Egyptian protest

Egypt explained (updated)

As the Egyptian Army, and ordinary Egyptians gather around Cairo’s Egyptian museum, not to fight or clash, but to guard the museum against looters. It speaks volumes of who remains in power.

Since the 1950s, the Egyptian Military has been the power behind the throne. It has installed Hosni Mubarak some three decades ago. And its actions in this chaos would decide whether it would remain in power or not.

The Americans find themselves in not too different a position with Egypt as it did with the Philippines through the Marcos years. How does one navigate the balancing act of being for democracy, and geopolitical interests?

This is what the American relationship with Mr. Mubarak is like. The New York Times narrated how the U.S. changed tack on Egypt; how in Hillary Clinton’s first meeting with President Mubarak as secretary of state, the Egyptians had asked Mrs. Clinton not to thank Mr. Mubarak for releasing an opposition leader from prison because he was ill.

The Guardian, quoting Wikileaks wrote, Washington provides Cairo’s military with 1.3 billion dollars in foreign military finance stipend. The New York Times expounds on the close military ties of between the United States and Egypt. Cairo’s Officer Corps has been trained in the United States for the past 30 years. American M1A1 Abrams tanks are built on Egyptian soil, as part of the deal. American operations are allowed to be staged in Egyptian soil and Americans are guaranteed passage through the Suez Canal. It wouldn’t be a surprising thing to see Egyptian military officials at the Pentagon, having lunch or dinner with American Officer Corps.

The Egyptian military has not inflicted harm on protesters, and have remained guarding government institutions.

Is this a sign of restraint?

On the streets of Cairo, the clash between protesters were not between Military and citizen, but rather, Police against citizen. The police are particularly known to be brutal.

The Tumblr blog, Promoting Peace explained what’s happening in Egypt. It noted that Egypt ranked 138th out of 167 countries in the Economist’s Democracy index.

In the streets of Cairo, The New York Times quoted, Ali Suleiman. He graduated from university 16 years ago, and today he has three daughters, and make US$3.50 a day. “This is Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt,” Michael Slackman wrote for the New York Times, “a place where about half the population lives on US$2 a day or less, and walled compounds spring up outside cities with green lawns, and swimming pools and names like Swan Lake. It is a place where those with money have built a parallel world of private schools and exclusive clubs, leaving the rundown cities to the poor.”

Amidst the demonstrations, Credit raters are worried. Fitch and S&P warn that Egypt and other Arab nations may overspend to calm unrest.

The situation in Egypt is as volatile as we imagine it to be. What shocked the world as much is Egypt going offline. Computer security experts have declared this as “unprecedented.” How can a country simply become a black hole on the Internet?

The preemptive nature of shutting down communications is a strategic and tactical decision.

In all this, the role of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks remain the same, as they have in past “Revolutions,” and campaign, social networks serve not just the backbone of communication for protesters, but also their “air force.” They do not win revolutions, but as past battles have made known, commanding the air make it easier for forces to take the ground.

(update): Anonymous Internet users have teamed up to provide communication tools for the Egyptian people, wrote the Huffington Post.

“Internet not working, police cars burning,” sent out one Egyptian. “Today marks a great day for Egypt,” sent out another.

These messages weren’t coming from mobile phones or computers, but from an amateur radio sending out Morse Code somewhere amidst the chaos in Egypt. –Huffington Post

For those of us looking from the outside, in, shutting down internet and communications has made the Egyptian situation particularly volatile because of the uncertainty. This communications blackout has helped spawn the belief that Mubarak’s days is numbered. And that it maybe– it is still too early to tell.

But is there something deeper than that?

On the left hand you have the pro-American government of Egypt. On the right hand you have poverty for the people of Egypt.

“The history of the modern Egyptian republic haunts Egypt’s generals today,” STRATFOR reported. “Though long suppressed, an Islamist strand exists amongst the junior ranks of Egypt’s modern military. The Egyptian military is, after all, a subset of the wider society, where there is a significant cross-section that is religiously conservative and/or Islamist. These elements are not political active, otherwise those at the top would have purged them.”

But no coup scenario exists.

So far.

Unconfirmed reports have surfaced that Hamas has entered into Egypt and are closely collaborating with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter, according to unverified reports have engaged in the demonstrations. In the same report, security forces in plain clothes have allegedly began destroying property to give the impression that it is the protesters who have caused the public disturbance. This is a great concern for the United States and Israel, and regional stability as a whole, particularly if an Islamist organization will find itself rooted, post-crisis.

Behind the scenes, according to STARTFOR, the United States and Israel and others are trying to shape the new order in Cairo. Egypt is a pro-American, pro-Israeli regime and a shift to a fundamentally Islamic republic would be a blow not only to regional security, but global security. The question remain: how do you balance the interest of the Egyptian public, with this global concern?

The Egyptian military is continuously seen as the one factor that could stabilize Egypt. It is the bedrock of the modern Egyptian state. For Mubarak to go, the military must decide on it. But how deep is the people’s resentment, and could they blame the military? Could the military stabilize the situation?

“Much is uncertain of what’s happening,” George Friendman said, “but let’s be certain of this much: what happens in Tunisia matters little to the world, what happens in Egypt is a towering significance.”

Photo credit:

Protesters, via Muhammad Ghafari from Giza, Egypt

Cats and garbage, 

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