NIGHTWATCH on Egypt…and Libya

08 Wild Cards, Advanced Cyber/IO, Counter-Oppression/Counter-Dictatorship Practices, Cultural Intelligence

Egypt: Protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, are asking citizens to take part in demonstrations on 11 February, for the “Day of Confrontation,” Al Arabiya reported. One news service reported tens of millions of text messages about the event. According to a report in the Indian Express, “organizers” want a “big push” on Friday that could include storming parliament and the state television station in Cairo.

On 9 February, about 8,000 protesters, mainly farmers, set barricades of flaming palm trees in Assiut province in complaint of bread shortages, blocking the main highway and railway to Cairo, The Associated Press reported.

In Cairo, about 10,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, 2,000 protesters gathered near the parliament and hundreds of state electricity workers stood in front of the South Cairo Electricity Co. demanding that its director step down.

Public transport workers at five of the Cairo’s 17 garages also protested, calling for President Mubarak to step down and vowing that buses would be halted on 10 February. Public Transport Authority (PTA) drivers and employees said they demand better incentives. Several hundred workers demonstrated at factories in Cairo’s industrial suburb of Helwan and strikes entered a second day in the city of Suez.

About 5,000 workers at various state companies — including textile workers, medicine bottle manufacturers, sanitation workers and a firm involved in repairs for ships on the Suez Canal — held separate strikes and protests at their factories.

Roughly 3,000 Egyptian National Railways (ENR) employees went on strike and demanded Transport Minister Atef Abdel Hamid re-evaluate their incentives, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported 9 February. The employees sat on railway lines and said they would not move until their demands are satisfied. ENR had instructions to answer demands and end the strike peaceably, a Transport Ministry official said.

About 3,000 protesters near Port Said, northeast of Cairo, torched the Port Said governorate headquarters after finding a complaint they had sent to the governor in a garbage can, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Protesters also clashed for several hours with security forces and police in Al-Wadi Al-Gadeed in the early morning hours, Ahram Online reported. The incident began outside of the police station, and security and fire personnel were sent to defend the city’s police headquarters as the confrontation intensified. Protesters managed to set the station, as well as an adjoining prison, on fire, destroying it.

Comment: The significance of the incidents outside Cairo is that the movement is changing. Important stakeholders in the system – farmers, factory workers, drivers, port and canal workers, railroad workers – have finally appeared in the protest mix. In Cairo and in the towns where government buildings and police stations were attacked, that was the old protest movement still at work.

The new protests involve people with a lot to lose from job actions. Their complaints are different too, consistently about economic conditions. They have the power to steer the protests in a very different direction than the educated urban youth in Cairo.

The workers groups simply could be taking advantage of the stress in the system to bargain for better working conditions. On the other hand, if strikes and workers’ job actions persist and expand, today’s protests will represent a turning point that could lead to a bottom-up revolution. And if merchants and professionals stop work, Readers should expect marches on Cairo, vice in Cairo, and violence. In any event, the lull was short-lived and the confrontation is heading towards escalating violence. This is a warning.

Note: al Jazeera is note cited as the source of any of the above reports of protests.

Politics. Senior Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member Essam el-Erian said MB talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman have yet to tackle the central issue of the transfer of power, Reuters reported. El-Erian said the talks were a struggle over the stubbornness of President Mubarak. MB member Saad el-Katatni said a second meeting of preliminary talks would happen within days and that the MB must be serious when real talks do begin.

Vice President Omar Suleiman said during an interview President Mubarak will remain in office until September 2011, during which he will implement reforms, Al-Ahram reported. A presidential election will be held on 14 October under judicial and international observation, and Mubarak has promised that no one in his family will run for the office, Suleiman said. Suleiman added that the Muslim Brotherhood should engage in talks with the government because it is a political force with a social agenda.

Comment: In this interview, Suleiman legitimated the Brotherhood in national life, contrasting with the constant harassment and roundups that have characterized the government’s handling of the Brotherhood during every election campaign. This is a red flag for a deal between the Army and the Brotherhood.

President Mubarak will not travel to Germany for a medical check-up, Vice President Suleiman said, adding Egypt is thankful for the German offer but the president does not need medical treatment, according to the German news service DPA.

Libya: Leader Qadhafi in a private meeting warned activists, journalists and media personalities that they would be held responsible if they participated in disturbances of the peace, witnesses said. The National Conference for the Libyan Opposition and political activists called for a Libyan “Day of Rage” on 17 February. Most of the attendees at the private meeting were from eastern Libyan cities, witnesses said.

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