back the dead horse, no doubt under Israeli pressure and Pentagon ‘analysis’. Still, the old regime is a spent force, and the fear which permeated Egyptian society is gone.

Egyptians have chosen, time for the state to accept their choice: Al Ahram

The choices facing Egypt are not between dialogue and coup d’état, as the vice president said yesterday, but between a rickety authoritarianism and full vibrant democracy
Hani Shukrallah , Wednesday 9 Feb 2011

It totally escapes me what the vice-president was talking about when he issued us with the dire warning that Egypt faced two choices, either “dialogue” or “coup d’état. Trying to make sense of this most ominous statement, one is first of all struck by what coup d’état is supposed to mean in the context of our current reality.

There are two senses in which Gen. Suleiman’s use of the term may be taken, a “nice”, one and a “grim” one, though neither appears to render the statement awfully comprehensible. In the nicer sense, the vice president is telling us that if the army, which is starkly the single power running the country these days, responds to the revolution’s demands and asks Mubarak to step down, this would be tantamount to a coup, which – reading between the lines – would lead to military rule.

The argument, if that’s what it is, fails to convince. A popular revolution has been sweeping the country for the past two weeks, and all indications are that it is gaining momentum, rather than losing steam. For the state to bow to the people’s will, as expressed on streets throughout the country is not a coup d’état, is simply to bow to the people’s will. This cannot, under any legal or moral standard be deemed a coup d’état.

We’re not reinventing the wheel here. It’s happened in Tunisia a few weeks ago, it swept through in all of Eastern Europe in the late 80s, indeed, it’s been happening across the globe from Latin and Central America to south and East Asia. In fact, it has been our long benighted Arab region that seemed to be the exception, standing immune to waves upon waves of democratization, which were making themselves felt everywhere else.

It so happens also that the army, here as in most of the above example, has been the state body able to step forward and play the role of power broker and guarantor of the transition to democracy.

Neither is the implied threat of military rule very credible. Popular revolutions, I wrote before, do not create military governments, military coups and counter-revolutions do.

Which brings us to the other, darker, possible interpretation of the vice president’s warning: a counter-revolution. Certainly that remains a possibility, but I’m sure the vice president is fully aware that it is becoming more remote with every passing day.

The thing is we’ve already had one counter-revolution and it has failed miserably, though at a horrible cost. We now have a pretty clear idea of how that counter-revolution was conducted, and the identity of some of those who directed it.

We now know, and I am sure the vice president and the prime minister are equally, if not more cognizant of the facts: an alliance of NDP officials and Oligarchs and the interior ministry and Egyptian state TV pursued a deliberate “scorched earth” strategy aimed at sowing fear and panic among the Egyptian people and the international community to show that without the Mubarak regime Egypt would fall into inescapable chaos and destruction.
So that we do not forget, the cynical criminality of this strategy involved the killing of some 300 peacefully protesting citizens and the wounding of thousands, the torching of public buildings, the attempted looting, torching and destruction of the Egyptian Museum, the overnight disappearance of the whole internal security apparatus and the synchronized opening of prison gates around the country, meanwhile letting loose criminal gangs of police agents alongside police and oligarch-run networks of thugs and diverse criminal elements to attack private citizens, public and private property, to murder, torch and loot. This, by the way, is the same “coalition” that was responsible for wholesale rigging of the 2010 and other elections.

The counter-revolution’s last card lay in the madness of the “foreign fingers” in the Egyptian uprising. The police agents and their thuggish friends were sent to infiltrate the “popular committees”, spread misinformation and hysteria about allege Israeli, American, Iranian, Hamas, Hizbullah and all sorts of other foreign conspiracies to foment revolution in the country. Foreigners, including a great many “foreign-looking” Egyptians were exposed to brutal attacks everywhere. The very people who were bemoaning the loss of foreign investment and tourism were willing to ensure that no one elsewhere in the world will even nod our way, possibly for a great many years.

By yesterday, and as Egypt witnessed its largest popular demonstrations ever, involving millions across the country, the counter-revolution looked dead and buried.

This is not to say that a revival of the counter-revolution is impossible. Neither can we as yet totally discount the possibility of a different kind of counter-revolution, as for instance, in having the army at last shoot at the people. Both scenarios are unlikely, however. For its part, the army’s commitment not to resort to violence against the people is now stronger than ever. We’ve even had the vice-president saying that President Mubarak, rather late in the day, has ordered all security forces to refrain from harming the protesters in any way.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the axis of evil, mentioned above, will once again resume its activities. After all, we are yet to see any of those responsible for crimes ranging from murder to high treason arrested or prosecuted, despite the repeated promises to do so.

