Panning back to Egypt…

A couple of weeks ago, the big question had ceased to be “Will there be a revolution in Egypt?” and had become “Will it matter?” The revolutionaries had demonstrated that they could endure, could divide the Army from the government and the security state, and had eventually succeeded in chasing the president out of power. But would this mean lasting change? Wouldn’t it just imply the creation of a new ruling elite, or a permanently-temporary military junta? The grey lineup detailed here were in charge, issuing statements about going back to work. This piece from David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal sketches it out, and reveals far more than it means to.

It’s easy to sketch the scenario in which Egypt blows it. The army could maintain control behind a façade of democracy and protect elites who benefited from the growth produced by significant economic reforms that Mr. Mubarak blessed. Four things have to go right for Egypt to seize the moment.

First, the young protesters of Tahrir Square have to keep the pressure on the military. A lot depends on which way they go. If they’ve been soured by privatization that engorged the cronies, will they demand the security and subsidies of the state over the risks, competition and dynamism that comes with a vibrant private sector? In short, do they want government jobs? Or a shot at being hired—and maybe fired—by an entrepreneurial company?

Of course, the policies those elites benefited from are precisely the ones he goes on to advocate, and the ones that the IMF recommended and Mubarak implemented. Wessel alludes to this further down the piece but never quite manages to say that the Egyptians hated them so much they overthrew the state. Also, although he compares Egypt with Poland after communism, he doesn’t seem to be aware that a major factor in Poland’s revolutions (1981 and 1989) was that the state got huge international loans it couldn’t pay back.

Anyway, so that was one scenario – the military guarantees some constitutional change but keeps the political economy and the power-structure Mubarak left.

It doesn’t seem to be working. Mohammed Fadel has a good rundown of the Army’s (and the Muslim Brothers’, and the 2005-era middle class dissidents’) efforts to put pressure on strikers, their eventual failure, and some of the economic ideas circulating among the revolutionaries. Apparently, the military has eventually been induced to open talks with the real trade union movement as opposed to the yellow unions that were part of Mubarak’s system. You can read their negotiating position at guess who’s.

But perhaps the best news of all isn’t economic. Here’s some incredible reportage of an incredible and very significant event – the crowds take over the headquarters of Central Security in Alexandria, and start salvaging the secret files the spooks were trying to destroy.

I wouldn’t bet on the holy-of-holies in Cairo lasting much longer – Hossam el-Hamalawy has already been down to his local station with his Canon EOS 5D and his angry mob. Guess what, that’s full of files as well.

In 1989, something similar happened – when it looked like the post-Wall East German government might be stabilising, and that it felt confident enough to tell the public that it was going to retain the Stasi although under a new name, people invaded the organisation’s offices to secure the key assets of any secret police force, the files. It was the end, really; there could be no more hoping for some sort of patched-up afterlife for the basic structure of the DDR. This time there was much more violence, and the spook toys included a sinisterly large stash of Viagra – the Stasi did a fair amount of drug dealing as part of its efforts to raise hard currency, but nothing with those implications.

There probably weren’t many documents like this one in the files at the Normannenstraße either.

The upshot includes the resignation of Mubarak’s last prime minister. In an almost uncanny echo of East Germany, he went on TV not long before the crowds moved into the secret police stations, to defend the institution of Central Security. Just like Hans Modrow did, and with exactly the same effect. His exit was announced via the Egyptian Army’s facebook profile.

His replacement is profiled here – Essam Sharaf, significantly, is both a candidate endorsed by the revolutionaries and a participant in the revolution himself, as well as apparently enjoying a good reputation with the workers’ movement as far back as 2006.

And it’s one jet airliner, for ten prisoners…

One thing that is perhaps being overlooked by people discussing whether or not it would be wise to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is exactly what such a zone would set out to prevent. When it was first suggested, it was inspired by the general horror that the Libyan government was having crowds of civilians strafed by its Sukhoi 22 close-support aircraft. However, especially since several Libyan Air Force crews defected to Malta and to the revolution, air activity has turned out to be much less significant in what is beginning to look like a classical West- or Central-African civil war, based around Toyota pickups and 23mm Russian anti-aircraft guns and mercenaries paid with the money from exporting some mineral or other. You know the one.

