Apologies all for the long delay in blogging; normal service will now resume. Third World Goes Forth is currently in Somaliland, the unrecognised breakaway republic nestled in the North West corner of the failed state that is Somalia. Somaliland, however, is not a failed state; it’s got a government, a currency, and the best internet connection in the Horn of Africa.
Somaliland’s just celebrated it’s 20th anniversary, in some style, with a huge military parade and thousands and thousands of cheering Somalilanders along the main avenue. But like the geeky kid at school who throws a party that no one comes to, Somaliland celebrated alone; the international community have put all their eggs in the basketcase that is the Somalia Transitional Federal Government, a body which controls a small patch of territory in Mogadishu, with the help of the African Union, and does little else.
It’s an interesting place to think about the concept of soveriegnty, and its limitations; as soon as we have some insight, we’ll let you know.
The people are out in bigger numbers than ever before; the protesters will not be able to fit into Tahrir Square, and are targeting the State TV building and possibly the Presidential Palace. The army is showing signs of fracture, with reports of some officers defecting to the protestors. My head says Mubarak will be gone by tonight – all the signs point that way. But after last night’s defiant speech, where the stubborn leader didn’t give an inch, I wonder if he’s just going to tough it out. And if he does, expect it to get bloody.
From this morning: http://www.thedailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-02-11-mubarak-still-defies-the-peoples-revolution
Friday prayers in Tahrir Square. Or a close-up of a quilt. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
For more on my encounter with a purple-shirted sabre-wielder, and how Nelson Mandela prevented my arrest, see here: http://www.thedailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-02-04-millions-defy-mubaraks-sabre-rattling-to-march-on-the-day-of-departure.
My quick verdict on the day. Mubarak has played it very well. He’s let the protests happen, he’s minimised violence, and he’s let the people blow off steam. Today’s demonstrations, the largest since the problems began, feel like a climax; the opposition must be wondering what more they can really do, without resorting to violence, that will persuade Mubarak to leave; they will also be wondering for how long they, and the country, can sustain this level of unrest. I have a feeling that the popular mood will start swinging against the opposition, especially after the apparent concession that Mubarak has made, culminating in Omar Suleiman telling the so-called Wisemen Committee of opposition leaders that he will assume all presidential powers and Mubarak will be president in name only; an ‘honorary president’. Albeit one without honour – and that is why I don’t think that’s a real concession. Neither do the opposition leaders, which is why they will keep going for as long as possible.
But who are the opposition leaders? I’m not sure that revolutions can be sustained by committee. Is Egypt missing a proper figurehead, a person to really take charge and offer a viable alternative? The best bet for that person, in my opinion, is still Mohamed ElBaradei; perhaps its time for him to stop playing the diplomat, and start playing the revolutionary. Then maybe he’ll get to play president for a while too.
The area around Tahrir Square is in lockdown today. The violence has shifted from the square itself to the streets leading to it. Most entrances to the downtown area are sealed off by groups of pro-Mubarak supporters, and the one entrance allowing vehicles in that my nervous taxi driver (though not as nervous as me) could find was manned by the president’s men. They were immediately hostile when they saw a foreigner in the car, and demanded my passport and bag. They found the cameras immediately. “Sahafi, sahafi,” (journalist, journalist), they shouted. Fortunately I’d already fed the taxi driver, pro-Mubarak himself, my cover story. “No, no, he’s a teacher. And he’s African. Look at his passport.” It was the African argument that really swayed them, and they returned my passport and cameras with smiles and apologies. I breathed a sigh of relief and held a brief moment of thanks for the African Union and its spineless inaction on the Egypt issue. If I’d been American, I don’t think I would have got the cameras back. Or Qatari – Qataris are enormously unpopular at the moment because of the role that Al-Jazeera has played in televising the revolution. The line being peddled by the government’s supporters – and there are a lot more of them than I expected – is that the protests are a plot conceived by the US, Qatar and Israel. Despite the smiles, I am still denied entry to downtown Cairo, and I decide it’s not worth pushing it; things are still too unpredictable, tensions too high. Not everyone will buy the African argument.
The situation is very fluid at the moment. The TV coverage is providing perhaps a distorted picture of events. All the major networks have corralled themselves in apartments in Tahrir Square, and aren’t showing anything else. The attention that Egypt has received has been remarkable, but Egypt is bigger than Tahrir Square; and what I don’t know, and what Egyptians don’t know either, is how extensive the anti-Mubarak protests are across the rest of the country. I think that may be because support for the protestors is beginning to dry up; many people are happy to accept the President’s promise to retire in September, and just want their daily lives to return to normal. It seems to me that outside Tahrir Square, you’re more likely to see large crowds outside of functioning ATMS than in protest against the government. And without genuine popular support, the protestors in Tahrir are unlikely to get what they ask for. I hope that’s not true, but I’ve seen and heard nothing today that persuades me otherwise.
For a more extensive account of my day in the square yesterday:
For the next five days Third World Goes Forth will be reporting from Cairo.
Apologies for the lengthier-than-planned hiatus. Normal service will now be resumed.
Third World Goes Forth will be travelling over the next two weeks, and will return the week of the 26th of July.