Eyewitness Egypt: Ahmed Shawki on `Day of Departure' demos -- `A tipping point has been reached'

February 4, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- Video report: "Battle for Tahrir: An inside look at how pro-democracy activists reclaimed Tahrir Square after attacks by Mubarak forces. Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports live from Cairo.

International Socialist Review editor Ahmed Shawki reports from Cairo on the mass demonstration that shifted the balance away from the violence unleashed by the dictatorial Mubarak regime on February 2 and 3. Click here for Shawki's first-hand account of the attack by the regime's goons.

* * *

February 4, 2011 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- Anti-Mubarak demonstrators gathered in their hundreds of thousands today, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in Alexandria and in cities and towns across the country for a new day of mass protest against the regime.

In my estimation, the Tahrir Square demonstration was even bigger today than it was February 1, when across Egypt, between 6 million and 8 million people protested, according to estimates. As the hour for curfew came and went tonight, thousands of people were still arriving to demonstrate. In Alexandria, an estimated 1 million people also turned out.

Everywhere, people were united around the slogan that Mubarak must go now. In Tahrir Square, there was an echo of the old civil rights slogan in the US "We shall not be moved" -- hundreds of thousands of people were chanting, "He should go! We will not move." Then there was my favourite slogan of the day: Ya Mubarak, sahi el noum, inaharda akher youm! It sounds better in Arabic because it rhymes, but it translates roughly into English as: "Wakey, wakey, Mubarak, today is the last day!"

February 4, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- "Day of Departure": Massive demonstrations across Egypt aim to oust Mubarak. Sharif Abdel Kouddous Reports live from Cairo.

To understand the importance of the massive February 4 turnout, you only have to remember what happened on February 2 and 3, which can only be described as the unleashing of the hounds of hell -- thugs of the regime sent out in a coordinated assault on the demonstrators at Tahrir Square and the whole of the pro-democracy movement.

The scale of violence was seen by millions of people around the world. They threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and they wielded knives and all kinds of other weapons in an attempt to intimidate, injure and drive out the demonstrators from Tahrir Square.

They also made a particular point to beat up journalists and drive them out of the square, and they raided hotels where news organisations like Al Jazeera and CNN were headquartered, trashing their operations. They also attempted to incite fear against foreigners -- anything that would drive a wedge among the demonstrators and that would intimidate people from coming out on Friday.

The violence was so bad that Omar Suleiman -- the newly appointed vice-president, whose previous position was head of the army intelligence services, someone who must have overseen the arrest and torture of thousands in that post -- came on television on the night of February 3 to deny any involvement on the part of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's ruling party.

Suleiman claimed that no one had any idea who organised the onslaught -- despite the fact that several of the thugs were captured, and their police or government employment IDs were shown in the media. So the hollowness of his claims weren't lost on the Egyptian people.

There was even a moment of bizarre other-worldliness when Suleiman -- this organiser of repression and torture -- appealed for prisoners, who according to many reports had been released from jail by the regime's thugs to help in the violence, to show up at the prisons again and turn themselves in.

That's the context of today's demonstrations -- after two days of systematic violence against the anti-Mubarak protestors, people turned out in the hundreds of thousands, and it turned the balance back again in the favour of the demonstrators.

Ebb and flow

As in every revolutionary situation, there has been a dramatic ebb and flow to the events in Egypt.

The demonstrations began on January 25 -- ironically, on "Police Day", which was previously a celebration of the regime's strength. On that first day, the movement broke through a kind of psychological barrier by moving into the streets in huge numbers, something that didn't happen under the Egyptian police state.

The demonstrations continued through January 28, when there were huge battles with the police that pushed the security forces off the streets. The government's response was to deploy the army, which is seen as "above politics" -- but to allow Cairo to descend into a kind of chaos, with gangs of thugs roaming through neighbourhoods, many of them organised by the regime. The mass of Egyptians responded to this by organising neighbourhood defence committees to protect the people.

On February 1, the demonstrations were the biggest yet. Mubarak spoke on television that night, declaring that he wouldn't run for reelection, but had no intention of stepping down. The thugs were unleashed the next day to show what Mubarak had in mind as a transition.

But Friday, February 4 represents a new stage following the two days of violence that came before it. In the preceding two days, not only was the anti-Mubarak demonstration in Tahrir maintained -- that is, the heart of the uprising and its best-known expression was defended from forces determined to drive the protesters out -- but the manner of its defence produced a response in support of it that could be seen throughout the day today.

Early on Friday morning, there were literally thousands of people lined up to go into the square. The army had taken up positions after the two days of sustained violence, not wanting to appear helpless, but what was phenomenal was that it wasn't the army guarding the entrances, but lines and lines of stewards from the demonstration. They searched people as they came in, making sure no one had the kind of weapons that the pro-government gangs had used against them. I've never been frisked so often, and with as many apologies for being frisked.

The army is continuing to maintain its role as a force supposedly above politics. Unlike the last two days of uncontrolled violence against the protesters, which the army didn't intervene decisively to stop, today, it helped create a buffer zone around Tahrir Square. So once the attack on Tahrir Square failed, there was barbed wire and tanks in all the pivotal positions around Cairo.

I got to Tahrir in the morning, before the end of prayers, when even larger numbers came to the demonstration. But already, the crowd numbered half a million, if not more, by my estimate.

Once inside Tahrir, you could see a level of organisation and solidarity unlike anything I've seen before.

The first thing that struck me was the makeshift clinics set up all over the place, with dozens and dozens of nurses and doctors -- many of whom said they were unemployed -- stitching up people's legs or arms or faces. These injuries were the result of the pro-government thugs -- there were dozens of people walking around who had been patched up.

In addition to that, people had brought medical supplies with them. Others were circulating through the square with bags of bread, with water, with candy.

One of the aims of the pro-Mubarak forces had been to drive out all journalists -- they focused in particular on foreign journalists to try to raise anger at a supposed foreign plot against Egypt. So it was good to see that journalists were operating freely and quite welcome in the crowd.

Probably the most significant sign of the health of the protest was the continued political discussion and debate within the square. I also saw dozens and dozens of people who were calling friends and relatives, and encouraging them to come to the square -- trying to convince them of the fallacy of the government's claims about chaos and violence.

US manoeuvres

According to press reports, the US government is lobbying hard to get officials around Mubarak to pressure him to step down.

The US manoeuvres around this question must, as always, be taken with a grain of salt. No one will say it in the mainstream media, but US President Barack Obama could have held a press conference in which he simply declared that aid to Egypt is cut off, that this kind of violence will not be tolerated, and that the US now stands squarely with the protesters.

But of course, he won't say that because that's not how diplomacy works. And the reason it doesn't work that way is you can't send that signal about a dictator the US has been supporting for 30 years. Not because Mubarak isn't finished, but because of how his downfall on those terms would affect other relationships and the whole Middle East.

So the US is scrambling to find an alternative, and there are plenty of options. Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, showed up to the demonstration today to be among the protesters. He's clearly thrown his hat in the ring to be the next president. There's also Mohamed ElBaradai. There's the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the current defence minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, made the rounds through Tahrir Square, under protection of soldiers, without much opposition to him.

