'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt Erupts (Part 3) 

UPDATE 4: A timely wikileaks release about US knowledge of police brutality in Egypt:

¶2. (C) Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and widespread. The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders. One human rights lawyer told us there is evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the times of the Pharaohs. NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone. Egyptians are bombarded with consistent news reports of police brutality, ranging from high profile incidents such as accidental but lethal police shootings in Salamut and Aswan this past fall (refs B and C) that sparked riots, to reports of police officers shooting civilians following disputes over traffic tickets. In November 2008 alone, there were two incidents of off-duty police officers shooting and killing civilians over petty disputes. The cases against both officers are currently making their way through the judicial system.

¶3. (C) NGO and academic contacts from across the political spectrum report witnessing police brutality as part of their daily lives. One academic at XXXXXXXXXXXX told us XXXXXXXXXXXX the police proceeded to beat a female suspect into confessing about others involved in the theft and the whereabouts of the stolen valuables. A contact from an international NGO described witnessing police beat the doorman of an upscale Cairo apartment building into disclosing the apartment number of a suspect. Another contact at a human rights NGO told us that her friends do not report thefts from their apartments because they do not want to subject all the doormen in the vicinity to police beatings. She told us that the police’s use of force has pervaded Egyptian culture to the extent that one popular television soap opera recently featured a police detective hero who beats up suspects to collect evidence.

UPDATE 3: A comment posted at We Are All Khalid Said:

An activists just said that many poor people never dreamt they can be equal to a policeman. When they saw others standing up to police, they just joined in instantly.

UPDATE 2: By the way, don't forget to visit The Angry Arab News Service for commentary by As'ad Abukhalil.

UPDATE 1 (3:55PM Pacific time): President Obama makes a brief statement, saying that he has spoken with Mubarak and that Mubarak has pledged greater democracy for Egyptians, but needs to honor that commitment. Is there anyone gullible enough to believe this? No wonder he walked quickly away from the lecturn without making eye contact with the assembled reporters. Meanwhile, back on the planet Earth, Muburak, in his first public apperance since the protests began, gives no quarter. There are suspicions that the US is trying replace Mubarak with the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian military.

UPDATE: For on the ground reports, the We Are All Khalid Said Facebook page is still up. Go here for a striking video of the beginning of the protests today, with the police retreating against an onslaught of protesters. There has been nothing new posted at The Arabist, 3arabaway or Egyptian Chronicles for about 18 hours, but they could come back online at any time.

INITIAL POST: You probably know as much as I do. Aljazeeza has an excellent live blog which is providing news updates including video, as posted above. There is also a live Aljazeera video feed here. Similarly, The Guardian has an informative live blog as well:

6.59pm (UK time): Here's a summary of the day's events so far on a momentous day in Egypt's history:

President Hosni Mubarak has ordered a curfew in three cities (3.30pm), later extended to the entire country, which was supposed to start at 6pm today and last until 7am tomorrow morning but it has been roundly ignored as clashes have continued.

Mubarak has sent in the army to restore order in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez but protesters cheered the army in some areas, calling on them to side with them against the police (3.43 pm). In some areas the army has done so. Soldiers have shaken hands with protesters in Alexandria and in Cairo. Demonstrators have clambered onto tanks in Suez and Cairo. There have also been unconfirmed reports of clashes between the army and police.

There have been unconfirmed reports of many protesters killed today, including a woman in Tahrir square in Cairo, two people in Suez, one named as Hamada Labib, 30, a driver., one person in Alexandria and a 14-year-old in Port Said.

In the country's strongest intervention so far, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the US is deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. (5.12pm)

Some police are reported to have joined the protesters, who welcomed them to their ranks. (5.05pm)

Police immediately attacked protesters after Friday prayers (11.12am) but protesters remained defiant and fought back, overwhelming police and government buildings right across the country. The ruling NDP's party headquarters in Cairo were set on fire (4.23pm).

According to Reuters, approximately 870 people have been wounded during protests in Cairo, with 450 sent to hospitals for medical attention.

From an an article posted by Time today, Israel Has Faith Muburak Will Prevail:

We believe that Egypt is going to overcome the current wave of demonstrations, but we have to look to the future, says the minister in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel enjoys diplomatic relations and security cooperation with both Egypt and Jordan, the only neighboring states that have signed treaties with the Jewish state. But while it may be more efficient to deal in with a strongman in Cairo — Mubarak has ruled for 30 years — and a king in Amman, democracies make better neighbors, because democracies do not initiate wars," he says.

Having said that, I'm not sure the time is right for the Arab region to go through the democratic process.

The minister, who spoke on condition of not being identified by name or portfolio, cites the Gaza Strip as a signal warning of the risk that comes with asking the people what they want. The seaside territory, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians, elected the militant Islamist group Hamas in a 2006 election that had been urged by George W. Bush, when the president was casting the invasion of Iraq as a mission to bring democracy to the Middle East.

All well and good in the long run, according to the official, but Arab societies demand a longer term democratization process, one accompanied by education reforms that would encourage the election of moderates. You can't make it with elections, especially in the current situation where radical elements, especially Islamist groups, may exploit the situation, he says. It might take a generation or so.

I was aware that the Palestinians had to be imprisoned within the occupied territories in order for Israel to survive as a Zionist state, but it turns out that millions of Egyptians require similarly severe measures of social control as well.

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