Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, February 2011
Egyptian Protesters Insist on Departure of Mubarak,
Opposition Parties Scramble for Talks with the Regime
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN Editor's Summation of events in Egypt:
February 6, 2011
The Egyptian regime has withstood the first attack by the revolutionary forces, absorbed it, and started its counter-attack, aiming at winning time until gradually subduing the revolution.
The security forces have come back after their collapse and the army has stood by the regime, as it is still under its supreme commander, President Mubarak, who is still in power.
The new vice president, Omar Sulaiman, is doing a superb job for the regime as the interlocutor of opposition parties and groups, who have scrambled to meet with him for talks that may result in their participation in power.
Sulaiman has earned an international reputation for his negotiation skills, which lead to continuous and endless negotiations for the sake of negotiations, such as what he did with the Palestinians for years without any results, ultimately serving the pro-Israeli status-quo.
The new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, has presented himself as the man of the people, whose main job is to provide the people with stability and services, without corruption. He has been asking the Egyptian people, in the many press conferences and interviews he conducted, to give him a chance for at least six months or a year, then judge his work. In essence, he is buying time for President Mubarak to stay in power until the October elections, exactly like what Sulaiman is trying to do.
The views of the rulers of the World System, as expressed by their representatives in the US-EU governments, have been very clear: Mubarak should stay in power until the October elections. Statements by Biden, Clinton, Wisner, Cheney, and McCain represented these views despite the initial statements by Obama, who no longer insists on the change to happen "now."
Mubarak has been praised by Zionists in government and media as a "great friend of Israel," the only thing Zionists care about. He managed to give Israel thirty years of support for everything it did, including participation in the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip. Israeli leaders even announced the 2008-2009 war on Gaza from Cairo.
Moreover, he led the other Arab dictators to support the NATO invasion and occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, the occupation and destruction of the Iraqi state, facilitating for the Zionist state to maintain its sole hegemony over the world's oil-rich region.
Zionists never cared about the Egyptian people, their standard of living, or their freedom and democracy. All what they have cared about was making sure that the dictator maintains his tight grip on power in order for him to keep Egypt away from leading the Arab Nation towards a better future of freedom, democracy, and a higher standard of living.
Finally, the Mubarak regime has been an active participant in the Bush global war on "Terror," which destroyed the US financially and morally. The Mubarak regime tortured Muslims renditioned to Egypt by US government after September 11, 2001.
Are the Egyptians going to buy the trick of endless negotiations with the regime, which has oppressed and impoverished them for three decades?
Are they going to insist on the "regime change," the slogan which they started their revolution with?
Are they going to move in millions, on Thursday, to the Presidential Palace, to force Muabarak to leave, as announced by the Union of Egyptian Lawyers today?
The answers to these questions will show if the revolution will continue further to reach its full potential, or not.
Muslim Brotherhood wary after government reform talks
Egypt’s once banned Muslim Brotherhood left talks with President Hosni Mubarak’s regime on Sunday dissatisfied, saying that an offer to include opposition members on a panel to steer the country through democratic reform was not enough.
By William EDWARDS (video)
News Wires (text)
February 6, 2011
AFP - An offer by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime to include opposition members on a panel to pilot democratic reform does not go far enough, a Muslim Brotherhood head said after landmark talks Sunday.
"The statement is insufficient," said Mohammed Mursi, who took part in a meeting between the government and representatives of several opposition groups protesting against Mubarak's rule.
The talks were historic in that the Brotherhood, which is still technically banned, has not officially met with the Egyptian state in 50 years.
Another senior Brotherhood figure, Essam al-Erian, told reporters: "Our demands are still the same. They didn't respond to most of our demands. They only responded to some of our demands, but in a superficial way."
Mahmud Ezzat, the number two leader in the Brotherhood, told AFP by telephone that the group had not pulled out of the talks because it felt it had made progress, but warned that protests would continue.
In his view, the government had by sitting down with the opposition "admitted that this is a popular revolution and its demands are legitimate. And part of our demands is that the president must leave.
Asked whether he believed that Mubarak would eventually step down, Ezzat said: "That hinges on popular pressure, and we support the popular pressure. It must continue."
Following the talks, the government announced an agreement that the parties would form a joint committee of jurists and politicians to oversee democratic reform with a view to holding eventual elections.
The government also agreed to open an office for complaints about the treatment of political prisoners, loosen media curbs, to lift an emergency law "depending on the security situation" and reject foreign interference.
