Egyptian standoff as Mubarak stays put
The popular uprising against the Egyptian regime reached a standoff at the end of its sixth day, Sunday night, Jan. 30: President Hosni Mubarak made it clear to the armed forces chiefs whom he met at military headquarters during the day that he has no intention of bowing to the massive popular call to step down .
It is from there that operations to quell the uprising against his regime are being conducted.
Mubarak clearly had not intention of heeding the pressure from Washington and European capitals to listen to the people and their call for an orderly transition to "a democratic government responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people" – reiterated by President Barack Obama Sunday.
The generals then continued to pour divisions into Cairo and Egypt's main cities in an effort to assume control. However, this tactic is not working: The officers and men on the ground realize they and their tanks are extras in a show of strength to the cities without the power to exert it: they can't shoot the protesters or exercise any other form of violence.
In Cairo, for instance, vigilantes protecting private property in the suburbs handed looters over to the soldiers who passed them to the police. In Alexandria, Egyptian tank officers were seen directing traffic in the town center.
Against the regime, the opposition groups – of which there are at leas ten – are just as hamstrung by their failure to produce a leader able to stand up and challenge the president. For lack of any representative figure, they picked the retired nuclear watchdog director Dr. Mohamed ElBaradi to speak for them in negotiations over the transfer of power. Hardly anyone in Egypt knows him: He is better known outside the country having spent many years abroad.
debkafile's Middle East sources report that the Egyptian crisis looks like being in for a protracted period of uncertainty unless the army, which holds the key to breaking the deadlock, decided to step in and pick a side -Mubarak or the people. The generals alone have the clout to force Mubarak to step down and get out, as happened in Tunisia, or smash the street demonstrations. This would mean a massacre, the army's identification with a repressive regime and the end of its historic acceptance as the people's army.
It will be noted that the new Vice President Gen. Omar Suleiman, 76, is seen more as a loyalist of the president, whom he served as intelligence minster and strong arm, than the military.
He appears to be behind the steps ordered Sunday, such as sending Air Force fighter jets to swoop over Tahrir Square and building up a military presence in the main towns. None of these steps have broken the back of the uprising or intimidated the protesters. State TV announced accordinglty that the police would return to the streets Monday, two days after they were chased away by the protesters.
The curfew which has been consistently flouted is to be extended: From 1500 hours Monday, Jan. 31, no one will be
debkafile reported earlier Sunday.
The Mubarak regimesent two F-16 fighter jets and helicopters in repeated low-flying passes over the tens of thousands of protesters massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square Sunday, Jan. 30, the sixth day of the anti-government protest. This latest, most dramatic show of military force only added to the rage of the crowd who refused to disperse and called even more loudly for Mubarak and his new Vice President, Gen. Omar Suleiman to go right now.
At the entrance to the square, protesters blocked the path of a dozen battle tanks attempting to assert control over central Cairo by sitting and lying down in front of them. The result was a standoff. The army has thrown up barricades around the square and imposed restrictions on movements, but has not used violence against the protesters.
It is not clear if sending the fighter jets to intimidate the protesters was decided with the army generals when Mubarak visited them at army headquarters earlier Sunday or a unilateral decision by the Air Force chiefs, who remain loyal to the president, himself a former air force chief and pilot.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a change of tone from her last statement 48 hours ago, called for an "orderly transition to democratic rule in Egypt." She also denied there had been any discussion of the cut-off of aid to the embattled country.
Around the city, neighborhoods have got together to protect their homes and property against looters and criminal gangs roaming the streets. The police have melted away and the vast city is in chaos. Disruptions and protests continue in other Egyptian cities.
In central Cairo, thousands of protesters gathered Sunday morning, some having camped there overnight in defiance of the curfew. Their chants were different in two important senses from the slogans dominating the first five days of their protest. Now they are calling for both President Hosni Mubarak and his newly-appointed Vice President Gen. Omar Suleiman to resign, branding them "American agents." Secondly, Islamic elements are more conspicuous among the crowd collecting in central Cairo Sunday.
Thousands of political prisoners, Islamic extremists and criminals are on the loose having reportedly escaped jails in the Cairo area.
The United States is preparing to evacuate citizens. The Embassy in Cairo advised all Americans to consider leaving the country as soon as possible. Ankara is sending planes to carry Turkish citizens out of the country. Saturday, the Israeli airline El Al sent a special flight to Cairo for families of embassy staff, leaving the diplomats in place.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu updated the weekly cabinet session in his conversations overnight with President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Egyptian crisis.