But there are still plenty of difficulties and contradictions for the US and for the rulers in Egypt, because there are significant problems from trying to gently step back from a military dictatorship. Egypt is still that, in many respects.

Raids on labour groups

I should add that a couple offices of human rights and labour organisations were raided on February 3 and closed down. It's still very gingerly that people produce any public literature that's against the regime. So it was quite an exercise, for example, to get leaflets into Tahrir Square today.

One problem for the US government is that Omar Suleiman figures prominently in its plans for a post-Mubarak transition. Many of the demonstrators were dismayed by Suleiman's speech last night. But of course, most know the history of the man -- that he was involved integrally in the repression that took place under Mubarak's regime.

In general, most demonstrators still agree that their central demand is for the removal of Mubarak. That's not to say that the rest of the regime should get off scot-free. But Mubarak's downfall is what the movement has focused on so far, and when that's accomplished, that significant victory will then open the process.

My own view is that it's virtually impossible to imagine the departure of Mubarak without the cabinet and the government he's put into place then becoming the central question for the movement. That's the underlying dynamic.

Mubarak is the lightning rod that has brought all the forces together. Those forces don't necessarily agree on the same outcome, but they're at least agreed on the central necessity of seeing him go, and that will become the practical measure of what's been accomplished.

Democratic thrust

One of the most interesting conversations I heard was one man trying to explain on the phone to someone the profoundly democratic thrust of the protests.

He said to the person he was talking to that people see demonstrators chanting "Allah Akbar", and they conclude these protests must be organised by the Muslim Brotherhood. Then they see many famous actors and musicians showing up to Tahrir Square, and they think it's just a middle-class protest of the intelligentsia.

But it's not the Muslim Brotherhood behind all this. It's not the middle class. It's not, as this man went on to say, only socialists and Marxists talking about workers' rights, and it's not people talking about just women's rights. This is really a protest of all Egypt united in a profound movement for democracy.

I think that's the first thing that has to be grasped about the uprising -- that this is a movement that seeks fundamental democratic rights. As a friend of mine put it a few days ago, it's the 1789 of Egypt -- similar to the opening of the French Revolution in that way.

I think the second aspect that became certain today is that this is no longer the Egypt that existed prior to January 25, 2011 -- and there's no turning back, however much violence the regime tries to organise. A tipping point has been reached in terms of the willingness of masses of people to put themselves on the line and defy the existing order, and that's a genie that will be very difficult to put back in the bottle.

The third aspect apparent today was, as I described earlier, the enormous self-organisation of the movement in the face of horrendous violence and repression -- most especially, the attacks that took place over the past few days.

The fourth point is broader -- about what happens next. You now have a movement that has emerged in a most explosive fashion and is present in every Egyptian town and city, which is the product of many, many years of injustice, including around economic questions of unemployment and dispossession. But it's also an expression of the rise of a number of social struggles in Egypt, including the strikes of the last few years and the riots over rising food prices.

Right now, the movement is united around the political aim of getting rid of Hosni Mubarak. But hopefully, once Mubarak is unseated, the political questions will then mesh with social questions that still remain unresolved.

If that happens, there will be a really explosive mix of political and social issues that represents the possibility of political and social revolution.

I think that's the key to understanding why Mubarak hasn't left yet. It's not just a question of his own stubbornness, but how the regime can continue and the status quo can be maintained, not just for the Egyptian elite, but for Israel, the US, its European allies and so on.

Their interest is in preventing this process from triggering an even greater change. That's what these demonstrations are heralding, and we hope it's a process that will continue.

One last story from today: When Mubarak spoke on television on the night of February 2 and said that he wouldn't run for reelection, he vowed that he was going to die on Egypt's soil. One Socialist Worker reporter quipped at the time, "We should tell him that the soil is ready for him." I translated that today at Tahrir Square, and I can report that it was greeted with wild applause and cheers -- it's another part of the ongoing Egyptian revolution.

[Ahmed Shawki is a leading member of the United States International Socialist Organization. This article first appeared in the ISO's Socialist Worker website.]

Statement from the protesters at Cairo's Tahrir square to the Egyptian people

The president's promises and the bloody events of Wednesday, February 2

By The Youth of the Tahrir Square sit-in

We the protesters who have currently been in a sit-in at Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo since January 25, 2011 strongly condemn the brutal attack carried out by the governing National Democratic Party's (NDP) mercenaries at our location on Wednesday, February 2, under the guise of a "rally" in support of President Mubarak. This attack has continued on Thursday, February 3. We regret that some young people have joined these thugs and criminals, whom the NDP is accustomed to hiring during elections, to march them off after spreading several falsehoods circulated by the regime’s media about us and our goals. These goals that aim at changing the political system into one that guarantees freedom, dignity and social justice to all citizens are also the goals of the youth. Therefore we want to clarify the following.

Firstly, we are a group of young Muslim and Christian Egyptians; the overwhelming majority of us does not belong to political parties and have no previous political activism. Our movement involves the elderly and children, peasants, workers, professionals, students and pensioners. Our movement cannot be classified as "paid for" or "directed by" a limited few because it has attracted millions who responded to its call of removing the regime. People joined us last Tuesday in Cairo and other governorates in a scene that witnessed not one case of violence, assault on property or harassment of anyone.

Secondly, our movement is accused of being funded from abroad, supported by the United States, as being instigated by Hamas, as under the leadership of the president of the National Assembly for change (Mohamed El-Baradei) and, last but not least, as directed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Many accusations like these prove to be false. The protesters are all Egyptians who have clear and specific national objectives. The protesters have no weapons or foreign equipment as claimed by instigators. The broad positive response of the people to our movement's goals reveals that these are the goals of the Egyptian masses in general, not any internal or external faction or entity.

Thirdly, the regime and its paid media falsely blame us, young demonstrators, for the tension and instability in the streets of Egypt in recent days and therefore damaging our nation's interests and security. Our answer to them is: It is not the peaceful protesters who released the criminal offenders from prison onto the unguarded streets to practice looting and plundering. It is not the peaceful protesters who have imposed a curfew starting at 3 o'clock PM. It is not the peaceful protesters who have stopped the work in banks, bakeries and gas stations. When the protesters organized the one-million demonstration it came up in the most magnificent and organized form and ended peacefully. It is not the protestors who killed 300 people, some with live ammunition, and wounding more than 2,000 people in the last few days.

Fourthly, President Mubarak came out on Tuesday to announce that he will not stand in the upcoming presidential election and that he will modify two articles in the Constitution, and engage in dialogue with the opposition. However, the State media has attacked us when we refused his "concession" and decided to go on with our movement. Our demand that Mubarak steps down immediately is not a personal matter, but we have clear reasons for it which include:

  • His promise not to run again is not new. He promised when he came to power in 1981 that he will not run for more than two legislatures but he continued for more than 30 years.
  • His speech did not put any collateral for not nominating his son "Gamal", who remains until now a member of the ruling party, and can stand for election that will not be under judicial supervision since he ignored any reference to the amendment of Article 88 of the Constitution.
  • He also considered our movement a "plot directed by a force" that works against the interests of the nation as if responding to the demands of the public is a "shame" or "humiliation".
  • As regards to his promise of conducting a dialogue with the opposition, we know how many times over the past years the regime claimed this and ended up with enforcing the narrow interests of the Mubarak State and the few people who control it.

