Al Jazeera – 2011-01-31 03:16:21
Defiance in Cairo’s Tahrir Square
(January 29, 2011) — Large mass of demonstrators gather in Cairo day after violent clashes with security forces left more than 100 dead.
‘Mega Protest’ Planned in Egypt
CAIRO (January 31, 2011) — Egyptian protesters have called for a massive demonstration on Tuesday in a bid to force out president Hosni Mubarak from power. The so-called April 6 Movement said it plans to have more than a million people on the streets of the capital Cairo, as anti-government sentiment reaches a fever pitch.
Several hundred demonstrators remained camped out in Tahrir Square in central Cairo early on Monday morning, defying a curfew that has been extended by the army. “It seems as if they are saying: ‘We are here to stay. We are re-invigorating our movement and we are not going anywhere’,” one of Al Jazeera‘s correspondents in Cairo said.
Protesters seem unfazed by Mubarak’s pledge to institute economic and political reforms. Our correspondent said that people feel that such pledges “are too little, too late”.
Early on Monday morning, unconfirmed reports said the police had been ordered back on the streets. “We are expecting a statement by the minister of interior about whether the police are going to return or not,” our correspondent said. “The absence of police has given looters a free rein, forcing ordinary citizens to set up neighbourhood patrols. Many people are wondering where the police disappeared to.
“There are two schools of thought as far as the police are concerned: One is that many of them decided to join the protesters. The other is that the regime was saying to the people, ‘You want to protest. We’ll pull back the police and you feel what anarchy feels like’,” our correspondent said.
A day earlier, Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure, joined thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told the crowd on Sunday night that “what we have begun cannot go back” referring to days of anti-government protests.
The National Coalition for Change, which groups several opposition movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, wants ElBaradei to negotiate with the Mubarak government. “The people want the regime to fall,” protesters chanted as ElBaradei walked to the centre of the square, holding hands with some demonstrators.
The show of continued defiance by the people came on a day when air force fighter planes flew low over Cairo along with helicopters and extra troop lorries appeared in the central square. As the protests continue, security is said to be deteriorating and reports have emerged of several prisons across the country being attacked and of fresh protests being staged in cities like Alexandria and Suez. Thirty-four leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood were freed from the Wadi Natroun jail after guards abandoned their posts.
The protesters in Cairo, joined by hundreds of judges, had gathered earlier in Tahrir Square in the afternoon to demand the resignation of Mubarak.
Al Jazeera‘s correspondent, reporting from the scene, said that demonstrators confronted a fire truck, at which point army troops fired into the air in a bid to disperse them. He said the protesters did not move back, and a tank commander then ordered the fire truck to leave. When the truck moved away from the square, the thousands of protesters erupted into applause and climbed onto the tank in celebration, hugging soldiers. Main roads in Cairo have been blocked by military tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and large numbers of army personnel have been seen in other cities as well.
Our correspondent said that extra military roadblocks had been set up in an apparent attempt to divert traffic away from Tahrir Square, which has become a focal point for demonstrators.
“It’s still a very tense scene to have so much military in the capital city of the country.”
‘Anxious’ Israel Backs Egypt Regime
TEL AVIV (January 31, 2011) — Israel has called on the United States and Europe to curb their criticism of president Hosni Mubarak in a bid to preserve stability in Egypt and the wider Middle East, an Israeli newspaper reports. The Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday that the foreign ministry, in an urgent special cable, instructed its ambassadors to key countries, to “stress … the importance of Egypt’s stability”.
Increasingly, president Mubarak has been isolated by swift and at times harsh criticism from Western leaders. It is unclear how angry Egyptians will interpret Israel’s apparent support for their government. The protests in Egypt have reportedly thrown the Israeli government into turmoil, with military officials holding lengthy strategy sessions, assessing possible scenarios of a post-Mubarak Egypt.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said on Sunday that his government is “anxiously monitoring” the political unrest in Egypt, his first comment on the crisis threatening a government that has been one of Israel’s key allies for more than 30 years.
