The internet is back on, at last. Presumably the army believes that public opinion is turning on the demonstrators, now that Mubarak has announced that he won’t seek another term. I doubt the counter-protests are particularly spontaneous, but they probably at least have the passive support of people who are weary of the violence.
Much to write for the past few days, but here are some long-obsolete comments from two days ago.
Jan 31: A more relaxed day than the last two, apparently. I arrived about two hours before curfew. Airport working well, the policeman who stamped me in unusually friendly. It was a beautiful cool Egyptian winter day. Taxis were running regularly, and traffic moved quickly. Taxi radio praised the cooperation between the army and the popular committees, a line that the government is pushing, distributing phone numbers to call the military.
TD, a fellow probably in his 50s, refers to Mubarak as a “failed lottery ticket” to be thrown away, suggests that maybe Omar Suleiman can take over the government, then resign for medical reasons, leaving a transitional government in power.
Demonstrations today confined to Tahrir and adjoining areas. Heliopolis seemed relaxed: army and popular committees fraternizing at the entrance to streets, teenagers having their pictures taken in front of the tanks. Downtown the shops were almost all closed, although Tawfiqiya vegetable market doing a thriving business. A few khawaga backpacker types could be seen around the Alfi Bey area, soaking it up.
The initial wave of panic linked to the withdrawal of the police two days ago seems to be wearing off. People seemed dismissive of the looting, dismissing it as either panic or the work of agents provocateurs. One protester said that he had seen clearly faked crime reports on state TV: ie, a woman calling in from the bathroom with a burglar in her house.
This disorder is probably much exaggerated in central Cairo. However, in certain areas it sounds like it is very bad indeed — in particular around prisons, where communities of the prisoners’ families sometimes grow up. Abu Zaabel prison for example is supposedly in the middle of an east Delta bedouin community known for its smuggling. Local bedouin reportedly commandeered a bulldozer and broke down the walls. A fellow journalist said that 20,000 prisoners are out on the streets. This could have pretty nasty implications for the future.
I walked from Gomhuriya street to Tahrir, starting to run into demonstrators on 26 July by the High Court. The foot traffic flowing into Tahrir and constrained by a military barricade– 300 per minute maybe from the road by the museum. It got quite squishy, but women and families were allowed to jump the military barricade. Went through three ID checks by demonstrators, looking for police provocateurs. Foreign passport waved through fine. Youth perched on planter boxes handed out fliers for a “million man” march tomorrow, which seems to be the protesters’ “official” event.
Tahrir had a carnival-like atmosphere — all kinds of people out on the streets, especially college kids and professionals, lots of women. Dates were distributed. New batches of marchers entering the square provoked cheers. Slogans almost entirely aimed at Mubarak personally, a few updated to include Omar Suleiman, a couple of denunciations of American hypocrisy. Elijah has a photo of a demonstrator with a kitten tucked in his arm, carrying a “No Mubark” placard. The statue of Ibn Sina was also holding a placard.
The strongest theme re Mubarak was that his perpetuating himself for 30 years was simply an insult. Jazeera had footage of a demonstrator with a picture of every American president since Reagan next to a picture of Mubarak — five US presidents, five photos of Mubarak. One leftist journalist said that it should end with any transitional figure in charge: “it could be one of us, even that guy over there wearing a t-shirt. We just want to feel that we are [old] enough to govern ourselves.”
Strong fear of undercover police: in addition to the checking of IDs, we saw one incident that could have turned ugly. One well-built guy had lept to the top of a concrete barrier and seemed to be arguing in favor of the protesters abandoning Tahrir: he “wanted change”, but that demonstrators had brought the city “to a stop.” He was instantly assumed by the crowd to be an agent, and got into a shoving match with other demonstrators until the army pulled him aside.
The demonstrators were planning to sleep in the square overnight, but I understand in relatively small numbers. Very few people in Tahrir overnight, easy to remove. Arabiya showed concrete barriers being brought in on trucks. Could they actually seal off the square?
Walked through Zamalek prior to curfew — relaxed, empty, a lovely evening. Legan shaabiya out, rather genteel. One legna consisted of a fellow and his ten year old daughter, holding what looked like a cane.
The jubilation in Tahrir does not really extend to the surrounding areas. In addition to the security problem, food prices which are already high have gone through the roof. Stores with flour have reportedly been looted, and roads in from the countryside are said to be closed. I suspect a fair number of poorer people I think at this point would be content to blame this on youth riled up by Jazeera (the government’s current scapegoat) and let go. The regime’s strategy of holding the population hostage seems to work, to a degree.
The cabinet appointment is alarming. The interior minister is changed, but few new faces overall — seen as a big f-you to the protesters. This could just be Mubarak’s cussedness, or maybe the regime has decided out that the looting has created sufficient sympathy for a crackdown, and the army has a sense of purpose in restoring order, and wants to provoke the “million march” into a new round of violence.
But this is what I don’t fully understand. Does the regime think that it can clear Tahrir, break a few more heads, go around making arrests — wear down the movement — and then turn the internet back on a week from now? Do they have some way of turning on the internet but disabling social networking? I really don’t understand how they think they can wear down this movement, other than keeping Egypt in a state of semi-limbo for a very long time, which would have disastrous consequences regarding the economy, law and order, etc.
Then Omar Suleiman comes on television later on at night, after I’ve been to bed, and says that there will be new elections. This is as far as I’m aware his first major policy statement. The announcement isn’t so important — the presidency, not parliament, is the target here — but Suleiman delivering it suggests that Mubarak is willing to present himself as on the way out.