But the demonstrators who have seized control of Tahrir Square in central Cairo, some of them Brotherhood supporters but many more unaffiliated secular protesters, have been adamant that Mubarak must step down immediately.
Many in the square were angry as night fell and the talks had failed to force Mubarak to quit his post and allow others to oversee the transition.
"It's bullshit. That's my honest opinion," said 25-year-old Nora Abul Samra. "When he leaves they can do whatever they want. They still believe there is a constitutional way to do it, but this is a revolution."
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood begins dialogue with government
CAIRO, Feb. 6, 2011, (Xinhua) --
Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman Sunday held talks with representatives of political parties including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and protesters, a step to establish a national dialogue and ease the unrest in Egypt that entered its 13th day.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Wafd party, Tagammu, members of a committee chosen by youth groups, as well as independent political and business figures were present at the meeting, state news agency MENA said.
According to state television, the opposition agreed with Suleiman to end the 30 years emergency law, constitutional change, ensure President Mubarak does not run again in September, stop crackdown on media and establish a national committee that follow up developments until new presidential elections which should be free and fair.
The Brotherhood who earlier refused to join talks unless the president leaves office first, said that the group decided to engage in negotiations as they are eager that the people's demands are met and wants to respect the sacrifices made by the young people.
"We decided to take part in a round of negotiations in order to test the officials' seriousness about people's demands and their interests to respond," said the group's supreme guide Mohamed Badie, in a statement on Sunday.
The move to join negotiations after the Brotherhood rejected previous calls came only a day after the top executive board of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) resigned including the Egyptian president's son Gamal Mubarak. Hossam Badrawi, a prominent physician and political figure was named as the new secretary general.
Rumors circulated that President Mubarak have also stepped down from his post as NDP chairman, but those rumors proved false by the minister of information, which angered Tahrir Square protesters demanding the president to end his 30 year rule of the country.
Meanwhile normal life began in Cairo streets except central Cairo's Tahrir square which remains packed, after a long standstill week as chaos took place around the capital.
The Egyptian government opened a limited number of banks, long lines formed outside the banks in downtown and other neighborhood. Moreover, traffic went back to normal as more people started to use public transportation.
Egyptian army commander addresses protestors in Tahrir Square
CAIRO, Feb. 5, 2011 (Xinhua) --
An Egyptian army commander on Saturday went to the Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, to persuade thousands of protestors to stop the demonstration which entered the 12th day demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
The senior officer called Hassan said in a loud speaker that the crowd should go home and the army guaranteed the safety of protestors, a Xinhua reporter said. The address was responded with shouts from demonstrators.
Egypt regime offers new concessions to opposition
Feb 6, 12:53 PM EST
By SARAH EL DEEB and MAGGIE MICHAEL
CAIRO (AP) --
Egypt's vice president met a broad representation of major opposition groups for the first time Sunday and offered new concessions including freedom of the press, release of those detained since anti-government protests began nearly two weeks ago and the eventual lifting of the country's hated emergency laws.
Two of the groups that attended the meeting said this was only a first step in a dialogue which has yet to meet their central demand - the immediate ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
"People still want the president to step down," said Mostafa Al-Naggar, a protest organizer and supporter of Mohamed El-Baradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and one of the country's leading democracy advocates.
"The protest continues because there are no guarantees and not all demands have been met," he added. "We did not sign on to the statement. This is a beginning of a dialogue. We approve the positive things in the statement but ... we are still demanding that the president step down."
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group, made a similar statement after its representatives attended the meeting.
Vice President Omar Suleiman offered to set up a committee of judiciary and political figures to study proposed constitutional reforms that would allow more candidates to run for president and impose term limits on the presidency, the state news agency reported. The committee was given until the first week of March to finish the tasks.
The offer also included a pledge not to harass those participating in anti-government protests, which have drawn hundreds of thousands at the biggest rallies. The government agreed not to hamper freedom of press and not to interfere with text messaging and Internet.
The offer to eventually lift emergency laws with a major caveat - when security permits - would fulfill a longtime demand by the opposition. The laws were imposed by Mubarak when he took office in 1981 and they have been in force ever since. They give police far-reaching powers for detention and suppression of civil and human rights.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry hailed the talks with opposition groups and the promise to remove the emergency law as "frankly quite extraordinary." Kerry called on Mubarak to lay out a timetable for transition and new elections.