And the events of Wednesday proved our stand is vindicated. While the President was giving his promises, the leaders of his regime were organizing (along with paid thugs and wanted criminals equipped with swords, knives and Molotov cocktails) a brutal plot to attack us in Tahrir Square. Those thugs and criminals were accompanied by NDP members who fired machine guns on unarmed protesters who were trapped on the square, killing at least 7 and wounding hundreds of us critically. This was done in order to end our peaceful national popular movement and preserve the status quo.

Our movement is Egyptian -- Our movement is legitimate 0- Our movement is continuing

The Youth of the Tahrir Square sit-in

[Available in Arabic. Text from In Defence of Marxism.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/06/2011 - 14:08


NY Times February 4, 2011

Discontented Within Egypt Face Power of Old Elites


CAIRO — It was proclaimed as “the Friday of departure,” but neither the demonstrators who proved their staying power as a force for change nor their nemesis, President Hosni Mubarak, left. Now a prolonged collision is shaping up between a staggering but entrenched old guard and an outpouring of Egypt’s discontented over how fast and how deep the changes will be.

In a contest of image, perception and power, the rebellion pits those disenfranchised by Mr. Mubarak’s government against a still formidable array built around the military and security apparatus and a fabulously wealthy clique enriched by connections with the governing party.

Both revolt and reaction have offered their narrative — change and chaos — with the Information Ministry fanning popular discontent over an uprising that has devastated Egypt’s economy. But a revolution is not a referendum, and in an 11-day battle that has seen momentum shift almost by the day, each faces the resilience of the other.

Even as it sheds some of its support, the government remains determined not to surrender what it deems its prestige. Mr. Mubarak’s leadership is one symbol of that, but even if he leaves, the old guard may well dig in to obstruct open elections and true civilian rule. The government retains a monopoly on armed violence, the state’s arsenal in its hands. But despite organizers’ own lurking fears, the uprising has proved its ability to turn out thousands into the streets, in a remarkable show of steadfastness that has left the government no option but to engage it. “There are a lot of Fridays left,” said Tayssir Ibrahim, a protester in Tahrir Square here.

Egypt’s revolution is far from decided, but the country will never be the same. As the government begins to fall back on itself, inciting fears of foreigners, mobilizing provocateurs and cracking down on its opposition, it faces an ever fiercer revolutionary fervor, with ever more sweeping demands.

“It’s in the streets now,” said Omar Ghoneim, a businessman. “It’s the people of Egypt protesting. We have no future. Either we die, or this regime goes completely.”

Since a group of officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy in 1952, its corpulent king leaving behind a vast collection of pornography, the government has sought to claim the mantle of peasants and workers. Especially in the past decade, it has shed that pretense, concentrating its power around the military — long beyond criticism in the Egyptian media — as well as the loathed Interior Ministry, a governing party skilled in patronage and a clique of the very wealthy, many loyal to Mr. Mubarak’s son, Gamal.

Since the revolt, the military has surged to the forefront, emerging as the pivotal player in politics it long sought to manage behind the scenes. The beneficiary of nearly $40 billion in American aid during Mr. Mubarak’s rule, its interests span the gamut of economic life — from the military industry to businesses like road and housing construction, consumer goods and resort management. Even leading opposition leaders, like Mohamed ElBaradei, have acknowledged that the military will have a key role in a transition.

The protesters’ demands have grown, in part, in a reflection of the way the state’s other pillars are staggering. The police have collapsed, only gingerly returning to the streets, and unlike a week ago, its forces made no attempt on Friday to block the protesters’ way.

“Its security apparatus is not an immediate player,” said Khaled Fahmy, a professor at the American University of Cairo who was at the protests on Friday.

More striking is the way the government has begun shedding the business elite that surrounded it only months ago. Officials have announced the freezing of assets and a prohibition on travel for Ahmed Ezz, a hated steel magnate and leading member of the governing party, and for Rashid Mohammed Rashid, a former minister of trade and industry, Ahmed el-Maghraby, a former housing minister, and Zuheir Garana, a former minister of tourism. (The travel ban meant little for Mr. Rashid; he was in Dubai when the announcement was made.)

“We decided on eliminating all businessmen,” Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said Friday of his cabinet in an interview with Al Arabiya, an Arabic satellite channel, in a gesture toward protesters who have made Mr. Ezz a symbol of everything corrupt about the state.

“Scapegoats,” Ali Moussa, a leading businessman in Egypt and former chairman of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said of the ministers (though not Mr. Ezz).

“It’s a sign of weakness, a well-known game that happens all the time,” he added.

A dirtier struggle has played out in the streets, where the vision of protesters has collided so viscerally with the oldest tactics of an authoritarian state that, as Mr. Shafiq made clear, has begun retrenching itself. The military police have arrested 30 human rights activists, and an office of the Muslim Brotherhood was raided Friday. Government supporters, some wielding machetes, kitchen knives and a Cairene version of a shank, attacked scores of foreign journalists.

The protesters tried to offer a counterpoint to the government’s aggressive image on Friday, in what seemed a growing struggle to define the way that people would be led in the transition. “We’re sorry for any inconvenience we’re causing you,” guards said as they frisked people.

What is so striking about Egypt’s tumult is the ardor that protesters have brought to an idea of community. In some ways, Egypt’s revolution has already happened.

In a country made miserable by the petty humiliations of authority, Egyptians were welcomed to the square with boisterous greetings. “Thank God for your safety,” men organized as guards declared. “Welcome, heroes!” others cried. “Come on and join the square.” Most poignantly, they simply chanted, “These are the Egyptian people.”

Throughout the day, by accident or intention, tens of thousands of people seemed determined to disprove every cliché that the elite has offered to justify its repression of a people that Mr. Mubarak, as recently as an interview on Thursday, insisted would descend into chaos without him.

No one pushed unduly as they waited to pass concertina wire strung by the military across the entrance. They waited as men prayed, bowing their heads on Egyptian flags that served as prayer rugs. The menacing harassment of women was nowhere to be seen. Volunteers ferried in bread, cheese, honey, juice and milk, along with medicine, some of which was provided by a pharmacist who gave a 20 percent discount for the cause.

Guards at the barricades wore helmets — actually, kitchen bowls converted for a fight — that bore the slogan “The government of the revolution.”

“God is great,” people chanted, “and the revolution is growing.”

In a way, the contest has begun to pit two perceptions of power: sanctioned or imposed.

Protester after protester made the point that the government’s prestige was broken, most remarkably by the young men in Tahrir Square who for two days fought off government supporters once routinely deployed to intimidate voters in sham elections and small crowds of protesters. “Heroes,” they called the young men.

“The people are stubborn now,” said Nasser el-Sherif, a 24-year-old student, sitting near a grandmother, Um Ibrahim Abdel-Mohsin, who had ferried rocks to the barricades for two days. “You want to beat us up? We’ll kick you out, and it’s our right.”

“We’re not compromising our freedom anymore,” Mr. Sherif added.

