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The Egyptian Crisis Continues

Protesters refuse to stop. Mubarak shows no intention of stepping down.

by
Josh Shahryar

Bio

January 31, 2011 - 8:00 pm

Protests against President Hosni Mubarak’s government continue in Cairo and other cities, and the government has all but given up on dispersing the masses from the streets. Hundreds of people mobilized to support Mubarak in Cairo, but their number was a fraction of the tens of thousands that occupied the capital’s Tahrir Square Monday night.

The past few days have been repeats in terms of protester mobilization. Every day, Egyptians in Cairo and other cities occupy the main squares and march through the streets, then thousands spend the night in their city’s main square. In the morning, they’re joined by more protesters, and begin again.

The government has used every tactic available to disperse the crowds, and the police are back on the streets after disappearing for days. The army is out in full force. Internet has now been fully disconnected, cell phone and landlines are restricted, and SMS has been blocked for days. The government imposes a 12-hour curfew during the afternoon, evening, night, and early morning, to no avail.

Protesters allege that mobs waging a campaign of looting across Cairo are government operatives.

After his speech on Friday promising that his government will listen to the people’s voices and appoint a new government, Mubarak appointed a vice president and shuffled his cabinet. Most appointees have backgrounds in Egypt’s military or police, though — prompting many Egyptians and outside observers to reject it as a step towards reform.

On Sunday, Mubarak ordered newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik to increase subsidies and to work on reforms for the economy. Later, the government announced that Vice President Omar Suleiman had been asked to open dialogue with the opposition. But the opposition had already settled on their one demand: Mubarak must resign. This demand was repeated by opposition leader and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei at a protest in Cairo, and later by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

The government’s inability to disperse the protesters or to meet their demands has started chipping away at the international support Mubarak received when the crisis first began.

Several members of his family, including his son and expected successor Gamal Mubarak, fled to London. That accompanied a continued flow of Egyptian businessmen and money out of the country — Al Jazeera reported that up to $500 million was being sent out of Egypt. At the same time, other countries, including the United States, have begun evacuating their citizens in the face of the unrest, their support for Mubarak’s regime faltering.

While several Western countries have expressed concern about the events in Egypt and called for reforms, none have explicitly asked Mubarak to step down. President Barack Obama had also shown reluctance to demand his ally’s ouster, but for the first time expressed support for “an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.” Other world leaders remained mostly mute.

Many are fearing more bloodshed in case Mubarak refuses to step down again. So far over 120 people have been killed in the protests, over 4,000 have been injured, and thousands more have been arrested. Hours ago, six Al Jazeera correspondents were arrested by state security forces, then released after an international outcry and prompting by the U.S. government. Their equipment was confiscated, though.

The crisis has severely affected the lives of Egyptians. In the past few days, armed mobs have waged a campaign of lootings, mostly in Cairo, but also in some other parts of the country. Protesters have organized neighborhood security watches to counter the violence, but they can do little to better security.

Food scarcity is hitting the country. Protests have effectively shut down most markets and stores in Cairo and other cities. Egyptians and observers fear that people are soon going to start finding it impossible to buy groceries if the protests continue and no solution is devised to return stability to the country.

Stability — in a country that has been, for 30 years, stable as a rock — seems as elusive as ever.

Josh Shahryar is a National Security Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. A journalist and human rights activist, he covers ongoing conflicts as well as human rights issues for various media organizations.
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