"He must step aside gracefully, and begin the process of transition to a caretaker government. I believe that is happening right now," Kerry told NBC's Meet the Press. "What's needed now is a clarity in this process."
Mubarak is insisting he cannot stand down now or it would only deepen the chaos in his country. The United States shifted signals and gave key backing to the regime's gradual changes on Saturday, warning of the dangers if Mubarak goes too quickly.
Sunday's meeting drew the broadest representation of Egypt's fragmented opposition to sit with the new vice president since the protests began on Jan. 25.
The new offer of concessions followed a series of others that would have been unimaginable just a month ago in this tightly controlled country. All appear geared to placate the protesters and relieve international pressure without giving in to the one demand that unites all the opposition - Mubarak's immediate departure. The latest agreement makes no mention of any plan for Mubarak to step before a new election is held later this year.
Since protests began, Mubarak has pledged publicly for the first time that he will not seek re-election. The government promised his son Gamal, who had widely been expected to succeed him, would also not stand. Mubarak appointed a vice president for the first time since he took office three decades ago, widely considered his designated successor. He sacked his Cabinet, named a new one and promised reforms. And on Saturday, the top leaders of the ruling party, including Gamal Mubarak, were purged.
There were signs that the paralysis that has gripped the country since the crisis began was easing Sunday, the first day of the week in Egypt. Some schools reopened for the first time in more than a week, and banks did the same for only three hours with long lines outside. However, there is still a night curfew, and tanks ringing the city's central square and guarding government buildings, embassies and other important institutions.
At the epicenter of the protests, Tahrir (Liberation) Square in central Cairo, some activists said they had slept under army tanks ringing the plaza for fear they would try to evict them or further confine the area for demonstrations. The crowd of thousands in the morning swelled steadily over the day to tens of thousands in the late afternoon. Many were exhausted and wounded from fighting to stand their ground for more than a week in the square.
"We are determined to press on until our number one demand is met," said Khaled Abdul-Hameed, a representative of the protesters.
He said the activists have formed a 10-member "Coalition of the Youths of Egypt's Revolution," to relay their positions to politicians and public figures negotiating with the regime.
"The regime is retreating. It is making more concessions everyday," Abdul-Hameed said.
The opposition groups represented at the meeting included the youthful supporters of ElBaradei, who are one of the main forces organizing the protests. ElBaradei was not invited and his brother said the statement by those who did attend does not represent his personal view.
The Muslim Brotherhood and a number of smaller leftist, liberal groups also attended, according to footage shown on state television.
The government offered to open an office that would field complaints about political prisoners, according to the state news agency. It also pledged to commission judicial authorities to fight corruption and prosecute those behind it. In another concession, authorities promised to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the yet unexplained disappearance of police from Cairo's streets more than a week ago, which unleashed a wave of lawless looting and arson.
The government agreed to set up a committee that includes public and independent figures and specialists and representatives of youth movements to monitor the "honest implementation" of all the new agreements and to report back and give recommendations to Suleiman.
"I think Mubarak will have to stop being stubborn by the end of this week because the country cannot take more million strong protests," said Muslim Brotherhood representative Issam Aryan
Mohammed Mursi, one of the Brothers who attended the talks, said: "Unless he moves fast to meet people's demands there is no point in the dialogue."
Mursi said what was issued was a position in principle, "a first step."
"All those attending the meeting agreed the protesters have a right to stay where they are without anyone assaulting them," he said. "People want real change, a change that includes the president, his government, his party and his regime," Mursi added.
He also said the group was expecting a second round of talks within a few days.
The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed since 1954 but fields candidates in parliamentary elections as independents, did not organize or lead the protests currently under way and only publicly threw its support behind them a few days into the movement. It only ordered its supporters to take part when it sensed that the protesters, mostly young men and women using social networks on the Internet to mobilize, were able to sustain their momentum.
There have been no known discussions between the Brotherhood and the regime in years - one of many startling shifts in policy after years of crackdowns by the Western-backed regime against the Islamists.
Both Mubarak and Suleiman have blamed the Brotherhood as well as foreigners of fomenting the recent unrest. Mubarak is known to have little or no tolerance for Islamist groups and the decision to open talks with the Brotherhood is a tacit recognition by his regime of their key role in the ongoing protests as well as their wide popular base.
