Thursday, 3 February 2011

The public face of Omar Suleiman

New Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman spoke in public at length for the first time ever today, in an interview with Nile Television. That gives us more insight into his thinking than we have ever had before and the impression is hardly reassuring. Judging by what we heard, this was a replica of what the Tunisians (and the French) would call 'langue de bois' (literally, wooden tongue). The key message came right at the end -- to the effect that he thanks the young people of Egypt for initiating a process of reform but now it's time for them to stand down and trust the details to the professionals. The interviewer, who is a government employee,  did not point out that the professionals would be exactly the same ones whose vision of reform over the past six years has turned out to be a succession of deceit and empty promises. He played it straight by the rule book which Mubarak, the government and the ruling National Democratic Party have written to suit their own very narrow interests. He gave no promise that his dialogue partners would have a veto over the government's proposals, constitutional amendments would have to go through the existing parliament, and he did not offer judicial supervision or independent monitoring for the next elections. He gave the interview on the eve of the protest movement's 'Friday of Departure', when they hope to muster enough support to drive President Mubarak out of office. Viewed objectively, what he said can scarcely have won the regime many defectors from the protest movement, which is no longer willing to give Mubarak and Suleiman the benefit of the doubt about their sincerity. At about the same time President Mubarak gave his first interview since the crisis began (with ABC), and he  too showed no sign that he would improve on his offer of standing down in September after the next presidential elections. Apart from his 'thanks' to the youngsters, Suleiman  used the same 'security establishment' logic as Mubarak, contemptuous of their political opponents and obsessed with their own exclusive role as guarantors against chaos and evil conspirators. The role of the army remains as ambiguous as it has been since tanks and troops deployed in the streets of Cairo last Friday. The army sent very mixed signals on Friday. It did set up a buffer zone between the protest movement and the pro-Mubarak thugs on the Egyptian Museum front, but the zone was so thinly manned that the soldiers could not hold it. When the army has some 450,000 troops and the Museum front is the most volatile hotspot in the country, it's bizarre that it deployed only 50 infantrymen to hold two lines about 200 metres long. One tank and a few troops then cleared pro-Mubarak people off a nearby flyover, a gesture which favoured the protesters, but by the end of the day the flyover was a battleground again, with the army back in its usual hunkered-down mode. While it did not have enough manpower to hold the buffer zone, it did have spare personnel to harass foreign journalists and human rights activists -- not usually an task for the military. The attitude of the army remains key to the outcome of this uprising. If tens of thousands of protesters march on the presidential palace 'Friday of Departure', as some of the groups are proposing, how will the army react? Perhaps the army command itself has still not decided. It could be a bloody day.   


  1. I think the protesters will be quashed tonight, and gone by the morning. Friday will be a day of terror, and very few will dare to go out marching - the revolution has ended with defeat.

    Unless of course, the international community take action. An ICC indictment towards Mubarak and thetop echelons will probably be very effective. Same with ending all economic aid.

    Of course, this may instigate anti-american feelings and a siege mentality on some, but that is hard to say.

    Obviously, by running his affairs in this way, Mubarak has greatly damaged both himself and his country. Much in the same way as Mugabe.

  2. Not so. They are still there this morning. The regime is running out of options. Central Security is broken. After two days it doesn't seem to be able to mobilize enough thugs to crush the protests (they need tens of millions in cash and all the banks are closed!) There's alse the morale factor. This is a crumbling regime and people are starting to jump ship. There's only the army left. There's a