News Analysis: Despite conflicting signs, Egypt’s Revolution won new ground

Hani Shukrallah , Saturday 5 Feb 2011

Day 12 of Egypt's 25 January Revolution began in confusion and ended in uncertain triumph

Tahrir Square
People pray in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 (Photo: AP)

Day 12 of what has come to be known as the “25 January Revolution” began in confusion. The great success of Friday’s Day of Departure, with nearly a million people descending on Tahrir Sq., and hundreds of thousands others demonstrating in cities around the country, provided a great boost to the morale of the protesters and their sympathizers, and even won back some of the waverers who, since President Mubarak’s mid-night speech Tuesday night had been moving towards the pro-Mubarak camp.

On the streets of Cairo, life seemed to be regaining some normalcy; more shops have opened their doors to the public, and many businesses have resumed operation. Traffic is flowing heavier and smoother; there are more people on the streets, and there is a greater sense of security among the public than before.

There is also a great deal of confusion, however. Early this morning some 5000 young people who had stayed overnight at Tahrir sq. rushed to protect the barricades they had erected at the northern edge of the square to stave off the attacks of “pro-Mubarak” hooligans, which began last Wednesday. And though yesterday Day of Departure witnessed very few such attacks (the numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-democracy camp, the protesters still suspected that the attempt to remove the barricade might be in preparation for renewed attacks aimed at dislodging them from the square.

Much more serious, however, is the absence until today of a consensual body which has the confidence of the protesters and is thus able to negotiate with the state on their behalf. There are, at the moment, at least five or six groups, which are either readying to enter into negotiations, once certain conditions are met, or have started negotiating already. In particular, there are signs that there is tension, and some in fighting in the ranks of the youth movements, which have triggered the 25 January Revolution and continue to provide field leadership to the protesters occupying Tahrir Sq.

According to a source that preferred anonymity, a coalition of five youth organizations is intending to announce the formation of a 30-person negotiating body (up from 25), which is to include 10 representatives of the youth movements, in addition 20 public figures, including – as Ahram Online reported earlier – such renowned names as Nobel laureates, Mohamed El-Baradei and Ahmed Zewail, as well as Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and other prominent political and intellectual figures. The youth coalition is made up of The 6 April movement, The Campaign in Support of El-Baradei, the Youth Movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Youth Movement of the Democratic Front Party, and the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement.

Yet it is by no means certain as yet that the youth groups’ will actually succeed in setting up this body. It was supposed to be announced this morning, as reported earlier by Ahram Online, but has, as yet, failed to do so, possibly as a result of continuing differences between its constituent parts.

Meanwhile, several other bodies, including the Committee of Wise Men have already been negotiating with both Vice-President Omar Soliman, and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. Last night there were announcements both by the prime minister and some members of the negotiating teams that they were close to an agreement. Nothing materialized, and last by this morning last night’s bout of optimism gave way to the feeling that Egypt is still in for a long haul. This was underlined by the appearance of President Mubarak heading a meeting of the economic group of the cabinet, which was probably intended to show that he remained in charge.

One of the main conditions of the various negotiating teams is that the president, even if he does not step down immediately, must take a back seat and transfer the bulk of his powers to his vice-president, until the end of his term, set for September.

Ahram Online asked one source in one of the negotiating teams whether he sensed willingness to compromise on the part of either the vice-president or the prime minister. “Not at all,” he said, “we still have some ways to go.” He agreed, however, that the multiplicity of negotiating bodies is putting the achievements of the revolution in great threat. Soliman, he noted, is a master tactician who is capable of making full use of each and every crack in the ranks of the opposition.

There are however attempt to bring the various bodies together. And meetings are being scheduled to try and create one viable and consensual body made up of representatives of the youth movements and prominent public and political figures. At the same time, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood continues to declare its rejection of entering into any negotiations with the government before Mubarak steps down. There were signs, however, that the reformist wing of the Brotherhood might be of a different mind.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters continue to hold on to Tahrir Sq, rejecting any attempt to ease the occupation. There is debate, however, on the need to change tactics. Among the ideas being floated is that the occupation would be confined to two or three days a week. Others suggest ending the occupation while maintaining weekly demonstrations every Friday, until the revolution’s demands are fully met. But in the absence of a clear and accepted leadership to the ongoing popular protest it is difficult to conceive how a consensus might be reached.

Time, on the other hand, does not seem to favor the 25 January Revolution. Much of the country’s economy has been put on hold, and everyone is suffering. This is creating real cleavages within Egyptian society, and threatens to lose the protesters the sympathy of growing sections of the population. Interestingly, there does not seem to be a class aspect to the division, which seems to cut across class lines, running vertically rather than horizontally.

One of the ugliest features of the current scene, however, is the paranoid witch-hunt that state television, police agents, and gangs of thugs continue to launch against alleged foreign spies and agents of all sorts who are fomenting the revolution as well as financing it. The statements made by the vice-president in an interview with state television on Thursday provided grist to the phantasmagoric conspiracy theories spreading like wildfire around the country, in what some believe is part of a deliberate campaign of sabotage.

The day ended on a hopeful note however, as it was announced that President Mubarak had stepped down as leader of the ruling National Democratic Party, and that the two most powerful figures in the ruling party, Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif, and President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, hitherto the head of the NDP’s powerful Policies Committee had been expelled from the party.

Reformist Hossam Badrawi, possibly the sole respected figure in the ruling party leadership, has taken over as both secretary-general and head of the Policies Secretariat. Effectively this means the dissolution of the ruling party, which fundamentally has been a party of the state, and a huge network of state patronage.

Moreover, serious, though unconfirmed accusations have been directed against El-Sherif, who for the past 30 years has been one of the strongest men in the Mubrak regime. Some have claimed, publicly, that El-Sherif, in alliance with a number of NDP Oligarchs and the secret police, has been the man behind the campaign of sabotage and thuggery that swept the country immediately upon the still unexplained overnight disappearance of the whole domestic security apparatus.

The announcements, predictably, have given a tremendous boost to the morale of the protesters, who met them with cheers and applause. The vice-president and the prime minister are now obliged to reach an agreement with the various representatives of the revolution.
For all practical purposes, the 25 January Revolution looks to have triumphed.

Post script: The announcement that Mubarak had resigned his post as leader of the NDP was later denied by Egyptian state TV, which seems to indicate that at some point during the past couple of hours the resignation, which had been confirmed by top NDP sources, was retracted. Why and how is unknown for the timebeing. Whatever the reason, or the dynamics in question, this development renders the conclusion drawn above as rather too hasty.

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