The network remains intact, but there is every indication that it’s done its worst, it has been defeated, physically, as well as exposed. With the police agents and their thugs out of the picture, the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir sq continue to amaze the nation and world by the peaceful, and outstandingly self-disciplined nature of their ongoing.

The vice president is right, however, in saying that Egypt today faced two choices. He still needs to become aware of what these really are, however; for these two choices are none other than to maintain the old authoritarian order, cosmetically pluralized. Or to effect a radical transition to a fully democratic system of government.

Cosmetically treated authoritarianism, we’ve had for the past 30 years. Indeed, that’s what we have had more or less of since the late President Sadat launched his experiment in controlled pluralism way back in 1976. And, if a full scale revolution is any indication, we’ve had enough.

Yes, Mr. Vice-President we are faced with two choices, the people have chosen, it’s time that you accepted their choice.

Labour unions boost Egypt protests: Al Jazeera online

Thousands of factory workers stay away from work as pro-democracy protesters continue to rally seeking Mubarak’s ouster.

Egyptian labour unions have gone on a nationwide strike, adding momentum to pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities.

Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from Egypt, said around 20,000 factory workers stayed away from work on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera’s Shirine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said that some workers “didn’t have a political demand”.

“They were saying that they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay, and they want the 15 per cent increase in pay that was promised to them by the state.”

However, Tadros also said that some workers were calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to step down.

The strike action came as public rallies calling for Mubarak to immediately hand over power entered their 16th day.

Determined protesters are continuing to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, and other cities across the country. They say they will not end the protests until Mubarak, who has been at the country’s helm since 1981, steps down.

Protesters with blankets gathered outside the parliament building in Cairo on Wednesday, with no plan to move, our correspondent reported. The demonstrators have put up a sign that reads: “Closed until the fall of the regime”.

The government seems to be scrambling under pressure from major powers and pro-democracy supporters, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker reported from the city.

She said people in Tahrir Square were angered by a visit from Tamer Hosni, a famous Arab pop star, on Wednesday morning.

Hosni previously made statements telling the demonstrators to leave the square, saying that Mubarak had offered them concessions. “His comments really did not go down very well,” our correspondent said. The crowd reacted angrily and the military had to intervene to keep them away from him.

“People feel very strongly here,” Al Jazeera’s Dekker said.

Another Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from Cairo, said there was also a renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp.

There is even an internet campaign aimed at mobilising thousands of expatriates to return and support the uprising, our correspondent said.

Protesters are “more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day”, Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, told Al Jazeera from Cairo on Wednesday. “This is a growing movement, it’s not shrinking.”

Concessions fall short

Mubarak’s message has thus far been that he will not leave until his term expires in September.

As a gesture of goodwill, however, 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, were reportedly released over the past two days.

Dekker, our correspondent, reported that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists thought to be detained during the recent unrest, while Human Rights Watch reported that the death toll has reached 302 since January 28.

Egypt’s health ministry denied the figures, however, saying that official statistics would be released shortly.

“He (Suleiman) is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed. But what will he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward.”

Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of the five main youth groups behind the Tahrir Square protests.

Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian vice president, warned on Tuesday that his government “can’t put up with continued protests” for a long time, saying the crisis must be ended as soon as possible.

Suleiman said there will be “no ending of the regime” and no immediate departure for Mubarak, the state news agency MENA reported from a meeting between the vice-president and independent newspapers.

At one point in the roundtable meeting, he warned that the alternative to dialogue “is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities”.

When pressed by news editors to explain the comment, he said he did not mean a military coup but that “a force that is unprepared for rule” could overturn state institutions, said Amr Khafagi, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Shorouk daily, who attended the briefing.

Response to Suleiman’s statements was grim.

“He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed,” said Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of the five main youth groups behind protests in Tahrir Square.

“But what would he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Suleiman said a plan was in place for the peaceful transfer of power, which included forming three committees  – one to propose constitutional amendments, another to oversee the implementation of the amendments and a third to investigate the violent clashes of February 2.

