Since my last post, we’ve had the two biggest mobilisations of the Egyptian revolution so far. So much for petering out, even though people blogging from Tahrir Square on Tuesday were complaining about the n00bs getting in the way. For clarity, what I was expecting was that the mass mobilisation would continue, but that the back channel talks would become the revolutionary main effort, with the crowds in support, validating the delegates’ authority, backing up their claims, providing an ultimate deterrent power in the background.
Everyone’s now beginning to notice the role of trade unionists and labour activism in general. In fact, the April 6th movement itself memorialises the deaths of a group of strikers. It’s part of the revolution’s DNA. Today’s callout was part of a massive strike wave – my favourite was the column of diving instructors from the Red Sea coast who arrived in Tahrir Square with a banner reading “Mubarak! Get out before the oxygen runs out!” This movement is not running out of anything – not numbers, not commitment, not ideas, not humour. If it didn’t set out as an Internet revolution, people certainly thought it would arrive at its first objective that way.
Which brings us to tonight’s bizarre speech. It was a strange kind of event – revolutionaries gathering to await the broadcast of what was expected to be a pre-recorded statement, while live TV watched them, and bloggers commented on it. I went as far as checking flights into Dubai from Cairo – the timings for one Singapore Airlines movement seemed possible, and their service standards suitable. Surely, sayid rais couldn’t be waiting at the microphone for the weather forecast to be over and the programme controller to give him the green light? Eventually, after his now traditional delay, he spoke and said (after a great deal of guff) that he was handing over extensive powers to the vice president but not formally resigning.
This has been seen as an outrageous and ridiculous statement, but it wasn’t that far off what had been discussed over the last week or so – because a vice president who becomes president after a resignation doesn’t take over full powers, but the president can define the powers of the VP or any minister (the Kompetenzkompetenz, in German), Mubarak could empower his deputy to prepare for a real election, and then quit. Of course, if he delegated his full powers, it would be a philosophical question of some interest in what way he was still president.
It seems quite clear that no-one thinks this is enough. Further, both the Army and the NDP have as good as promised to deliver the president’s head tonight. For his part, Omar Suleiman demanded that everyone stop watching Al-Jazeera (and also Al-Arabiya, the BBC, Abu Dhabi TV, etc), the day after the Egyptian air force signallers stopped trying to jam Al-Jazeera’s satellite transponder (on the Egyptian-owned Nilesat bird – not the first time that an Arab government has tried to wreck a satellite it owns to silence them).
The general theme, of both the Egyptian political elite and the Western ones being at least a day and often more behind events, remains very true. The so-called Article 139 solution – delegation, then resignation – has been discussed for at least a week. Tellingly, it was also the Muslim Brotherhood’s favoured option. We’ve not heard anything from them tonight.
(PS, this is the first post on Fistful of Euros covering Egypt that is categorised “Transition and accession”. It’s a while since we needed that one.)