All day yesterday there was talk of Mubarak’s big announcement in the evening. The Egyptian military, the media, the us government, opposition leaders, everyone “in the know” was grinning and nudging everyone else saying, “ooo. Big announcement tonight! Not gonna say what, but it should be good.” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
As the speech approached anticipation and excitement built - the crowd had to wait so long that a string of “Mubarak is late because…” jokes started to make the rounds on twitter. (slight digression here – that’s got to be HUGE. Think about it, a millions of people all over the planet joking with each other about a political speech in cairo before it even happens. Just turn it over in your mind for a minute.)
The speech was infuriating. It was the exact opposite of what people wanted to hear. Mubarak isn’t going anywhere. What a jerk. For a close analysis of what this means, I’ll just quote longtime Egyptian blogger sandmonkey:
1) Mubarak is not going to leave Office without bloodshed. Any attempt for a peaceful exit has been discarded by his regime, and they are intending to fight the will of the people until the end.
2) Mubarak has burned the image of Hossam Badrawy and the Wisemen council with his speech. Hossam Badrawy, the secretary general of the NDP, was the face of the NDP that announced Mubarak's intenetion to abdicate power later tonight. Now the man has no credibility. Same goes for the Wiseman Council, since Mubarak's speech was focused on how he has met their demands, which don't include him leaving. If most of them don't quit their posts today, I would be greatly surprised.
3) We are seeing the first possible split in the power structure in Egypt: It seems that the Armed forces are in one camp, and the president, intelligence agencies and the republican guard in another camp. If you add to the equation the Ministery of Interior and the protesters, you have 4 players right now in an intensely unpredictable power struggle. We are now awaiting the second statement from the High council of amred forces to clearify their position once and for all. Whether the Army is with or against the people will determine a lot of today's outcome.
4) Mubarak has now put the US in a corner: He double-crossed the White House, and announced his intentions to fight foriegn intervention. Adding to that the news of the arab aid, he is sending the US a clear message: "I could tell you and your aid to go to hell, and get the money from the arabs instead. Where does this leave your precious Israel? If you don't want us to cause problems on that front, you better shut up about what we will do and get with the program, or else!"
So what does this mean? What next?
The crowd was pretty pissed last night, but if Mubarak was trying to trigger a mass act of violence to force the hand of the army he was unsuccessful. Groups of protesters went to the national TV station and the presidential palace to do some angry chanting, but the majority of the crowd went home. Friday, after prayers, we will see the true response.
There is other strangeness afoot. The army (who seemed to be pressuring Mubarak to step down) issued a cryptic message to the Egyptian people entitled “Communique Number One” last night. The content of the message was unremarkable, but the ramifications are pretty substantial – “Communique number one” is traditionally (in 20th century middle east history) the military’s first address to the people of a country after they seize power in a coup. Have they? Apparently Mubarak doesn’t think so.
A few notes on the Egyptian military – The middle east institute has a good policy insight piece that will certainly help you better understand their unique position in Egyptian society. However, the paper’s overall positive attitude towards the army should be tempered with some unsettling reports that have recently surfaced regarding mass arrests of protesters and violence (lethal violence, even) being wielded against protestors. This may just be the work of Mubarak loyalists within the army ranks, but it is nonetheless a foreboding indicator of internal divisions within the army.
So, with multiple factions potentially moving in the streets this evening, I await tonight's reports from Egypt with trepidation. We are, it seems, moving closer to both my best-case and worse-case scenarios.
Best case scenario - Mubarak flees , elections are held, elBaradei (or any of the other reasonable candidates) becomes president and everyone is happy. Worst case scenario – Mubarak gets overly possessive about his presidency, police action becomes military action, clubs and teargas become bullets and tanks, and Cairo ends up like Baghdad in 2004/2005.
Last minute update (I’m sure this will be a day of significant news, but I want to get this up so I can get on with my work)
Mubarak has relocated to an undisclosed location (possibly out of country) but the council of military chiefs have agreed to back Mubarak’s declaration to stay in office.
Final analysis: Bleh.