Egypt: A new wave of workers strikes and sit-ins: Al Ahram online

Mass protests demanding change have triggered a fresh wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins across the country Wednesday, spotlighting long-ignored economic demands

Wednesday 9 Feb 2011
Demonstrations and strikes across Egypt

Steel and Canal shipyard workers strike in Suez continues
Following the “Million Man” demonstrations and mass strikes that escalated across Egypt on Tuesday, a new wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins also spread on Wednesday.
Ahram Online has been receiving continuous reports of strikes breaking out in both public and private companies across the country, many of which are still being confirmed. At the time of publishing, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) had confirmed the following:

More than 2000 workers started a strike in Helwan’s silk factories and circulated the office of the company’s chairman demanding his exclusion.

Thousands of workers have started a strike in Helwan’s coke factories demanding higher wages and full-time contracts.

In Mahala’s Spinning and Weaving factory, hundreds started a sit-in in front of the administration building.

In Kafr El-Zaiat hospital, 1500 nurses started a sit-in demanding their late wages.

Four hundred workers in Suez’s Egypt National Steel Factory started an open strike demanding higher wages.

In Menoufeia, more than 750 of Schweppes factory workers started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

More than 800 of the spinning and weaving workers in Menoufeia started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

In Cairo, 200 workers from the General Committee for Drug Supervision started a sit-in demanding full time contracts and higher wages.

Apart from the demands calling for democratic reforms that have triggered Egypt’s mass protests, social and economic needs have been at the core of the country’s political unrest in recent years.

Although a 2010 court ruling demanded that a new minimum wage be set, the government promised to set a minimum of only LE400 per month (about $70), allowing tensions to soar.

Egypt police kill three anti-Mubarak protesters in desert clashes: Haaretz

Three killed, several wounded in clashes between police and 3,000 protesters in western province of Egypt, which marked first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in the area.

Three people were killed and several suffered gunshot wounds in clashes between security forces and about 3,000 protesters in a western province of Egypt, state TV and security sources said on Wednesday.

The clashes in New Valley, a province that includes an oasis in Egypt’s western desert, erupted on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, according to security sources. State TV said three people died in the fighting but did not provide further details.

It appeared to be the first serious clash between police and protesters since officers all but disappeared from Egyptian streets after they had beaten, teargassed and fired rubber bullets at protesters on Jan. 28, dubbed the “Day of Wrath”.

President Hosni Mubarak sent the army onto the streets that night, but several days of looting and lawlessness followed the withdrawal of police and many prisoners escaped from prison.

On Monday, a security source said former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adli had appeared before military prosecutors and may face charges of causing a breakdown in order during protests.

The protest in New Valley, about 500 km south of Cairo, was the first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in that area reported by security sources. The countrywide protests to topple the president are now in their third week.

U.S. official: Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem go against Mideast peace efforts: Haaretz

Comment by U.S. State Department official comes after Israel approves construction of new buildings in Sheikh Jarrah, declares foundation of a new East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood.

Israel’s continued East Jerusalem construction hurts efforts to advance Middle East peace, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday, adding that those actions contradicted the logic of a reasonable agreement on the capital’s future status.

The comment came on Monday after the Jerusalem Municipal Committee for Planning and Building approved the construction of two buildings that will include 13 apartments for Jewish residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Backing the plan are settler organizations who currently occupy three homes in the neighborhood. Following the plan’s approval, it will be necessary to evict a number of Palestinian families living on the site in order for construction to commence.

The planning committee is also expected to approve a new access road south of Har Homa, which will enable the expansion of the neighborhood.

In addition, earlier this month workers broke ground at the site of a new East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood in a ceremony attended by Knesset members, Jerusalem councilmen, as well as former U.S. GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Initial construction for the new neighborhood, called Beit Orot and located near the Beit Orot Yeshiva on Mount Scopus, called for 24 new housing units to be built near the Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Speaking to Haaretz on Wednesday, a State Department official denounced Israel’s continued construction in East Jerusalem, saying “unilateral” Israeli actions “in Sheikh Jarrah and previously in Beit Orot, work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and contradict the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem.”

“No Palestinians have yet been evicted in connection with this project, but as envisioned the project would involve the eviction of two Arab families and the demolition of their homes,” the U.S. official said.

The official, however, did add that the U.S. would “continue to press ahead with the parties to resolve the core issues, including Jerusalem, in the context of a peace agreement.”