Israeli officials have remained largely silent about the situation in Egypt, but have made clear that preserving the historic 1979 peace agreement with the biggest Arab nation is a paramount interest. The peace deal, cool but stable, turned Israel’s most potent regional enemy into a crucial partner, provided security on one of its borders and allowed it to significantly reduce the size of its army and defence budget.
“We are anxiously monitoring what is happening in Egypt and in our region,” Netanyahu said before his cabinet’s weekly meeting on Sunday. “Israel and Egypt have been at peace for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these ties be preserved. At this time, we must display responsibility, restraint and utmost prudence,” Netanyahu added.
It was the first high-level comment from Israel on the Egypt protests, which began last week with disorganised crowds demanding the resignation of Mubarak and have grown into the most significant challenge to Egypt’s autocratic regime in recent memory.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, discussed the situation in Egypt with Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, on Sunday, according to a statement from Barak’s office. No details of the discussion were released. Over the weekend, Israel evacuated the families of its diplomats from Cairo and security officials began holding urgent consultations.
Israel’s primary concern is that the uprising could be commandeered by Egypt’s strongest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its allies, who would presumably move Egypt away from its alignment with the West and possibly cancel the peace agreement with Israel. “[…] Israelis, have been overtaken by fear: The fear of democracy. Not here, in neighbouring countries,” Sever Plocker, an Israeli commentator, writes in the daily Yediot Ahronot. “Its as though we never prayed for our Arab neighbours to become liberal democracies,” Plocker writes.
The benefits to Israel of peace with Egypt have been significant. In the three decades before the peace agreement, Israel and Egypt fought four major wars.
Israel now spends nine per cent of its gross domestic product on defence, Shueftan said – compared with 23 per cent in the 1970s, when a state of war with Egypt still existed. Where Israel once deployed thousands of soldiers along the Egyptian frontier, today there are several hundred. This reduction allowed the Israeli economy to begin flowering in the years after the peace deal, he said. Mubarak has also served as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.
If Egypt resumes its conflict with Israel, Israelis fear, it will put a powerful Western-armed military on the side of Israel’s enemies while also weakening pro-Western states like Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, offered a grim assessment on Sunday in Yediot Ahronot. “The assumption at present is that Mubarak’s regime is living on borrowed time, and that a transition government will be formed for the next number of months until new general elections are held,” he wrote. “If those elections are held in a way that the Americans want, the most likely result will be that the Muslim Brotherhood will win a majority and will be the dominant force in the next government. That is why it is only a question of a brief period of time before Israel’s peace with Egypt pays the price,” Shaked wrote.
Some in Israel have compared US president Barack Obama’s response to the crisis to that of former US president Jimmy Carter to the Iranian revolution in 1979. Obama has called on Mubarak to show restraint and pass unspecified reforms in Egypt.
“Jimmy Carter will go down in American history as ‘the president who lost Iran’, which during his term went from being a major strategic ally of the United States to being the revolutionary Islamic republic,” Aluf Benn, an analyst in Haaretz, wrote. “Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who ‘lost’ Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, and during whose tenure America’s alliances in the Middle East crumbled.”
Still, the Obama administration has stopped short of calling for the resignation of president Mubarak, and as of Sunday, the Pentagon continued to have high-level discussions with the Egytian military. Former Israeli general Yaakov Amidror said that in the short term, Israel will face increased smuggling activities in the Sinai peninsula, where the authority of the Cairo government has been further weakened by the unrest.
As a result of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip, widely lambasted as inhumane and an obstacle to the peace process, weapons, fuel and other goods enter the Hamas-controlled territory. “They will now try to get in everything they couldn’t get in before,” Amidror said.
Israel captured Sinai in 1967 and then ceded it to Egypt in the 1979 peace deal. The area was demilitarised as part of the agreement. For now, the unrest seems to have had the opposite effect. Gaza smugglers said the supply routes have been disrupted and that they have not received any merchandise from Egypt since Friday, apparently because of difficulties in transporting the goods across Egypt to the Gaza border.
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