Near him was scrawled graffiti. “Victory is with the patient,” it said.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/06/2011 - 14:35


News Analysis: Despite conflicting signs, Egypt’s Revolution won new ground

Hani Shukrallah, Saturday 5 Feb 2011

Day 12 of Egypt's 25 January Revolution began in confusion and ended in uncertain triumph

Day 12 of what has come to be known as the “25 January Revolution” began in confusion. The great success of Friday’s Day of Departure, with nearly a million people descending on Tahrir Sq., and hundreds of thousands others demonstrating in cities around the country, provided a great boost to the morale of the protesters and their sympathizers, and even won back some of the waverers who, since President Mubarak’s mid-night speech Tuesday night had been moving towards the pro-Mubarak camp.

On the streets of Cairo, life seemed to be regaining some normalcy; more shops have opened their doors to the public, and many businesses have resumed operation. Traffic is flowing heavier and smoother; there are more people on the streets, and there is a greater sense of security among the public than before.

There is also a great deal of confusion, however. Early this morning some 5000 young people who had stayed overnight at Tahrir sq. rushed to protect the barricades they had erected at the northern edge of the square to stave off the attacks of “pro-Mubarak” hooligans, which began last Wednesday. And though yesterday Day of Departure witnessed very few such attacks (the numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-democracy camp, the protesters still suspected that the attempt to remove the barricade might be in preparation for renewed attacks aimed at dislodging them from the square.

Much more serious, however, is the absence until today of a consensual body which has the confidence of the protesters and is thus able to negotiate with the state on their behalf. There are, at the moment, at least five or six groups, which are either readying to enter into negotiations, once certain conditions are met, or have started negotiating already. In particular, there are signs that there is tension, and some in fighting in the ranks of the youth movements, which have triggered the 25 January Revolution and continue to provide field leadership to the protesters occupying Tahrir Sq.

According to a source that preferred anonymity, a coalition of five youth organizations is intending to announce the formation of a 30-person negotiating body (up from 25), which is to include 10 representatives of the youth movements, in addition 20 public figures, including – as Ahram Online reported earlier – such renowned names as Nobel laureates, Mohamed El-Baradei and Ahmed Zewail, as well as Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and other prominent political and intellectual figures. The youth coalition is made up of The 6 April movement, The Campaign in Support of El-Baradei, the Youth Movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Youth Movement of the Democratic Front Party, and the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement.

Yet it is by no means certain as yet that the youth groups’ will actually succeed in setting up this body. It was supposed to be announced this morning, as reported earlier by Ahram Online, but has, as yet, failed to do so, possibly as a result of continuing differences between its constituent parts.

Meanwhile, several other bodies, including the Committee of Wise Men have already been negotiating with both Vice-President Omar Soliman, and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. Last night there were announcements both by the prime minister and some members of the negotiating teams that they were close to an agreement. Nothing materialized, and last by this morning last night’s bout of optimism gave way to the feeling that Egypt is still in for a long haul. This was underlined by the appearance of President Mubarak heading a meeting of the economic group of the cabinet, which was probably intended to show that he remained in charge.

One of the main conditions of the various negotiating teams is that the president, even if he does not step down immediately, must take a back seat and transfer the bulk of his powers to his vice-president, until the end of his term, set for September.

Ahram Online asked one source in one of the negotiating teams whether he sensed willingness to compromise on the part of either the vice-president or the prime minister. “Not at all,” he said, “we still have some ways to go.” He agreed, however, that the multiplicity of negotiating bodies is putting the achievements of the revolution in great threat. Soliman, he noted, is a master tactician who is capable of making full use of each and every crack in the ranks of the opposition.

There are however attempt to bring the various bodies together. And meetings are being scheduled to try and create one viable and consensual body made up of representatives of the youth movements and prominent public and political figures. At the same time, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood continues to declare its rejection of entering into any negotiations with the government before Mubarak steps down. There were signs, however, that the reformist wing of the Brotherhood might be of a different mind.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters continue to hold on to Tahrir Sq, rejecting any attempt to ease the occupation. There is debate, however, on the need to change tactics. Among the ideas being floated is that the occupation would be confined to two or three days a week. Others suggest ending the occupation while maintaining weekly demonstrations every Friday, until the revolution’s demands are fully met. But in the absence of a clear and accepted leadership to the ongoing popular protest it is difficult to conceive how a consensus might be reached.

Time, on the other hand, does not seem to favor the 25 January Revolution. Much of the country’s economy has been put on hold, and everyone is suffering. This is creating real cleavages within Egyptian society, and threatens to lose the protesters the sympathy of growing sections of the population. Interestingly, there does not seem to be a class aspect to the division, which seems to cut across class lines, running vertically rather than horizontally.

One of the ugliest features of the current scene, however, is the paranoid witch-hunt that state television, police agents, and gangs of thugs continue to launch against alleged foreign spies and agents of all sorts who are fomenting the revolution as well as financing it. The statements made by the vice-president in an interview with state television on Thursday provided grist to the phantasmagoric conspiracy theories spreading like wildfire around the country, in what some believe is part of a deliberate campaign of sabotage.

The day ended on a hopeful note however, as it was announced that President Mubarak had stepped down as leader of the ruling National Democratic Party, and that the two most powerful figures in the ruling party, Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif, and President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, hitherto the head of the NDP’s powerful Policies Committee had been expelled from the party.

Reformist Hossam Badrawi, possibly the sole respected figure in the ruling party leadership, has taken over as both secretary-general and head of the Policies Secretariat. Effectively this means the dissolution of the ruling party, which fundamentally has been a party of the state, and a huge network of state patronage.

Moreover, serious, though unconfirmed accusations have been directed against El-Sherif, who for the past 30 years has been one of the strongest men in the Mubrak regime. Some have claimed, publicly, that El-Sherif, in alliance with a number of NDP Oligarchs and the secret police, has been the man behind the campaign of sabotage and thuggery that swept the country immediately upon the still unexplained overnight disappearance of the whole domestic security apparatus.

The announcements, predictably, have given a tremendous boost to the morale of the protesters, who met them with cheers and applause. The vice-president and the prime minister are now obliged to reach an agreement with the various representatives of the revolution.

For all practical purposes, the 25 January Revolution looks to have triumphed.

Post script:The announcement that Mubarak hadresigned hispost as leader of the NDP was later denied by Egyptianstate TV,whichseems to indicate thatat some pointduring the past couple of hoursthe resignation, which had been confirmed by top NDP sources, was retracted. Why and how is unknown for the timebeing. Whatever the reason, or the dynamics in question, this development renders the conclusion drawn above asrather too hasty.


Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/06/2011 - 15:25


From the Editors


January 29, 2011

Every US administration has its mouthpiece in Washington’s think tank world, its courtier that will slavishly praise its every utterance. For the blessedly bygone Bush administration, that echo chamber was the American Enterprise Institute and the neo-conservative broadsheets in its orbit. For the Obama administration, it is the National Security Network, an operation founded in 2006 to bring “strategic focus to the progressive national security community.”