Speaking at the ceremony at the site of the future neighborhood of Beit Orot last month, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said that not only is construction in Jerusalem “not an impediment to peace, it brings it closer,” adding that the more Israel builds “the more peace there will be.”

“That is why this neighborhood is only the cornerstone. It will serve as a model for the resurgence of Jerusalem’s construction swing,” Hershkowitz said.

Huckabee a presidential candidate in 2008 said that it was inconceivable to him, as an American, that there’s a discussion over where in Jerusalem a Jew can or cannot live.

IAF jets strike Gaza tunnels, wounding eight Palestinians: Haaretz

IDF says strike responds to over 40 rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli territory since start of 2011; Gaza health ministry says one strike set fire to a Health Ministry medicine warehouse.

Officials in Israel and Gaza said Wednesday that Israel Air Force  jets have carried out retaliatory airstrikes in the territory after militants launched rockets into Israel.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmiya says the airstrikes overnight lightly wounded eight Palestinians. He says one strike set fire to a Health Ministry medicine warehouse in northern Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the strikes were in response to the firing of five rockets and mortars into Israel on Tuesday. The military said aircraft targeted a tunnel and two other sites used by militants.

“The targeting of the sites was in response to intensive rocket fire into Israeli territory over the course of the day; five military-use projectiles were fired from the Gaza Strip landing in southern Israel,” an IDF spokesperson’s statement said.

According to the IDF, over 40 mortar shells, Qassam rockets and Grad Rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip and landed in Israeli territory since the beginning of 2011.

Who’s afraid of the Muslim Brothers: Al Jazeera online

Western fears of ‘Islamism’ have been aided by Arab autocrats seeking to prolong their iron-fisted rule.
Mohammed Khan
There are offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood in countries across the region [EPA]
“Islamism” has been sending jitters through Western political corridors over recent years readily aided and abetted by Arab autocrats who have exaggerated and harnessed the “Islamist” threat to prolong their iron-fisted rule.

In the case of Egypt, the biggest bogeyman in this long-running battle over political supremacy with the state is the Muslim Brotherhood (the Ikhwan al-Muslimun) whose influence extends across the Arab and Islamic world.

With the Middle East and North Africa currently convulsed by popular uprisings against political repression, the Muslim Brotherhood has been thrust into the limelight, not only by those seeking a better insight into the origins and goals of the movement as they try to peer into Egypt’s future, but also by those whose entire raison d’etre consists of demonising the Ikhwan for ulterior political ends.

“I’m fed up” of ruling Egypt, complained Hosni Mubarak to an American news channel on February 4 as protests against his 30-year presidency accelerated. “But if I resign now, there will be chaos. And I’m afraid the Muslim Brotherhood will take over,” he warned.

In a couple of short sentences, Mubarak wonderfully encapsulated the fear that his regime has generated over three decades in order to maintain control. With little concern for the sentiments of his people, Mubarak played directly to the fears of his Western backers: Either support my despotism, whatever its limitations, he was saying, or face having to deal with the “Islamists”.

While leaders in the US and the EU stutter over how to respond to the new realities in the region, unfortunately for Mubarak, the people of Egypt are refusing to buy into his fear-mongering. The Muslim Brotherhood – whether Mubarak’s regime and his backers like it or not – is part and parcel of Egyptian society.

The Ikhwan is the “father” of Islamic political activism, tracing its roots back to 1928 when it emerged as a movement advocating a return to Islamic morals. Its early political activism was against British rule in Egypt when it opposed the Westernisation of the country. While its formative years were devoted to overcoming imperialism, its history has been marked by challenges to the political status quo and, thus, to fending off state repression. The Muslim Brotherhood has alternately been tolerated, outlawed, its leaders assassinated and/or executed.

Despite the suppression, its popularity has grown owing mainly to a network of medical, legal, social and charitable services that it continues to provide. Where the state has failed Egyptians, the Ikhwan has helped prop up peoples’ lives.

Such is its influence that it has spawned offshoots in Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Libya and Somalia in Africa, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel in the Levant, across the Gulf States and further afield in places such as Pakistan. Misconceptions in the West about the movement do not detract from the Brotherhood’s popular following in Egypt and beyond.

Milestones to where?

One of the most seminal works to emanate from the ranks of the Ikhwan, one which led the Egyptian regime at the time to clamp down massively against the movement, was Milestones, written by a powerful Brotherhood ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, in 1964.