It’s fairly well known that Libya sponsored several of the key warlords of 90s West Africa – Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and several others originally met up in Libyan-funded training camps. Interestingly, not only did one of the versions of Jetline International base itself in Tripoli and trade aircraft back and forth with two of Viktor Bout’s companies, but Gaddafi’s government maintains an impressive airlift capacity. As well as the two flag-carrier airlines, Libyan Arab and Afriqiyah, whose names track the changing priorities of foreign policy, the Air Force operates a semi-commercial cargo wing, Libyan Arab Air Cargo, with a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and even two enormous Antonov-124s, some of very few such aircraft owned outside the former Soviet Union.

I’ve put together a Google spreadsheet of transport-type aircraft with Libyan operators, sorted so that currently active aircraft are at the top, and generated URIs to look them up on, for subscribers, and on, in the two right hand columns.

There are a total of 180 airframes, of which 118 are active. It’s probably worth noting that there was a report that top managers at Afriqiyah had resigned rather than take part in Gaddafi’s war effort, and constant rumours of mercenaries being lifted into airfields in the southern deserts.

The upshot of this is that logistics, rather than tactical air power, might be the most important factor in Gaddafi’s efforts to defeat the Libyan revolution/win the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in combat, the aim might instead be blockade, as a complement to the international financial sanctions already in place. (A ship has recently been stopped in British waters carrying large quantities of freshly printed Libyan currency.)

On the other hand, it also adds complexity and risk to the whole issue. There are still plenty of people who want to leave Libya, and British government-chartered airliners are ferrying some of them from Tunisia to Egypt. It would be a bad business, to say the least, to shoot down an Il-76 full of refugees. It could be better to try to cut off the supply chain at source by grounding Libyan aircraft elsewhere in the world, although this requires the cooperation of those states who are still willing to let them recruit on their territory. Further, imposing a blockade also implies a responsibility for the survival of the civilian population. Sending aid to eastern Libya has already been suggested, of course.

For a little extra, the Russian Demography blog, venturing well out of its usual beat, notes that the Libyan Government’s Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet, 5A-DCN, took a trip to Minsk recently. Its ICAO identifier, useful with virtual-radar sites, is 018019. There are various things the regime might find useful in Belarus – mercenaries, again, small arms (although they don’t appear to be short of them), and perhaps least disturbingly, impunity. (Hat tip.)

(Cross posted from TYR)

techniques of the counter-revolution

It looks like the Empire is striking back on multiple fronts. So far as I can see, these seem to have been the lessons learned by regional authoritarians from Egypt.

Never mind the martyrs. Given that ‘martyrdom’ had a catalytic effect on protest in Egypt and Tunisia, you’d have thought that other regimes would have taken care to handle demonstrators more gently. Not so, as events today in Bahrain have demonstrated and as shown in Yemen over the weekend. The issue instead appears to be control of the streets. Once the demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia had it, they couldn’t be dislodged. So go in fast, early and hard.

Deny the revolution its focal point. That appears to have been the purpose of the raid on the Pearl roundabout in Manama. There have been reports of sporadic clashes in the city since then, but it’s hard either for reporters to get a handle on where or for demonstrators to find a place to assemble.

Get the countergangs in early. The protests in Egypt rapidly reached such a critical mass that the baltagiya lost their ability to intimidate. Indeed, they were defeated by physical force from the demonstrators. So they need to be used before that point is reached, as they are in Iran, Yemen and Libya.