With one US-backed Arab despot dislodged and dodging Interpol, and another facing an intifada of historic proportions, many eyes looked to Washington, hopeful that President Barack Obama might reprise his ballyhooed Cairo speech of June 2009, showing the restive Arab masses that he felt and, perhaps, really understood their pain. Instead, Arab populations have heard a variation on Washington’s long-standing theme: “The Obama administration seeks to encourage political reforms without destabilizing the region.” That sentence, taken from the National Security Network’s January 27 press release, says it all: Democracy is great in theory, but if it will cause any disruption to business as usual, Washington prefers dictatorship.

And so it was no surprise, though a deep and indelible blot upon Obama and his “progressive” entourage, when the president took a White House lectern on the evening of January 28 -- Egypt’s “Friday of Rage” -- and announced his continued backing for the indefensible regime of President Husni Mubarak. In so doing, he ensured that the Arab fury of the winter of 2011 would be directed increasingly toward the United States as well as its regional vassals.

January 28 in Egypt was a rollercoaster of a day. The mass demonstrations following up on the January 25 Police Day uprising turned out to be larger and more vehement than even optimistic observers expected. Police stations and ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) headquarters burned to the ground in the middle-class Cairo neighborhoods of al-Azbakiyya and Sayyida Zaynab, as well as in poorer quarters, in Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Damietta and Damanhour as well as in Upper Egypt and the Sinai. The NDP’s home base in Cairo’s main Tahrir Square itself went up in flames. Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, was overrun by protesters who had overwhelmed the riot police. Tanks rolled in to the cities; a curfew was declared; but the crowds ignored it and the army (for the most part) did not shoot at them.

On Al Jazeera, whose live feeds in both English and Arabic have riveted world audiences, the anchors did not quite know what narrative frame to employ, so rapid was the pace of events and so contradictory were the signals coming from the corridors of power. In Washington, outgoing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs held a special briefing to discuss Egypt and, to a direct question, said that Obama had not spoken to Mubarak. Gibbs continued that US aid to Egypt, recipient of the second-largest annual packages since 1979, would be placed “under review.” A Pentagon spokesman added that the Egyptian army’s chief of staff, in Washington for consultations, had cut his trip short and returned home. Had the Obama team abandoned the Egyptian dictator to fate? In Cairo, as midnight approached, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Fathi Surour, said that he would have an “important announcement” soon. By the Egyptian constitution, like the Tunisian one, the speaker of Parliament is custodian of state in the case of a vacant presidency. Was Mubarak boarding a plane for exile? On the Arabic-language channel, several of the reporters, commentators and analysts could barely contain their jubilation. Not only did it seem that Mubarak would decamp exactly as Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had done; he would do so with Egyptian protesters having died in fewer numbers than Tunisians.

Then the 82-year old Mubarak appeared on Egyptian state television himself. Egyptians must have felt as if they had traveled back in time, to the moment of any minor hiccup in the regime’s 30-year reign: Claiming to carry the protesters’ grievances in his heart, Mubarak vowed to speed up his program of political and economic reforms. Clearly, judging by the scenes in the streets, he had chosen the wrong team of ministers to implement the grand vision. That cabinet would be dismissed and a fresh one empaneled, all under his wise executive guidance, of course. In the meantime, he warned, “setting fires in the streets” was not the way to engage in dialogue with his government. The forces of law and order would prevail.

To this fossil of an oration, this half-debased, half-delusional assurance that all was normal as the capital burned in the wee hours of the morning, Egyptian opposition figures had an immediate, unequivocal response. Amin Iskandar of the Karama Party, a splinter of the Nasserist movement, predicted that Mubarak had delivered his last speech, for the uprising would continue unabated on the morrow. “The Egyptian people will not be fooled again” by droning repetition of past promises unfulfilled, he declared. ‘Isam Sultan, Al Jazeera’s next guest, one-upped Iskandar by saying that the demonstrators would press on without sleep until Mubarak was gone for good. Such, after all, has been the crystal-clear demand of the protests on Police Day and subsequently.

Weighing the "limited options," January 28, 2011. Clockwise from Obama: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon; White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes; Tony Blinken, National Security Adviser to the Vice President; Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Robert Cardillo, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration; and Vice President Joe Biden. (White House/Pete Souza)

But apparently the Obama administration did not care to listen. Obama strode to the podium just minutes after Mubarak had finished his remarks, leaving little doubt that the timing of the two speeches had been coordinated in advance. First evincing concern to avoid further bloodshed, he then tacitly equated the heavily armed, habitually brutal Egyptian security forces with the weaponless, repeatedly wounded protesters, calling upon the latter as well to “express themselves peacefully.” He echoed the condescension of Mubarak himself in saying of the protesters that “violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms they seek.” He then added injury to insult, clarifying that America’s “close partnership” with Egypt was in fact with Mubarak, who had “pledged a better democracy” and now must “give meaning” to his words.

By all means, the unrest across the region has been occasion for Washington to scold its Arab allies for their unaccountable neglect of the aspirations of youth and their unseemly embezzlement of treasuries. At the Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, held on January 13, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exhorted her audience of Arab elites to “build a future that your young people will believe in, stay for and defend.” Invest in vocational education, she urged. Create jobs. Root out corruption. Hold elections whose outcome is uncertain. Drop the reflexive hostility to civic engagement by regular folks. But the regimes remain the political address of record for her administration; having created the present crises through decades of avarice and contempt for the people they rule, they are now to be trusted to resolve the impasse. Vice President Joe Biden was typically clumsy, but most assuredly not off-message when, in response to a direct question from PBS host Jim Lehrer, he declined to label Mubarak a dictator, saying instead: “I think the time has come for President Mubarak...to be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.”

No, as the Tunisian example showed, and as the Egyptian experience may yet drive home, the US will stand by its favored authoritarian Arab states until the bitter end. From the January 28 performance on the Potomac, it is not clear that the US can even imagine an alternative course.

The reasons for this stance have changed little over the decades since the US became the superpower in the Middle East. Strategic interest number one is the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the world economy, unimpeded by a rival hegemon or a regional upstart that might raise prices dramatically or deploy the oil weapon to extract political concessions from the West. Number two is the security of Israel. But third -- not to be confused with tertiary -- is the stability of satrapies that Washington can trust to safeguard its other interests and initiatives, whether the US-sponsored “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians (and the blockade upon Hamas that Egypt helps to enforce) or the campaign to curtail Islamist movements for which Tunisia’s Ben Ali so eagerly signed up. The US rewards its clients with cash and copious armaments, with scant regard for their records on democratization or human rights. After the Yemeni regime canceled elections in 2009, its aid package was quintupled. There have always been numerous dissenters within the US foreign policy apparatus who know the damage that is being done, but they are resolutely kept out of positions of real authority.

That roguish Bush administration, as the National Security Network flacks are fond of repeating, “destabilized” the Middle Eastern order, not just with its rash invasion of Iraq but also its swashbuckling talk of “freedom on the march” through the thickets of US-approved autocracy. The “progressive national security community,” like those to its right on Washington’s narrow political spectrum, is keen to be taken seriously by power, and so generally restricts its judgments of policy ventures to the impact on the US interest. The catastrophic loss of Iraqi life is rarely mentioned as a point against the invasion, for instance, and the sincerity of the Bush administration’s “democracy doctrine” is usually granted arguendo, civility being far more important to American politicos than accountability or, for that matter, decency. 