The publication of Qutb’s book, which called for the reinstatement of Sharia as the basis of Egyptian law and for the overthrow of what he labelled the “Jahili” (i.e. pre-Islamic) system prevalent in the country, led to his execution.

That Milestones is today considered the principal reference book for a myriad of armed Islamic groups across the world is testament to its influence. The book was used to discredit the entire Muslim Brotherhood with accusations that it advocated the violent overthrow of secular regimes. Anti-Ikhwan proponents felt little need to explain the circumstances under which Qutb penned his treatise: The fact that he was utterly disillusioned with the prevailing system after being subjected to years of solitary confinement and torture for his political beliefs made little difference to his opponents who sought to characterise his rejectionism as representative of Islamic political movements in their entirety.

Despite proclaiming to be a bottom-up “reformist” movement and eschewing violence, the charge of extremism has subsequently hung over the Brotherhood. Given the historical antipathy of the Ikhwan to the West, furthermore, Western governments have easily bought into the Egyptian regime’s claims that the movement is a threat to their way of life. The old fears of, and tricks against, the Ikhwan are once again being employed as the most organised challenger to Mubarak’s despotism joins (not leads) protesters in calling for his removal.

Although depicted as a regressive movement, the Brotherhood’s membership is anything but unenlightened. The top tier of the movement is made up of doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers, or the crème de la crème of the Egyptian middle class. The Ikhwan’s social activism is derived from its members’ ability to live and breathe the problems that average Egyptians face.

It is essentially a grassroots movement campaigning for the betterment of Egyptian society. That the movement gained an impressive 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary election, or 20 per cent of the total, despite widespread electoral fraud (in 2010 it lost all its seats after Mubarak’s National Democratic Party massively rigged the election once more, this time leaving nothing to chance) speaks volumes about its popularity.

Even in districts that are predominantly Christian, many voters opted to back the Ikhwan against the regime. Christian protesters are as resolute against Mubarak’s dictatorship as their Muslim counterparts and many have expressed little worry about the Muslim Brotherhood despite the fear perpetuated by the regime.

In talks with senior US officials in 2006, the newly-appointed Egyptian vice-president, Omar Suleiman, termed the Ikhwan’s parliamentary success in 2005 “unfortunate”. Private US cables released by Wikileaks (from where the previous quote was taken) reveal starkly the obstacles that the Brotherhood has faced under Mubarak.

Opponents of the movement will continue to stoke fears about its apparent “clandestine” motives. The cry of “one man, one vote, one time” will be heard loudly and relentlessly from those seeking to deny the Brotherhood a role in Egypt’s political future. This is one scare tactic, however, that the people of Egypt will not fall for. Political Islam is a force with strong roots in the country and in the wider Islamic world and will continue to remain so.

Algeria set a precedent in the early 1990s of the levels to which opponents of Islamic movements will sink to deny them a political role. A brutal civil war was the cost of voting for the Islamic Salvation Front back then. The people of Palestine are similarly being ostracised by the “international community” for voting in Hamas, an offshoot of the Ikhwan.

However, the people of Egypt, and only the people of Egypt, will decide what part the Muslim Brotherhood will play in Egypt’s future development.

What will its detractors do in response? Scream, shout, curse and maybe try to prevent such an eventuality, if recent history is any guide.

Mohammed Khan is a political analyst based in the UAE.

IDF spokesman visited U.K. incognito for fear of targeting by pro-Palestinian protesters: Haaretz

Israel concerned over U.K. laws allowing private citizens to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials they accuse of war crimes.

The chief spokesman of the Israel Defense Forces said on Tuesday he had visited Britain incognito and under guard for fear of being targeted by pro-Palestinian protesters.

The fact that Brigadier-General Avi Benayahu, the public face of the military during the Gaza war of 2008-2009 and the bloody seizure of a Turkish aid flotilla last year, used an alias showed the depth of Israelis’ discomfort at popular campaigns to pillory their dignitaries while abroad.

Britain has been of special concern for Israel given local laws allowing private citizens to secure arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials they accuse of war crimes.

“I was also in London, not long ago, with an assumed identity and a bodyguard … Me, who did not attend the officers’ academy and never fired a shot in my life,” Benayahu told the Herzliya Conference, an annual Israeli security forum.