Hijack the agenda. Issandr El Amrani on the forthcoming protests in Morocco:

…a confusion has been deliberately created that the February 20 protests are about overthrowing King Muhammad VI, which they are absolutely not about: they are largely about socio-economic grievances and the need for the reforms that the regime has pretended to undertake to actually be implemented, starting with constitutional reform to make Morocco into a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one that disguises what it is by calling itself an "executive monarchy".

For the past two weeks, the regime propaganda machine has created an outpouring of affection from Muhammad VI. Much of it is based on genuine respect for the institution of the monarchy as well as the man himself, but it is dangerous to play with the king's image in this way. One possible backlash is that on February 20 the protestors will get attacked as traitors. Street violence can get pretty savage in Morocco — I dread to think what might happen

Handle this right and you get yourself a genuine loyalist mob.

Be a social dictatorship. Evgeny Morozev got a lot of stick over the past week or so for his scepticism about the role of social media in democratization. His proposition is that new and social media can be a force multiplier for dictatorships which take the trouble to understand its potential and use it effectively. This is the proposition under test now across the region. So far we’ve had Libyan terror messaging, facebook phishing exercises by Sudanese security forces and Iranian wumaodang twitter accounts. No doubt we'll get more along similar lines.

Use it or lose it. It’s difficult to say how effective all of this is. Protests don’t seem to be reaching critical numbers. On the other hand, demonstrators are persisting in the face of constant and occasionally lethal state violence (every day for the past week in Yemen).

One thing that’s going to be prominent in regime calculations is the response of Western and particularly American policy to the Egyptian uprising, which made it clear that a) western powers want their local policies to remain as they are, but aren’t betting everything on maintaining any given government and b) if protests get too big, then there’s nothing your western friends can do for you. So the way to respond is to use every repressive resource in your arsenal to stop them getting too big. Current signals coming from Washington – welcoming the Iranian protests, ignoring the ones elsewhere – seem to indicate that this strategy is generally acceptable.

Libya’s the country to watch here. Ghaddafi’s new friends would drop him like a hot brick if if only for someone less embarrassing given half an excuse, and he’s still on bad terms with the Saudis and the GCC states, so no prospect of exile there. He’s the one actually at risk of ending his rule swinging from a palm tree, and that possibility is going to dictate his response to the local uprising. Given our role in the Megrahi affair, it’ll be interesting to see what Britain’s response to that will be.

épuration, crowdsourced

I’m not sure what either Ethan Zuckerman or Evgeny Morozov would make of this, but this is quite the revolutionary web crowdsourcing project. Piggipedia is an effort by Egyptian Flickr users to pool their photos from the revolution and identify the plain-clothes cops and private thugs responsible for the worst of the violence, with a view to prosecuting them or failing that, just ostracising the hell out of them. I presume this is also going to be a rare deployment outside China of the human flesh search engine. If sex infects new media like a virus, yadda yadda William Gibson feh, just wait ’til you see how revenge does.

then and now and here and there

Question: if Iraq hadn't been invaded back then, would we be seeing the same kind of thing in Baghdad as we saw in Cairo yesterday? I don't think you can definitively say yes. If revolutions were predictable, they wouldn't happen at all. But it seems equally impossible to say that it couldn't have happened in the light of events over the last two months. Of course, between 2003 and whenever it did happen the Iraqis would have had to put up with Saddam. But given what they've had to put up with since then that would not necessarily have been the worst option.

Egyptian opinion poll

Pechter Middle East Polls has a new Egyptian opinion poll out, commissioned by AIPAC’s think tank, WINEP.

It’s from Cairo and Alexandria rather than the whole of Egypt.

52% dispapprove, 15% approve of the Muslim Brotherhood.

27% for, 37% against annulling peace treaty with Israel.

35% support Mubarak, Suleiman or the PM Shafiq, as president, 26% Amr Moussa, 3% El Baradei, 1% Nour, 1% Babi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But 57% approve, 17 disapprove of the The Egyptian national association for change, the opposition parties who are part of the protests.

The Brotherhood has mostly rural support, and I bet other cities are less secular.