Amidst the hand wringing in the mainstream media over Obama’s “limited options” in Egypt, through whose Suez Canal cruise oil tankers and the warships of the US Fifth Fleet, the truth is that the entire debate over democracy promotion in the Arab world and greater Middle East has been one long, bitterly unfunny joke. The issue has never been whether the US should promote democracy; it has been when the US will stop trying to suppress it. The bargains with tyrants lay a “commitment trap” for Washington, which must solemnly swear allegiance to each strongman lest others in the club have second thoughts about holding up their end. The despots, in turn, assume that the Marines or their equivalents will swoop in to the rescue if need be. Most, like Ben Ali, are mistaken, if nothing else because an ambitious underling is often waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, just as Iranians have not forgotten the Carter administration’s eleventh-hour loyalty to the Shah some 32 years later, neither will Pakistanis soon forgive the US for standing by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans wondered why their country had been targeted. Many, of course, settled upon the solipsistic, emotionally comforting explanation that “they hate us for our values” or resorted to conspiracy theory about Islam and world conquest. Saner sorts looked to the US history of support for Israel in its colonization of Palestine or coziness with certain kingdoms sitting atop vast pools of petroleum. But these factors have never been the whole answer. All who continue to wonder about the rest should ponder this day, January 28, 2011. The words of Obama and his chorus of apologists say it all: When it comes to the aspirations of ordinary Arabs for genuinely participatory politics and true self-determination, those vaunted American values are suspended, even when “special relationships” and hydrocarbon riches are not directly at issue. And the anti-democratic sentiment is bipartisan: On this question, there is less than a dime’s worth of difference between “progressive” Democrats and Republican xenophobes, between pinstriped State Department Arabists and flannel-clad Christian fundamentalists, between oil-first “realists” and Israel-first neo-conservatives. There is none.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 02/11/2011 - 13:50


NY Times February 9, 2011
Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt

CAIRO — They were born roughly around the time that President Hosni Mubarak first came to power, most earned degrees from their country’s top universities and all have spent their adult lives bridling at the restrictions of the Egyptian police state — some undergoing repeated arrests and torture for the cause.

They are the young professionals, mostly doctors and lawyers, who touched off and then guided the revolt shaking Egypt, members of the Facebook generation who have remained mostly faceless — very deliberately so, given the threat of arrest or abduction by the secret police.

Now, however, as the Egyptian government has sought to splinter their movement by claiming that officials were negotiating with some of its leaders, they have stepped forward publicly for the first time to describe their hidden role.

There were only about 15 of them, including Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who was detained for 12 days but emerged this week as the movement’s most potent spokesman.

Yet they brought a sophistication and professionalism to their cause — exploiting the anonymity of the Internet to elude the secret police, planting false rumors to fool police spies, staging “field tests” in Cairo slums before laying out their battle plans, then planning a weekly protest schedule to save their firepower — that helps explain the surprising resilience of the uprising they began.

In the process many have formed some unusual bonds that reflect the singularly nonideological character of the Egyptian youth revolt, which encompasses liberals, socialists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I like the Brotherhood most, and they like me,” said Sally Moore, a 32-year-old psychiatrist, a Coptic Christian and an avowed leftist and feminist of mixed Irish-Egyptian roots. “They always have a hidden agenda, we know, and you never know when power comes how they will behave. But they are very good with organizing, they are calling for a civil state just like everyone else, so let them have a political party just like everyone else — they will not win more than 10 percent, I think.”

Many in the circle, in fact, met during their university days. Islam Lotfi, a lawyer who is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Youth, said his group used to enlist others from the tiny leftist parties to stand with them in calling for civil liberties, to make their cause seem more universal. Many are now allies in the revolt, including Zyad el-Elaimy, a 30-year-old lawyer who was then the leader of a communist group.

Mr. Elaimy, who was imprisoned four times and suffered multiple broken limbs from torture for his political work, now works as an assistant to Mohamed ElBaradei, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In turn, his group built ties to other young organizers like Ms. Moore.

The seeds of the revolt were planted around the time of the uprising in Tunisia, when Walid Rachid, 27, a liaison from an online group called the April 6 Movement, sent a note to the anonymous administrator of an anti-torture Facebook page asking for “marketing help” with a day of protest on Jan. 25, Mr. Rachid recalled. He wondered why the administrator would communicate only by Google instant message. In fact, it was someone he already knew: Mr. Ghonim, the Google executive.

The day of the protest, the group tried a feint to throw off the police. The organizers let it be known that they intended to gather at a mosque in an upscale neighborhood in central Cairo, and the police gathered there in force. But the organizers set out instead for a poor neighborhood nearby, Mr. Elaimy recalled.

Starting in a poor neighborhood was itself an experiment. “We always start from the elite, with the same faces,” Mr. Lotfi said. “So this time we thought, let’s try.”

They divided up into two teams — one coaxing people in cafes to join them, the other chanting to the tenements above. Instead of talking about democracy, Mr. Lotfi said, they focused on more immediate issues like the minimum wage. “They are eating pigeon and chicken and we are eating beans all the time,” they chanted. “Oh my, 10 pounds can only buy us cucumbers now, what a shame what a shame.”

Ms. Moore said: “Our group started when we were 50. When we left the neighborhood we were thousands.” As the protests broke up that day, she said, she saw a man shot to death by the police. She carried her medical bag to the next demonstration and set up a first-aid center.

By the time they occupied Tahrir Square, she and her friends had enlisted the Arab Doctors Union — many of whose members are also members of the Muslim Brotherhood — which set up a network of seven clinics. The night before the “Friday of anger” demonstration planned for Jan. 28, the group met at the home of Mr. Elaimy while Mr. Lotfi conducted what he called a “field test.” From 6 to 8 p.m., he and a small group of friends walked the narrow alleys of a working-class neighborhood calling out for residents to protest, mainly to gauge the level of participation and measure the pace of a march through the streets.

“And the funny thing is, when we finished up the people refused to leave,” he said. “They were 7,000 and they burned two police cars.”

When he called the information in to the group at Mr. Elaimy’s house, they drew up a detailed plan for protesters to gather at specified mosques, then march toward main arteries that led to Tahrir Square. They even told Mr. ElBaradei which mosque to attend. Then they informed the press where he would be, and pictures of a Nobel laureate drenched by water cannons flashed around the world.

In signs of a generation gap echoed across Egypt, the young people acknowledged some frustration with their elders in the opposition parties. “Simply, they are part of the system, part of the regime,” Mr. Lotfi said. “Mubarak was able to tame them.”

Even so, he said, having members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the square proved to be a strategic asset because as participants in an illegal, secret society, “they are by nature organized.”

That organization proved crucial a few days later when the protesters quickly formed a kind of assembly line to defend against an onslaught of rocks and firebombs from an army of Mubarak loyalists. One group used steel bars to break up pavement into stones, another relayed the rocks to the front and the third manned the barricades.

“When people have been killed, from time to time you feel guilty,” Mr. Lotfi said. “But after the war that night, we felt more and more that our country deserves our sacrifice.”