He said organizers of the visit “explained to me that the moment they notice me, spot me at the hotel, thanks to the social network, there’s a demonstration in front of the hotel in an hour. And you don’t know how a demonstration will unfold.”

“One doesn’t want a provocation,” said Benayahu, a former journalist and publicist who received an honorary military rank when he became spokesman.

Benayahu’s office did not give more details of his visit.

Benayahu is familiar to Israelis thanks to his distinctive girth and booming voice. But he has shunned the international media, delegating such appearances to deputies who speak foreign languages.

After several Israeli politicians and military brass canceled trips to London out of concern they could be arrested, the British government promised legislation to curb British magistrates’ “universal jurisdiction” powers.

Egypt protests: People’s Assembly rally amid strikes: BBC

The BBC’s Jon Leyne says the parliament has been surrounded by protesters

Anti-government protests in the Egyptian capital Cairo have spread to the country’s parliament, with access blocked by demonstrators.

Soldiers are guarding the People’s Assembly building after a 16th consecutive day of protests.

They took place despite a warning by Vice-President Omar Suleiman that demonstrations must end.

There are reports of widespread industrial action, and of protests outside Cairo turning violent.

The BBC’s Jim Muir, in Cairo, says the protesters regard the People’s Assembly as illegitimate following general elections late last year which were widely regarded as rigged in favour of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party, which won a massive majority.

Nearby Tahrir Square remains the focal point of protests calling for an end to President Mubarak’s 30-year rule, with thousands of demonstrators present, some camping there overnight.

The Associated Press (AP) news agency reports that the capital also saw protests by state electricity workers and museum workers on Wednesday. However, Egypt’s most famous tourist attraction, the Pyramids of Giza, reopened to tourists.

Outside Cairo:

At least two people have been killed during rioting at the southern Kharga oasis, with reports that police opened fire on demonstrators with live ammunition
AP reports that 8,000 protesters in the southern province of Assiut blocked the main highway and railway to Cairo with burning palm trees
In Port Said, hundreds of protesters set fire to the governorate building
At the Suez Canal, the state-owned trade link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, about 6,000 state workers have gone on strike – but the action is not affecting the passage of ships
Late on Tuesday night, Mr Suleiman said the crisis must end, adding: “We don’t want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools.”
Yolande Knell

The road sign on People’s Assembly Street, the address of the building housing Egypt’s lower house of parliament, has been altered with a black marker pen. It now reads simply “People’s Street”.

The occupation of nearby Tahrir Square has been extended to the pavements here. Several hundred people are now massed outside the impressive white and gold building.

“Illegitimate,” is the cry that goes up from one crowd as they shake their fists. Others have spread blankets on the ground and hung up plastic sheets to make a makeshift campsite.

While human chains of volunteers now inspect all those entering the street, there are soldiers with guns on duty behind the railings of the empty government buildings. Nevertheless the mood is peaceful.

The demonstrators may not have achieved one of their goals of dissolving parliament, but they have stopped it from carrying out its normal business.

He warned that if dialogue with the protesters failed, the alternative was “that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities”.

Opposition groups reacted angrily to his remarks. They fear the government is stalling for time and will fail to enact meaningful changes.

Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of youth protest groups, accused Mr Suleiman of creating a “disastrous scenario”, according to the Associated Press news agency.

“He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed,” AP quoted Mr Samir as saying. “But what would he do with the rest of 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward?”

The US has called on the Egyptian government to lift its 30-year state of emergency and to stop harassing journalists and activists.

US Vice-President Joe Biden told Mr Suleiman in a phone call that the transition should produce “immediate, irreversible progress that responds to the aspirations of the Egyptian people”.

The government has announced plans for a peaceful transition, with President Hosni Mubarak to stay in office until elections in September.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers say they have confirmed the deaths of 297 people since 28 January, based on a count from eight hospitals in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

No comprehensive death toll has been given by the Egyptian government.

WikiLeaks: Israel’s secret hotline to the man tipped to replace Mubarak: The Telegraph

The new vice-president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is a long-standing favourite of Israel’s who spoke daily to the Tel Aviv government via a secret “hotline” to Cairo, leaked documents disclose.

The new vice-president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is a long-standing favourite of Israel’s who spoke daily to the Tel Aviv government via a secret “hotline” to Cairo, leaked documents disclose.

