Friday, 11 February 2011

Egypt in turmoil

President Hosni Mubarak has dashed hopes and confounded dashed hopes and confounded expectations by using a televised address on State television last night to declare he would not budge. In effect, he said he was stepping aside, not down by handing over some unspecified powers to his newly appointed vice president and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

The move, or rather lack of one, came at the end of an extraordinary few hours. They began with the issuing of Communiqué Number One from the military command council. The communiqué itself was bland and uninformative:

“The Higher Army Council held a meeting today under Hussein Tantawi the head of the armed forces and minister of defence to discuss the necessary measures and preparations to protect the nation, its gains and the aspirations of the people. The council decided to remain in continuous session to discuss measures that can be taken in this regard.”

Historians of the Arab world, however, will recognise that the first intimation of a coup traditionally is the seizure of the radio station and the broadcast of a communiqué by a group of sometimes unknown army officers.

The army communiqué was followed by statements from the new secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party Hossam Badrawi and the prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, that President Mubarak was going.

The president's decision not to go but to soldier on until elections in September raises questions about the role of the army. There is no disputing that the protestors in Tahrir square feel deeply insulted by the patronising tone adopted by the incumbent president. Essentially, each side is now appealing to the armed forces to forgo its neutrality and take sides in this constitutional impasse. But it is yet unclear whether it will.

The army has now issued a Communiqué Number Two which "confirms the lifting of the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances end," a pledge that would eradicate a 30-year law that protesters say is used to suppress dissent.

In an interview publicised shortly before the second communiqué, Egypt's leading opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei said the army "has to side with the people".

Speaking about the prospect of some of Mubarak's powers being transferred to Suleiman, El Baradei noted: “The people on the street feel the same way about Suleiman as they feel about Mubarak. He is to them only a mirror image of Mubarak."

We will, of course, keep you informed of any significant developments.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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