A few days later, seven members of the group were abducted by the police after leaving a meeting at Mr. ElBaradei’s house and detained for three days.

The organizers disseminated a weekly schedule, with the biggest protests set for Tuesday and Friday, to conserve their energy. And before each protest they leaked a new false lead to throw off the police, letting out that they would march on the state television headquarters, for example, when their real goal was to surround Parliament.

They formed a coalition to represent the youth revolt, with Mr. Ghonim on their executive committee. When the government began inviting them to meetings, they held a vote in Tahrir Square to decide. About a half-dozen representatives of youth groups participated, one person said, and they voted against negotiating by about 70 percent.

Most of the group are liberals or leftists, and all, including the Brotherhood members among them, say they aspire to a Western-style constitutional democracy where civic institutions are stronger than individuals.

But they also acknowledge deep divides, especially over the role of Islam in public life. Mr. Lotfi points to pluralistic Turkey. On the question of alcohol — forbidden by Islam — he suggested that drinking was a private matter but that perhaps it should be forbidden in public.

Asked if he could imagine an Egyptian president who was a Christian woman, he paused. “If it is a government of institutions,” he said, “I don’t care if the president is a monkey.”

Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 02/11/2011 - 14:44


February 9, 2011 http://www.counterpunch.org/

From Stalemate to Checkmate

Meet Egypt's Future Leaders


O Youth, today is your day so shout No more slumber or deep sleep This is your time and your place Bestow on us your talents and efforts We want Egypt’s youth to hold fast As they resist the aggressor and outsider
Egyptian Poet Ibrahim Nagi (1898-1953)

On June 6, 2010, soft-spoken businessman Khaled Said, 28, had his dinner before retreating to his room and embarking on his daily routine of surfing the Internet, blogging, and chatting with his friends on different social websites. Several days earlier, he had posted a seven-minute online video of Alexandria police officers dividing up confiscated drugs among themselves.

When his Internet service suddenly was disrupted that evening, he left his middle class apartment in the coastal city of Alexandria and headed to his neighborhood Internet café. As he resumed blogging, two plain-clothes secret police officers demanded that he be searched. When he inquired as to why or on whose authority, they scoffed at him while blurting out: emergency law. He refused to be touched and demanded to see a uniformed officer or be taken to a police station.

According to eyewitnesses, within minutes they dragged him to a nearby vacant building and began to severely beat up his tiny body, eventually smashing his head on a marble tabletop. His body was subsequently dumped in the street to be retrieved later by an ambulance that declared him dead. According to his mother, Leila Marzouq, his body was totally bruised, teeth broken, and skull fractured.

Immediately, the Interior Ministry started the cover-up campaign. The official report claimed that Said was a drug dealer who tried to escape arrest. They claimed that when he was busted he died by asphyxia as he tried to swallow the narcotics. The authorities backed up this incredible account with two medical reports from the state’s medical examiner. The government print and TV media recycled the official version by painting the reclusive and shy blogger as a reckless drug addict and dealer.

However, when graphic images of Said’s body began to circulate online, other political bloggers and human rights activists were enraged and the nascent youth movement to rescind the 29-year old emergency law started to transform itself from online group discussions to popular protests in the streets of Alexandria, which were predictably met with more police repression and brutality.

Since he became president in 1981, Hosni Mubarak has been utilizing the emergency law as a club to beat down political activity and civil liberties, as well as a means to sanction abuse and torture. According to human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Egyptian human rights groups, no less than 30,000 Egyptians have been imprisoned under the law, which allows the police to arrest people without charge, permits the government to ban political organizations, and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a permit from the government.

Even the U.S. government confirmed the regime’s atrocious record when the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report submitted to Congress in March 2010 stated, “Police, security personnel, and prison guards often tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, sometimes in cases of detentions under the Emergency Law, which authorizes incommunicado detention indefinitely.”

Said’s case is hardly unique. A recent report published by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights documented 46 torture cases and
17 cases of death by government secret police between June 2008 and February 2009.

Since his murder the case of Khaled Said has become the cause célèbre for Egypt’s youth. Hundreds of thousands of young people across Egypt have watched related online videos, songs, raps, sketches, or participated in group chat room discussions. A simple Google search of his name yields millions of results, almost all anti-government.

One of the groups that embraced this cause was the April 6 Youth Movement.  It started as an Egyptian Facebook group founded by Human Resources specialist Isra’a Abdel Fattah, 29, and civil engineer Ahmed Maher, 30, in spring 2008 to support the April 6 workers strike in el-Mahalla el-Kobra, an industrial town along the Nile Delta.

On their Facebook page, they encouraged thousands to protest and join the labor strike. Within weeks, over 100,000 members joined the group, who were predominantly young, educated, and politically inexperienced or inactive. Moreover, by making extensive use of online networking tools, they urged their members to demonstrate their support for the workers by wearing black, staying at home, or boycotting products on the day of the strike.

As the secret police cracked down on the April 6 labor strikers, both Abdel Fattah and Maher were arrested, tortured (in the case of Maher, threatened with rape), and detained for a few weeks. Both came out of the prison experience more committed to the cause of freedom and democracy, as well as more determined than ever to carry on with their program of political reforms.

Asma’a Mahfouz, 26, a petite Business Administration graduate, is another prominent figure in the April 6 Youth Movement. By her account she did not have any political training or ideology before joining the group in March 2008. With her two colleagues she immediately helped set up the Facebook page urging Egyptians to support and join the strikes.

More significantly, Mahfouz played a critical role in the mobilization efforts for the current popular revolution. She posted passionate daily online videos imploring her countrymen and women to participate in the protests. In a recent interview, she elucidated her role when she stated, “I was printing and distributing leaflets in popular areas, and calling for citizens to participate. In those areas, I also talked to young people about their rights, and the need for their participation.”

She continued, “At the time when many people were setting themselves on fire, I went into Tahrir Square with several members of the movement, and we tried a spontaneous demonstration to protest against the recurrence of these incidents. However, the security forces prevented us and removed us from the Square. This prompted me to film a video clip, featuring my voice and image, calling for a protest.”

“I said that on the 25th of January, I would be an Egyptian girl defending her dignity and her rights. I broadcasted the video on the Internet, via Facebook, and was surprised by its unprecedented distribution over websites and mobile phones. Subsequently, I made four further videos prior to the date of the protest,” she added.

If Maher is the movement’s national coordinator, Muhammad Adel, 22, a college junior majoring in computer science, is its technology wizard and media coordinator. Online he jokingly calls himself “The dead Dean,” in a reference to his young age and what could be in store for him from the secret police.

In November 2008, he was arrested at the age of twenty, detained and placed in solitary confinement for over 100 days because of his political activities on the Internet. He was denied any means of communications with his family during the whole period. His interrogators pleaded with him to stop blogging so he could be freed. He refused to give them any commitment until he was freed in March

According to the “April 6 Youth” movement’s platform, its main concerns include promoting political reforms and democratic governance through a strategy of non-violence; constitutional reforms in the areas of civil rights, political freedoms, and judicial independence; and economically addressing poverty, unemployment, social justice and fighting corruption. Their focus is primarily the youth and students. Their means of communications, education and mobilization relies on the extensive use of technology and the Internet.