Mr Suleiman, who is widely tipped to take over from Hosni Mubarak as president, was named as Israel’s preferred candidate for the job after discussions with American officials in 2008.

As a key figure working for Middle East peace, he once suggested that Israeli troops would be “welcome” to invade Egypt to stop weapons being smuggled to Hamas terrorists in neighbouring Gaza.

The details, which emerged in secret files obtained by WikiLeaks and passed to The Daily Telegraph, come after Mr Suleiman began talks with opposition groups on the future for Egypt’s government.

On Saturday, Mr Suleiman won the backing of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to lead the “transition” to democracy after two weeks of demonstrations calling for President Mubarak to resign.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, spoke to Mr Suleiman yesterday and urged him to take “bold and credible steps” to show the world that Egypt is embarking on an “irreversible, urgent and real” transition.

Leaked cables from American embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv disclose the close co-operation between Mr Suleiman and the US and Israeli governments as well as diplomats’ intense interest in likely successors to the ageing President Mubarak, 83.

The documents highlight the delicate position which the Egyptian government seeks to maintain in Middle East politics, as a leading Arab nation with a strong relationship with the US and Israel. By 2008, Mr Suleiman, who was head of the foreign intelligence service, had become Israel’s main point of contact in the Egyptian government.

David Hacham, a senior adviser from the Israeli Ministry of Defence, told the American embassy in Tel Aviv that a delegation led by Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak had been impressed by Mr Suleiman, whose name is spelled “Soliman” in some cables.

But Mr Hacham was “shocked” by President Mubarak’s “aged appearance and slurred speech”.

The cable, from August 2008, said: “Hacham was full of praise for Soliman, however, and noted that a ‘hot line’ set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use.

“Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated.” The Tel Aviv diplomats added: “We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.”

Elsewhere the documents disclose that Mr Suleiman was stung by Israeli criticism of Egypt’s inability to stop arms smugglers transporting weapons to Palestinian militants in Gaza. At one point he suggested that Israel send troops into the Egyptian border region of Philadelphi to “stop the smuggling”.

“In their moments of greatest frustration, [Egyptian Defence Minister] Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] would be ‘welcome’ to re-invade Philadelphi, if the IDF thought that would stop the smuggling,” the cable said.

The files suggest that Mr Suleiman wanted Hamas “isolated”, and thought Gaza should “go hungry but not starve”.

“We have a short time to reach peace,” he told US diplomats. “We need to wake up in the morning with no news of terrorism, no explosions, and no news of more deaths.”

Yesterday, Hosni Mubarak’s control of Egypt’s state media, a vital lynchpin of his 30-year presidency, started to slip as the country’s largest-circulation newspaper declared its support for the uprising.

Hoping to sap the momentum from street protests demanding his overthrow, the president has instructed his deputy to launch potentially protracted negotiations with secular and Islamist opposition parties. The talks continued for a second day yesterday without yielding a significant breakthrough.

But Mr Mubarak was dealt a significant setback as the state-controlled Al-Ahram, Egypt’s second oldest newspaper and one of the most famous publications in the Middle East, abandoned its long-standing slavish support for the regime.

In a front-page leading article, the newspaper hailed the “nobility” of the “revolution” and demanded the government embark on irreversible constitutional and legislative changes.

Uprising has revealed the real Egypt: The Guardian

The US and its allies have to realise the Egypt they have been dealing with is no more than a figment of their imagination

There is no doubt in my mind that the Egyptian uprising that started on 25 January has caused a political earthquake whose aftershocks will resonate not only in Egypt but way beyond its borders as well. It will redraw lines, remap political topographies and create new perceptions. Those who ignore this fact will do so at their own peril.

The momentousness of the event is clear, even though Egypt seems to be still locked in an impasse on the 16th day of the massive protests sweeping the whole country. As the regime hits back, quibbles and stalls, the protesters vow to continue until the whole regime is toppled.

The uprising has come to change many political givens and taken-for-granted assumptions. Most of all, it has shattered the myth that stability can be built on injustice and brutality. The resilience of the protesters in the face of ruthless force and intimidation has proved that force alone cannot subdue a population of 85 million people when their mind is set on resistance. The more the violence by the state, the more determined people become.

