Supporters of the Egyptian revolution will be glad to know that Omar Al-Bashir, president of Sudan and supporter of democracy everywhere (except Darfur, South Sudan, East Sudan, eastern Chad, Eritrea, northern Uganda…you get the picture) has given the Egyptian revolution his blessing, with the gift of 5000 head of cattle (worth over $1 million, depending on the state of the cows). The cows began the trek from Khartoum to the Egyptian border on Monday, coinciding with the visit of Egypt’s prime minister Essam Sharaf (himself, incidentally, completely unelected). The two leaders talked about water. Specifically, about the Nile Basin Initiative. If Sudan and Egypt lose any significant portion of the Nile waters to the upstream countries, on which they both depend, they’re up shit creek without a paddle. Except the creek will be dry.
The cows are just one part of Bashir’s strategy of ingratiating himself with Egypt’s new leaders, which began with a visit to Cairo at the beginning of the month. Since Mubarak fell, his government has been very critical of the Mubarak regime, claiming that they’d been a victim of ‘blackmail’ ever since Mubarak narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Khartoum. This is all posturing; Bashir would have been very unsettled by Mubarak’s departure. For a dictator, any form of people power is far more dangerous than another dictator, no matter how much they do or do not get along.
VERDICT: Omar Al-Bashir goes 4th; he’ll have to try a lot harder to impress his more sophisticated Egyptian colleagues than that. And no, camels won’t cut it either.
18 days that changed Egypt forever, on the Daily Maverick.
Verdict: Mubarak goes 4th, finally. Egypt goes forth into a whole new chapter.
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
So Hosni Mubarak is worth US$70 billion, according to the Guardian.
This puts all the hubbub about American aid money made by many commentators (myself included) into perspective. Let’s do some maths.
$70 billion (Mubarak’s fortune) ÷ $1.5 billion (US aid to Egypt) = 46.67
This means that if Mubarak wanted to (he doesn’t want to, but he’s being made to do quite a few things he doesn’t want to do at the moment), he could completely replace all US aid money for 46 years and eight months. He’d be 128 years old by the time the money ran out – and there’d also be quite a few tired protestors in Tahrir Square.
If you were confused about how much leverage the US really has, I think that has just answered your question.
VERDICT: Thieving presidents go 4th, and tend to drag their country with them.
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 calm before the storm. Even in a revolution, Cairo does not wake up early, especially not on a Friday morning. The streets are calm but the atmosphere is tense; this is the Day of Departure, as the opposition have billed it; the day when they expect Mubarak to leave. Otherwise…well, that I’m not sure there is an otherwise. No one I’ve spoken to has given me a convincing plan B. It’s all or nothing today, and they’ll be hoping for a turnout so overwhelming that Mubarak has simply no choice but to leave. But Mubarak, supposedly safe in Sharm el Sheikh, will be far from the action; is he likely to be bowed by a show of mass support for the opposition?
And the opposition themselves need not just support from the masses, but a more active role for their leaders. There have been some famous faces at the protests, including Egyptian movie stars and other celebrities – I saw Nawal el Sadaawi, the author, on Wednesday in the square, coming out of a mosque. A Muslim Brotherhood activist whom I was speaking to observed: “She hates Islam. She’s only in the mosque or the WC.”
But where has Mohamed ElBaradei been for the last few days? Not in Tahrir. Where have the other leaders of the main opposition groups been? Apparently, they’ve been meeting and planning behind the scenes. Well, today is the day they need to show themselves in the square and stand arm in arm with the people they want to represent.
By the end of the day, we should know which way the wind is blowing, and where Egypt future lies.
VERDICT: The revolution goes forth. Viva la revolution.
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: