The day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Cairo, Tuesday 15.3, she visited Tahrir Square. During her 10-12 minute walkabout, she remarked: "To see where this revolution happened and all that it has meant to the world is extraordinary for me. It's just a great reminder of the power of the human spirit and universal desire for human rights and democracy."
A much less uplifting spirit prevailed in the quiet rooms when she sat down to talk with Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi and Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Anan, heads of the Supreme Military Council which now rules Egypt.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that Clinton sought to understand how the generals were able to govern without an army to command. All they have the power to do is to move units from place to place in Cairo or Alexandria, but any orders to operate against a domestic target would be disobeyed.
They explained delicately that none of the generals in the 25-member supreme council would even consider giving the troops orders to go into action because those orders would be met with flat defiance. The military rulers have no resources for disciplining the soldiers who would rather desert than obey orders. If put to this test, one of the most powerful armies in the Middle East would paradoxically crumble from within. The soldiers would take off their uniforms, desert and go home.
As for the police, they have never left their homes since they were discredited for their initial crackdown against anti-Mubarak protesters.
This leaves Egyptian cities with no one to fight crime and maintain order.
Washington and Cairo still at odds on steps towards democracy
The only security organization still functioning Egypt today is the secret Mukhabarat service, which is loosely associated with the Army and commanded by Gen. Mourad Mwafi, former head of Egyptian military intelligence and governor of the Sinai Peninsula.
Maj. Gen. Sobhi Sadky, commander of Egypt's 3rd Army, in a desperate attempt to get the police and security services back on duty in the town of Suez, tried staging a sulha (reconciliation ceremony) between the people and the police and security services in the town's biggest soccer stadium. He hoped they would all come out of the stadium and go back to work.
However, hardly anyone turned up and the event fizzled out before it began.
The military junta ruling Egypt is thus stranded high and dry without the fundamental organs of governance or the resources for executing its policies – much less steps agreed upon with Washington.
Far from agreement, though, Washington and Cairo have been at odds on the order of the stages the country must take toward democracy. This was one of the reasons bringing Clinton to Egypt. The referendum on constitutional amendments scheduled for Saturday March 19 has been set up as the first of a three-stage process, moving next to elections for parliament and the Shura Council and finally a vote for president.
Washington wants to change this order, with the presidential vote next and the winner setting the date for parliamentary elections.
Military rulers and civilian government on separate policy tracks
But Clinton was unable to change the minds of Tantawi and the generals – mainly because they have not settled on a presidential candidate.
They don't want Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, who is part of the old regime, or former IEAE Director Mohammed El Baradei, whom they feel represents the liberal Egyptian left.
In fact, the military rulers appeared to be in no hurry to find a suitable candidate for president or in the least bothered by the fact that if the public rejects the proposed amendments Saturday, the entire democratization process would grind to a halt.
As to the institutions for running the country, the US Secretary of State was also taken aback to discover that the military rulers and appointed civilian officials were making policy on two separate tracks that were poles apart. Indeed, she found the newly appointed prime minister Essam Sharaf working to restart operations in government ministries, especially economic departments, without offering them policy guidelines.
She was also astonished to see the new Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Elaraby, only two weeks on the job, energetically pursuing policies that were diametrically opposed to the principles Tantawi and Washington had agreed between them.
Instead of backing up American Middle East diplomacy and its linchpin, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Elaraby had gone off on a tangent to execute three goals:
New foreign minister plays his own game
1. To put the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 into deep freeze pending the introduction of drastic changes;
2. To distance Cairo from the Palestinian Authority and its chairman;
3. To heal the breach between Cairo and the Palestinian extremist Hamas by the following steps: de facto recognition of the Hamas government ruling the Gaza Strip and the re-opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai for the free movement of people and goods.
Egypt held Gaza under blockade under Hosni Mubarak.
Foreign Minister Elaraby appeared to be working toward this rapprochement between Egypt and Hamas in the face of US and Egyptian intelligence reports attesting to Hamas's role of broker for bringing Tehran and the Muslim Brotherhood together.
Furthermore, although Field Marshall Tantawi and Gen. Anan had promised US administration officials and the heads of the Foreign Affairs Committees in Congress and the Senate that the supply of Egyptian gas to Israel, interrupted by Hamas sabotage of the pipeline on Feb. 5, would be resumed in full, this has not happened.
Tuesday, March 15, Cairo announced the gas flow had been renewed. But our sources report that only a very small trickle came through.