The uprising has also shown that Egyptian young people, who make up 50% to 70% of the population, are a formidable force. Their leaders who called for these protests are a heterogeneous group without unified political or ideological affiliations. They are united, however, by their call for freedom, dignity and the eradication of torture and police brutality. Their political awareness is perhaps not a reflection of the quality of the education provided to them by the government, which is acknowledged to be very poor, but a tribute to the ability of the human spirit to triumph over constraints and restrictions.

The uprising has also put the role played by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups in Egyptian politics in perspective. It now emerges that the threat of an Islamist takeover of power has been magnified on purpose, both inside the country and outside it. During the last few years, I often wondered why the state media gave an enormous amount of space to fundamentalist elements to air their views when the official line was that the government was fighting their influence. The reason this was happening is only beginning to emerge. Because a regime can only define itself by its enemies, so the Islamists in general served the purpose of scaring not only the Coptic population, but ordinary Muslim Egyptians who would loathe to see a theocracy in place, while at the same time scaring the west into aligning their forces behind the regime.

The events of the last two weeks have exposed the Brotherhood for what it really is: a self-serving, opportunistic faction. They did not join the protests right away, but dragged their feet later after they realised the enormity of the event. They probably feared they would be left out in the cold. When the newly appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman extended his invitation to some opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood to a meeting, the Brotherhood first hesitated. Then they changed their mind and accepted. By sitting with the regime, they acquired a legitimacy they would not have otherwise dreamt of. Their jumping on the bandwagon has exposed them for the political opportunists that they really are.

But perhaps one positive outcome of the interactions happening in Tahrir Square, as well as elsewhere in the country, is that the Muslim Brothers openly acknowledged their commitment to a civil, nonsectarian state, something they were always reluctant to admit. How far this indicates a real change of heart will be seen in the days to come.

If any Egyptians felt the protests were exacting too high a price on the Egyptian economy and on their lives, a few emerging facts led them to realise that regime change was not a luxury, but an absolute necessity. Wael Ghonim, the 31-year-old Google executive who was kidnapped on 27 January and held, blindfolded and incommunicado, by state security for 12 days, was finally released. He was escorted out of his detention by no less than the ruling National Democratic Party secretary himself, in a failed bid to show concern for the detainees and that the state is turning a new page.

The interview with Ghonim, aired on a popular programme on one of the independent TV channels, has made the whole of Egypt cry. His testimony on air is no less than a graphic representation of everything that was wrong with the regime: its short-sightedness and brutality. “The officers interrogating me accused me of being a foreign agent and wanted to know who was paying me,” he said. He broke into tears when he saw the photographs of the young people killed by police during the demonstrations, which he had called for on Facebook along with some other young activists. “All I wanted was to make Egypt a better place to live in. We wanted our protests to be peaceful and insisted on it. They were killed by those who were sticking tooth and nail to their seats.”

Other disclosures regarding the obscene wealth not only of the Mubaraks, but of all the coterie surrounding him, have further angered the whole population. Some independent Egyptian TV channels, which used to be tightly controlled by the ministry of information, have also started to open fire on the way state television was flagrantly used by the regime for the purpose of propaganda and intentionally lying and deceiving people.

Most horrific of all are the allegations that the former minister of interior, Habib El-Adly, Mubarak’s right-hand man for 14 years, may have been implicated in the Two Saints Church bombing in Alexandria. The idea has sent shock waves to all Egyptians. Copts, in particular, who were always persuaded to tow the line either through intimidation or promises, will have to think again of the implications of all such emergent facts.

There are strong indications that the regime is already crumbling. Not only are top officials in government being investigated at the moment for crimes of corruption and abuse of public funds, but many of them are reported to have fled the country, taking their ill-gotten gains with them.

It is rather early to gauge the full impact of the momentous events taking place in Egypt at the moment. What is clear, however, is that a real transformation in Egyptian society has already taken place in a powerful and meaningful way. Egyptians will not crawl back and accept the crumbs thrown to them by a government that represents nobody but itself. Those who are betting on a return to a “business as usual” pattern will be hugely disappointed.

Omar Suleiman’s recent remarks that Egyptians don’t understand the culture of democracy are both offensive and hopelessly misguided. His assertion that the uprising is supported by foreigners shows the huge disconnect between this regime and the people of Egypt. This regime has no more understanding of the reality of Egypt than Hillary Clinton has. Like it or not, the US and its allies will have to realise that the Egypt they have been dealing with so far is no more than a figment of their imagination. Time to get real.

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