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Friday: Witnessing History at Tahrir

On Friday the crowds in Tahrir square were bigger than ever,
their mood angry and expectant.

On Thursday it seemed that Egypt was on the verge of a fundamental shift of axis —with the help of the country’s military council. But then Hosni Mubarak appeared like a malign moon on TV screens around Egypt. He was followed by the newly anointed Vice President Omar Suleiman who told the acres of protesters in the square to go home and, in a spectacular display of condescension and cluelessness, warned them of the dangers of listening to “foreign satellite broadcasts.”

Early Friday the feeling that history was about to arrive was strongly in the air again. This was fueled when, at mid-morning in Cairo, word come down to Tahrir Square that the military leaders had met earlier and the army would have an announcement shortly.

At noon the second announcement comes through. Egypt Supreme Military Council’s “Communique #2” is read from the State TV building by a news anchor, unlike the first statement, which was read by a top army official himself. The crowd is deflated. They had hoped that the army would seize control.

Instead it feels to most in the crowd as if the army has sided with Mubarak’s since it has endorsed his plan to transfer power to Omar Suleiman.

The good news, if there is good news, is that the military high council promises to lift the country’s 30-year state of emergency when the “current situation has ended.” They also say that “honorable” protesters won’t be prosecuted.

Nadia El-Awady tweets from a club where protesters have gathered near to the presidential palace:

We told army officer in front of pres palace today was a day of shame for all of #egypt because of army position

On other other hand, earlier in the morning, an Egyptian army officer joined the demonstrators and said that 15 other middle-ranking officers had also joined the side of the people in the street, reports Al Jazeera.

And so the drama continues.

I have two stories that have to do with issues closer to home, but they will keep until next week. Today all eyes are on Tahrir Square.

In the meantime, here are a few links that relate to the events that have been unfolding in the past 24 hours.


This is from the Washington Post:

A former Israeli Cabinet minister who has long known Egypt’s embattled leader says Hosni Mubarak is looking for an honorable way out.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of Israel’s Labor Party says he spoke with Mubarak just hours before the Egyptian president’s speech late Thursday in which he transferred authorities to his deputy but refused to step down. This angered hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding he relinquish his three-decade grip on power.

Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio on Friday that Mubarak knew “this was the end of the road” and wanted only to “leave in an honorable fashion.”


This is a clip from Friday’s NY Times OpEd by possible Egyptian presidential candidate, Nobel Prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei who lays out the next steps he believes are necessary too achieve what the Egyptian people want:

….The United States and its allies have spent the better part of the last decade, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would be absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that has lost its own people’s trust.

Egypt will not wait forever on this caricature of a leader we witnessed on television yesterday evening, deaf to the voice of the people, hanging on obsessively to power that is no longer his to keep.

What needs to happen instead is a peaceful and orderly transition of power, to channel the revolutionary fervor into concrete steps for a new Egypt based on freedom and social justice. The new leaders will have to guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. They will need to dissolve the current Parliament, no longer remotely representative of the people. They will also need to abolish the Constitution, which has become an instrument of repression, and replace it with a provisional Constitution, a three-person presidential council and a transitional government of national unity.

The presidential council should include a representative of the military, embodying the sharing of power needed to ensure continuity and stability during this critical transition. The job of the presidential council and the interim government during this period should be to set in motion the process that will turn Egypt into a free and democratic society. This includes drafting a democratic Constitution to be put to a referendum, and preparing for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections within one year…..


In this morning’s LA Times, Bob Drogin reports poignantly about the whipsawing moods of optimism and then crashing disappointment among Thursday’s crowds in Tahrir Square.

President Hosni Mubarak’s face glared down from a giant screen that rippled in the cold breeze above Tahrir Square. His gravelly voice boomed across a multitude of protesters standing silently, standing in shock, but most important, still standing.

When Mubarak stunned them by announcing that he would not quit, jeers filled the air.

When he said he was just like them, the countless thousands who have endured his 30-year rule and battled to bring democracy to Egypt, they laughed.

And long before Mubarak had finished speaking Thursday night, they answered in a roar that rolled across the square like a crashing wave until it drowned out the loudspeakers.

“Erhal! Erhal!” they chanted, thrusting clenched fists in the air. “Leave! Leave!”

They had come to witness history, the triumph of people power over a mighty Arab leader, the only president many of them had ever known.

They had celebrated through a long night of wild rumors: Mubarak had fled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Mubarak was in prison; Mubarak was being pushed out by the military.

The euphoria deflated like a popped balloon when Mubarak started speaking at 10:45 p.m….

Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

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