I guess WINEP supports the revolution? They don’t even acknowledge the poll’s not representative.

You can’t draw too many conclusions from this poll, but I wonder if the opposition’s proposed a yearlong transition before new elections partly because they wanted a chance to establish themselves and organize. I also have a gut feeling that if they do have regime change, they’ll end up with Amr Moussa as president at some point, he just seems like a better politician than anyone in the opposition. He was smart enough to cautiously side with the protesters quite early.

Maybe this will make democracy more palatable to the military and the US. I wouldn’t expect Egypt under someone like Moussa to become a model democracy. At best a Iraq/Turkey style pluralisism mixed with authoritarianism, at worst a democratura. Liberal dissidents like Nour rarely become heads of government for some reason.


One could be forgiven for wondering how cheering it is for Mubarak to be replaced by a military council, but the key thing that happened yesterday isn’t that Mubarak left – he was already gone, he just didn’t know it.

Suleiman prabably became the regime’s most influential figure when he was made vice-president, and when Mubarak delegated most of his authority to him, he looked like the undisputed leader of the government. (At the very least, before yesterday, he was formally in charge, and even in the dictatorships, institutional setups, and constitutional rules often matters, even in a partly lawless enviroment. ) The US, for reasons they know best, had pushed for and encouraged Suleiman taking over. The protesters of course weren’t happy with that, and when the regime relented and kicked Mubarak out, they had once again yielded, and strengthened the protesters. But it also constituted a change of power. While this isn’t quite regime change, the leadership have gone from Suleiman and his government to a military council led by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

I’m not clear on Suleiman’s role in this new setup, but presumably he’s been entirely sidelined, esp. considering his hardline quotes so close to the resignation. That could only be a good thing.

By his statements on the 9th and 8th, saying Egypt wasn’t ready for democracy and saying a opposition takeover would be a coup, and would not be tolerated, he confirmed would should have been obvious, that he is a hardliner and not at all keen on yielding power. Suleiman, like Mubarak, and most figures in the regime, sincerely believe that their kleptocratic dictatorship is in the best interest of Egypt. If the revolution fails, Suleiman could, and maybe still can, become the leader of his country. If there is genuine regime change, even in the event of a managed transition he stands a greater chance than most regime figures of eventually being forced into exile or being prosecuted, having been directly involved in repression and persecution. The military council is probably not enthusiastic about democracy, but have less to gain and less to fear, and may not be as intransigent.

Tantawi, who leads the council, sounds even more intransigent in his attitudes, but he doesn’t look like longterm dictatorship material or as someone who’d dominate the council or be as nimble as Suleiman.

On the other hand, a lack of nimbleness and politcal skills coupled with the fact that the military can’t now both distance themselves and support the regime could make an escalation more likely.

“…Only one heli left on the ground and it’s running”

It’s officially wheels up for Hosni Mubarak. Rather, that particular landmark was reached an hour ago:

I can also see mubarak residence airport. 5 helicopters used to be there, only 1 left on the ground & it’s running

Anyway, the promised statement, as fashionably late as usual, arrived and it confirmed his resignation. This after an incredible afternoon during which Nile TV’s newsreader argued on air at length with the crowds outside the TV headquarters, before apparently apologising for their past coverage after an Army spokesman read out the resignation letter. From Sultan al-Qassemi of The National‘s twitter feed:

Fascinating: Egypt State TV is speaking live with anti-Mubarak protesters surrounding the State TV building

The news anchor is pleading with the angry protesters “You know there was a period of chaos, we all want there to be more freedom of speech”

Protesters surrounding State TV building: We demand an apology for your coverage of Bloody Wednesday! On air Anchor : Calm them down please

[Sultan Al Qassemi]:The State TV anchors are terrified. There are tens of thousands of protesters surrounding the building who are unhappy with the coverage.

Egypt State TV anchor is speaking to a go between “Please assure the protesters. Please”

And then, from Port_Saeedy:

Egyptian TV News reader : We apologize , we read lies against our own..