The Brotherhood aims to create an Islamic state in Egypt, but insists that it would not force women to cover up in public in line with Islam's teachings and would not rescind Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
The group, which fields candidates as independents, made a surprisingly strong showing in elections in 2005, winning 20 percent of parliament's seats. However, thousands of its members were arrested in crackdowns over the past decade and it failed to win a single seat in elections held late last year. The vote was heavily marred by fraud that allowed the National Democratic Party to win all but a small number of the chamber's 518 seats.
Al-Tahrir Square, hundreds performed the noon prayers and later offered a prayer for the souls of protesters killed in clashes with security forces. Later, Christians held a Sunday Mass and thousands of Muslims joined in.
Some of the worshippers broke down and cried as the congregation sang: "Bless our country, listen to the screams of our hearts."
"In the name of Jesus and Muhammad we unify our ranks," Father Ihab al-Kharat said in his sermon. "We will keep protesting until the fall of the tyranny," he said.
In the capital Cairo, home to some 18 million people, there were some signs of a return to normalcy. Traffic was back to near regular levels and more stores reopened across the city, including some on the streets leading to the Tahrir Square. Protesters greeted some store owners and people returning to work with flowers.
In Zamalek, an affluent island in the middle of the Nile that is home to many foreign embassies, food outlets reopened and pizza delivery boys checked their motorbikes. Employees at a KFC restaurant wiped down tables. Hairdressers and beauty salons called their patrons to let them know they were reopening.
Associated Press reporter Salah Nasrawi contributed to this report from Cairo.
US noncommittal on Muslim group joining talks
By MATTHEW LEE
Feb 6, 2011,12:17 PM EST
MUNICH (AP) --
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday the Obama administration supports the transition to a new government now moving forward in Egypt, but she says it must be up to the Egyptian people to decide if the reforms go far enough.
With mass protests now in their 13th day, Clinton said the U.S. is encouraging talks between opposition leaders and Vice President Omar Suleiman aimed at ending the country's political crisis.
But she withheld judgment on the decision by the Muslim Brotherhood to enter into discussions with the embattled government. The group said it would insist that President Hosni Mubarak, an authoritarian leader who's been in power for nearly three decades, step aside immediately.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Clinton said the U.S. has been clear about what it expects as Egypt moves toward a new government.
"The Egyptian people are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections," she said. "That's what the United States has consistently supported. We are putting a lot into making sure the dialogue process that has begun is meaningful and transparent and leads to concrete actions."
The people of Egypt and the leaders of the various opposition groups would "ultimately determine if it is or is not meeting their needs," she said.
The transition should be as inclusive and transparent as possible, Clinton said.
While remaining non-committal about the Brotherhood's entry into the talks, she said "at least they are now involved in the dialogue."
"We are going to wait and see how this develops," she said.
Clinton's comment suggests the administration would be willing to work with a government that includes the Brotherhood, but only if certain conditions were met.
The group has been outlawed since 1954 and the talks would be the first known discussions between the government and the Brotherhood in years.
In Washington, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., hailed the Egyptian government's talks with the Brotherhood and other opposition groups as "quite extraordinary."
Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to lay out a timetable for transition and new elections in a second major address to his people.
"He must step aside gracefully and begin the process of transition to a caretaker government," Kerry said. "I believe that is happening right now," but he said what's needed is clarity in the process.
Leading democracy advocate Mohamed El-Baradei criticized the talks as "opaque" and "managed by the military." Also speaking on NBC, he said he had not been invited to them, and he warned that Egyptians still fear "that the government will retrench and come back with a vengeance."
The Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., Sameh Shoukry, insisted that the transition is under way and said "the Egypt of the future will look significantly different than Egypt of the past."
Clinton addressed in her interview the phenomenon of anti-government protests that began in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt and other Arab nations.
"Some leaders listen better than other leaders, but all leaders have to recognize now that the failure to reform, the failure to open up their economies and political systems, is just not an option any longer," she said.
Clinton said the "forces that are at work, particularly because of the advances in communications technology, are not reversible."
The U.S. understands that and wants to "play a constructive role in helping countries move in the direction of more openness and more democracy and participation and market access, the things that we stand for," she said.
Clinton also acknowledged that over the years the U.S. has had close relations with autocratic regimes that are not popular with their people and run counter to American ideas and ideals.
"There is no easy answer to how we pursue what's in America's interests because ultimately my job, the president's job is to protect the security, the interests of the United States," she said.
"Do we do business with, do we have relations with, do we support governments over the past 50 years that we do not always see eye to eye with? Of course. That's the world in which we live, but our messages are consistent," she said.
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