Cairo's critical moments for change

As the unprecedented protest movement continues making history, demands seem to grow and the goals become more defined

    As the unprecedented protest movement continues making history, demands seem to grow and the goals become more defined and popular, and the movement seems more united.

    Yet, such success is still limited. Moreover, the challenges seem ever more daunting.

    Protests on Monday entered their seventh day. Dozens of protestors have been killed all over the country since the beginning of the protests on Tuesday. Hundreds have been injured. Many police stations and ruling party headquarters have been torched. Some government organisations and private property have been vandalized and looted. Some of  Egypt’s most notorious jails have been compromised and thousands of dangerous criminals have escaped.

    The population suffers from a security vacuum, a rush for food and other supplies, and an atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity.

    Many pillars of Mubarak’s regime have temporarily collapsed. The police disappeared from the streets for two days. The ruling party and its officials withdrew from the political scene and state-controlled media. Some outspoken members of the Mubarak regime, such as Mustafa Al Kiki, the maverick head of the foreign relations committee at the Shura Council, the upper part of the Egyptian apartment, came out critical of the Mubarak regime and called for reform.

    Some of the richest members of the pro-Mubarak business elite reportedly fled the country, fearing backlash and public anger.

    Stubborn Mubarak

    Still, Mubarak seems to cling to power counting mainly on the support of on his top military aides. He named two former military generals as vice president and prime minister. He sent the military, the last standing state institution, to maintain some security on the streets. He appeared on state TV on Sunday surrounded by some of his top military officers, including the minister of defense and the military chief of staff, discussing the military’s efforts to bring order to the streets.

    Moreover, the new cabinet sworn in on Monday kept many faces from the old cabinet, some of them hugely unpopular. The new cabinet is another sign that Mubarak is unwilling to change.

    On the streets, citizens' committees were formed across the county to protect the streets - deserted for two days by Mubarak’s police, despite many calls by the opposition for the military to intervene and secure the country.

    On Monday, the opposition called for a "Million Man March" in Cairo on Tuesday. Protestors from outside Cairo are traveling toward the city, but all trains are halted. A faceoff looms between the protesters and security forces, who are reportedly back to Cairo's streets.

    People’s anger and fear are heightening, while Mubarak seems stubborn and unresponsive as usual.

    Moreover, the change movement seems stronger. It has reached new levels. It has been transformed from an unexpected event to an international news and policy-making event. It has affected world politics and markets, forcing world leaders and powers to speak out.

    The spontaneous movement is now demanding full regime change. It wants Mubarak to step down, the constitution to change, and the parliament to be dissolved.

    It is calling for new elections, new broad coalition interim government, and the lifting of the state of emergency.

    The movement is still a popular spontaneous movement led by no specific political group. It is has been joined by most of the opposition groups, and it now has support never before imagined.

    It is also grouping around some prominent opposition figures, especially Mohamed ElBaradei, the former international diplomat, who gained the support of Egypt’s largest and most organized political group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Daunting Challenges

    Yet, the movement is running against serious odds, since the regime is unwilling to step down or seriously change. The military leadership supports an unpopular president. An influential and oppressive political and business elite, which has ruled the country for the last three decades, is now fighting its last battle to save the regime and itself.

    It is facing a communication blackout inside the country after the government cut off Egypt from the internet and mobile phones - and closed down Al Jazeera and blocked its signal.

    They are facing distortion and public propaganda from state TV, which was one of the first buildings to be protected by the military on Friday evening, and which has been heavily engaged in a public relations campaign to support the regime.

    State TV airs pictures of empty Cairo streets to deny news that protests are going on.

    It interviews one guest after the other who praise Mubarak and blame on the resigned cabinet and officials such as Ahmed Ezz, the business tycoon and senior leader at the ruling National Democratic Party, as the cause of people’s anger.

    It continuously attacks Al Jazeera and other media who, according to Egyptian TV and its guest, “hate Egypt and spread lies and incitement”.

    It receives a flood of emergency calls from citizens crying for help, talking about attacks by thugs and criminals.

    The opposition movement also faces a regional and international political order that have traditionally sided with the authoritarian status quo over democracy and change - and that has called on Mubarak to reform but stopped short from endorsing the movement or its demands.

    In such an atmosphere, many Egyptians are fearful, worried, and worn out. Many are not politically active and have always feared government and politics. Many cannot sustain a long period of insecurity, uncertainty, and instability.

    Under these conditions, the young, disorganized, and inexperienced change movement is expected to deliver and surprise the world once again.


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