The next message recorded the arrival of the Army spokesman. The on-air apology happened in Tunisia, but I’m at a loss for a historical example of a TV station actually arguing with the general public in real time and losing without any actual violence being used.

Egypt: update

There appears to be a critical moment approaching in Alexandria, where the revolutionaries have been camping around the Northern Military District HQ since Mubarak’s speech last night. A huge crowd has formed at the president’s residence in the city and at the naval base, where naval personnel have been reported to be passing out food and drink to the protestors. (This has also now been reported in Cairo.) However, the palace gates and the approach along the beach are guarded by a group of tanks. There have been some parleys between the crowd and senior naval officers using a loudspeaker truck. The tank guns are trained towards the crowd, but elevated as if to engage a distant target, rather than depressed to fire at point blank. (Now that’s what I call a mixed message.) In the last few minutes a file of what appear to be either sailors, marines, or perhaps police marched out of the gates.

Across Egypt, the mobilisation has been bigger than ever today. Large crowds have moved onto the TV centre, where they have blockaded all access. However, a skeleton staff was apparently left on site last night, and they continue broadcasting. Elsewhere in Egypt, some local affiliate TV stations have been forced off the air. In another move in the TV wars, a new TV channel has appeared calling itself Tahrir – the Revolutionary Youth Channel, operating ironically over a transponder on Nilesat channel 10949.

Another huge demonstration has set up camp outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis. Senior army officers were reported to be parleying with groups of demonstrators there. And, apparently, the protestors are very chic. Al-Jazeera just reported the arrival of a large group of bikers, so this may depend on your tastes. Meanwhile, it’s been repeatedly rumoured that Mubarak is already off, at least as far as Sharm el-Sheikh.

In an index of how the revolution is progressing, an imam in Tahrir Square this morning preached that the “state of Ahmed Ezz” would be lifted as well as the state of emergency. Ahmed Ezz is the man who held a monopoly of steel distribution in Mubarak’s regime and became a fabulously rich symbol of, as they say, power, corruption, and lies. He was a minister until very recently when the government suddenly discovered his corruption, and was threatened with criminal charges during last night’s surreal telethon.

At the same time, part of the demonstration outside the TV centre now consists of strikers from an arms factory in Helwan, according to Hossam el-Haramawy.

However, this is surely one of the only times in history that a revolutionary mob has welcomed the presence of paratroopers.

An “important statement” is expected from “the presidency” at any moment, but after past experiences, you wouldn’t hold your breath. It may be significant that the message is going to come from the presidency rather than the president, or it may not.

Update: Al-Jazeera is reporting that the presidential plane has been sighted in Sharm el-Sheikh, and that state TV has announced that he has left Cairo, bizarrely quoting “foreign news agencies” (which of course they are not meant to be allowed to use, according to last night’s statement!).

Egypt Links

Asef Bayat at OpenDemocracy argues that we’re looking at the post-Islamist era, by analogy to Fareed Zakaria’s post-American world, and suggests that the politics of Islam are changing. The jihadis wanted to fight the Far Enemy in order to undermine the Near Enemy. Now it seems that the Near Enemy can be dealt with, and without the jihadis at that. And the Big Two religious political movements – politicial Shi’ism, and Wahhabism – are suddenly much less relevant.

Interview with a crack Egyptian blogger.

Want to know why the Saudis offered to make up the US military aid if Mubarak stuck around? Wonder no more. Here’s an Egyptian blogger’s response to the idea. Note that Egypt has a long standing foreign policy aim of competing with Saudi Arabia as the leading Arab power. About as much help for Mubarak as an endorsement from Binyamin Netanyahu – but then he got one of those, too.

Learn about the Brothers.

Feminism in action in Tahrir Square; an absolute must-read.

The White House seeks advice from…not obviously the right people.

Hossam El-Hamalawy‘s Flickr stream – gripping photoreportage. He’s streaming live video from the march on Nile TV right now.