Thursday, February 3, 2011

Revolution Remains in Hands of Egypt's Military

Anti-Mubarak protesters are looking to the Egyptian army to help overcome an onslaught of overnight attacks by violent thugs linked to the regime clinging to power.

“What we have seen over several days is the obvious rapport and bond that exists between the army as a respected institution in Egyptian society and the Egyptian people. We hope that that bond continues,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

“We hope that the actions by these thugs does not change the dynamic on the street. We’re very concerned that this unleashing of violence (Wednesday) and this attempt at intimidation will change the dynamic on the street,” Crowley added.

If the hugely popular Egyptian army turns its sites on the regime, President Hosni Mubarak will have little choice but to resign, clearing the way for potential democratic reforms and a Pan Arab revolution in the Middle East.

But the longer Mubarak holds on the greater the chance that radicals can hijack the movement, potentially creating another opportunity for theocratic extremists to gain a foothold in the largest Arab country in the world, several Middle East scholars have warned.

U.S. officials have used back channels to appeal to Egyptian military leaders to help restore calm. Live video this morning carried on Al Jazeera and Reuters TV showed tanks separating the pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators after Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo turned into a war zone overnight.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both spoken to their respective counterparts in the Egyptian government and military, according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

“Officers throughout our command ranks have spoken to their counterparts. It speaks to a couple of different things: One, the importance of robust military-to-military contact; being able to have the relationships and the knowledge of who you’re talking to and who you need to talk to in times of great crisis,” Gibbs said.

 “And I think it’s safe to say, again, each and every one of those conversations starts out with a conversation about restraint and nonviolence,” Gibbs reiterated.

Armed vigilantes, including some on horseback and riding camels, attacked unarmed workers, students and journalists with swords, clubs, rocks and Molotov cocktails. Some anti-Mubarak protesters responded in kind. It was troubling that the army stood by and watched.

Some in the violent mob reportedly have admitted to being paid by wealthy backers of Mubarak to wreak havoc on demonstrators, who for the most part have tried to gather peacefully to call for an end to the regime. Plain clothes police are believed to be among the menacing agitators, according to Arab and Western media reports, as well as eyewitness comments on Twitter.

There have been some others positive signs overnight. Egypt’s Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the violence this morning and several European nations were preparing a joint statement calling for an immediate transition in Egypt, the BBC and Al Jazeera English reported.

Even Israel's right wing Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has toned down his support for Mubarak, endorsing democratic reforms as path to peace, according to a statement from the Washington-based Israel Project.

Still, it seems none of the Western powers, led by the U.S., are willing to say outright that Mubarak must step down, though the White House contends it has been clear about its move away from its longtime ally.

“I think you have seen statements from throughout the world, both in the region and outside of the region, where President Obama and leaders have been clear about what needs to happen,” Gibbs said.

“Many of these changes are going to have to happen on the ground in Egypt, and only those in Egypt can determine when those demands have been satisfied. But it is clear that the Egyptian people need to see progress and change immediately,” Gibbs added.

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