September 19, 2017

Huge Cairo protest rejects Mubarak plans

An Egytian protester dives into the wrong mosh pit. The camera captures the moment before he is turned into baton soup.

Hundreds of thousands of protesting Egyptians have filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a mass rally to reject President Mubaraks plan for a gradual handover of power.

They are calling for Mubarak and his government to step down immediately. Foreign observers are calling this the biggest protest yet since the unrest started on January 25. President Mubarak has said he will stay until elections in September.

In recent days it had looked like Mubarak might manage to hang on to power for now. The protesters were struggling to maintain momentum and the United States of America and the United Kingdom had changed their tune.

After earlier calling for a peaceful transition of power the Western nations have obviously analysed the alternatives and decided that Egypt with Mubarak in charge (or someone similar) is preferable to what the alternatives are shaping up to be.

Meanwhile back in Tahrir Square, the army decided on a change of tactics against the demonstrators and employed the age old weapon of authoritarian regimes – bureaucracy.

They were lining everyone up to check their identity cards before letting them into the square. In the end though they had to give up because sheer weight of numbers overwhelmed the checkpoints.

Todays protest puts the ball back into Mubaraks court. He had been hoping that with some support from the west and the passage of time that the protests would fizzle out as Egyptians were forced back to work through personal economic necessity.

Newly released from detention, Google executive and blogger, Wael Ghonim, was cheered on by the crowds. He has been credited with setting up the facebook page that helped ignite the protests. “We will not abandon our demand and that is the departure of the regime,” Mr Ghonim told protesters in the square, who were wildly enthusiastic in return.

The protesters are continuing to call for Mr Mubarak to leave office immediately, and say they are sceptical about any transition managed by the government.

In his response to the protests, President Mubarak has set up a committee to propose constitutional changes, and another is being formed to carry the changes out. There we go bureaucracy again. Perhaps Hosni should reconsider some of those exile options. When people are so wound up, offering to set up a committee to look at their concerns just doesn’t cut the mustard with your average angry Egyptian protester.

Vice-President Omar Suleiman, who announced the formation of the new committees, said he had briefed Mr Mubarak on recent talks with the opposition, and the president had welcomed the process of “dialogue” and “national reconciliation”.

“The president also underlined the importance of continuing the process and moving from guidelines to a clear map with a definite timetable” for a “peaceful and organised” transfer of power, he said. Well that was a sensational collection of politician-speak. That is, words that say a lot but mean nothing concrete.

But wait there is more. A third committee has been set up to ‘investigate’ the clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak groups last week in Cairo.

The result of this investigation will show how serious the government is about being truthful and open in their dealings. There is no way that the couter attack launched against the protesters was any kind of spontaneous act by individuals filled with love and admiration for Mubarak.

Something of that scale required some serious organisation. Who was in a position to organise something like that? Perhaps a government agency?

Human Rights Watch researchers say they have confirmed the deaths of 297 people in the protests since 28 January, based on a count from seven hospitals in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. No comprehensive death toll has been given by the Egyptian government, but they will probably set up a committee to look into it.