Wael Ghoneim, 30, a brilliant communications engineer, has been working for several years in Dubai, U.A.E, as Google marketing director for the Middle East and North Africa. As a consequence of the murder of Khaled Said by Mubarak’s regime, he was enraged and created the popular Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said.” A few days before the current uprising he left Dubai to Cairo so he could be part of the historical events.

As the administrator of the popular webpage, Ghoneim was instrumental in the online mobilization efforts of the Jan. 25 uprising. So on the evening of Jan. 27, four plain-clothes secret police officers kidnapped him during the protest, an event that was captured on tape. For the next twelve days the government refused to acknowledge that he was arrested until the newly appointed Prime Minister announced his release on Feb. 7 as a gesture to the demonstrators because of his popularity and prominence in the youth movement.

Upon his release, Ghoneim said that he was kept blindfolded and in isolation the entire time he was in detention as he was interrogated about his role in the uprising. After his release he gave an emotional TV interview calling the three hundred people that have lost their lives during the popular revolution the real heroes of Egypt.

Furthermore, one of the most articulate voices of Egypt’s revolution is thirty-seven year old Nawwara Nagm. Since her graduation as an English literature major, she has been a well-known political activist as well as a severe critic of Mubarak’s regime working as a journalist and blogger for opposition newspapers. In 1995 she was first arrested and sent to prison at the age of twenty-two because she protested the inclusion of Israel in Cairo’s annual Book Fair.

Both of her parents are also well known in Egyptian society. Her father, Ahmad Fuad Nagm, 81, is perhaps the most popular poet in Egypt today. He has been in and out of prison during most of the past five decades (during the reigns of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak) because of his political and satirical poems that directly attack not only the regime but also its head. Her mother is Safinaz Kazem who broke many barriers as a female journalist. Educated in the U.S. in the 1960’s, she became one of the most respected literary and film critics and political analysts publishing in major Egyptian newspapers and magazines.

Since the uprising began on Jan. 25, Nawwara has been an eloquent spokesperson expressing the steadfast political demands of the organizers and protesters, and in the process mobilizing the support of millions of Egyptians and Arabs who are constantly following the revolution on Al-Jazeera and other satellite networks.

On Sunday Feb. 6, the youth groups that spearheaded Egypt’s revolution formed a coalition called the “Unified Leadership of the Youth of the Rage Revolution.” It consisted of five groups with a grassroots base and are considered the backbone of the organized activities of the revolution.

The coalition includes two representatives from each of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Justice and Freedom Group, the Popular Campaign to Support El-Baradei, the Democratic Front Party, and the popular Muslim Brotherhood Movement. In addition four independent members were also added to the leadership for a total of fourteen members. Maher, the coordinator of the April 6 movement, and Ghoneim, an independent, were elected to the leadership. All members are from the youth in their late 20s or early 30s.

Ahmed Naguib, 33, a key protest organizer, has explained how the leadership was formed. He said, “There are people from the April 6 and Khaled Said movement,” referring to groups that worked non-stop to set off the uprising. Speaking of some opposition parties that want to hijack the revolution or negotiate on its behalf, he said,  “They talk a lot about what the youth has done, but they continue on the same path as the government, marginalizing young people - except for the Muslim Brotherhood and El-Baradei group."

Coalition spokesperson is attorney Ziad Al-Olaimai, 32, from the Popular Campaign to Support El-Baradei. He read a statement on behalf of the coalition at a news conference that laid out their seven demands, namely: the resignation of Mubarak, the immediate lifting of emergency law, release of all political prisoners, the dissolution of both upper and lower chambers of parliament, the formation of a national unity government to manage the transitional period, investigation by the judiciary of the abuses of the security forces during the revolution, and the protection of the protesters by the military.

Muhammad Abbas, 26, is another leader of the coalition representing the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood movement (MB). After initial hesitation at the beginning of the uprising, the MB has brought since Jan. 28 tens of thousands of its supporters to join and help organize the efforts in Tahrir Square as well as in other demonstrations across the country.

On Feb. 2, government goons were beating up, throwing Molotov cocktails, and shooting at the demonstrators. Some of the female demonstrators under siege called Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohammad El-Biltagi and Esam El-Erian pleading for help. Both leaders rushed to Tahrir Square after midnight leading over five thousand MB members to break the siege.

Dr. Sally Tooma Moore, 32, a Christian Copt and an independent member of the coalition’s leadership, is an Egyptian-British medical doctor. Under gunfire, she helped save hundreds of lives using a makeshift hospital in a Cairo mosque during the violent attacks of the security forces and the outlaws sponsored by the ruling party.

In a recent interview she demonstrated the unity of all Egyptians, Muslims and Copts when she said, “It's totally beyond description how the mosque has been transformed into a working hospital. It is a mosque but there are no religious divisions.” Her answer to a question by Al-Jazeera about the regime’s assertion regarding the lack of stability in the country was, “What is stability without freedom?”

Revolution and counter-revolution: A test of two wills

Since the inception of the popular revolution on Jan. 25, the regime’s reaction has gone through many typical stages. The first phase was the customary use of security crackdown and utilization of police brutality, which yielded over three hundred people killed and five thousand injured.

A list of the people killed by the regime since Jan. 25 was published on the opposition’s magazine website, Al-Dustoor. It shows that over seventy per cent of those killed were under the age of 32, including children as young as ten, with female casualties constituting about ten percent of the total.

During this stage, the regime cut off all Internet, mobile phone, and instant messaging services in a frantic attempt to disrupt communications and information exchange between the organizers of the revolution. But the genie was already out of the bottle.

When that failed miserably, and in a desperate attempt to end the uprising, the regime created a state of chaos by withdrawing the police and security forces from the streets including from neighborhood police stations, while releasing thousands of criminals from prisons around the country hoping to spread terror and fear as a substitute to stability and order as the beleaguered president warned in his first address.

The formation of popular committees to protect the neighborhoods coupled with the arrest of the thugs roaming the streets was able to defeat this deplorable scheme. The thugs that were arrested by these committees were handed over to army units deployed throughout the country.

The next stage was a tactical retreat by the government, occurring as the embattled president tried to deflect the popular call for his immediate resignation. Four days after the commencement of the uprising and the subsequent crackdown, he gave an address dismissing his cabinet; mainly sacking his Interior minister as well as other corrupt businessmen who were doubling as ministers of major industrial sectors of the economy.

He appointed his old Air Force colleague, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, as the new Prime Minister while still incredibly retaining eighteen ministers in the cabinet. He also appointed his long-serving intelligence chief, Gen. Omar Suleiman, as his first ever Vice President so he could be the face of the regime in leading a “dialogue” with the opposition to enact “political reforms.” But these acts were considered too little too late by the revolutionaries, and were rejected outright. In their eyes, he had lost his legitimacy when the first protester was shot dead on Jan. 25.

Within days, the regime offered many sacrificial lambs in the hope that public anger would subside. The ruling party that Mubarak has headed for decades, the National Democratic Party (NDP), was overhauled. All senior leaders, including his son Gamal, were purged. Many corrupt businessmen, who were considered influential party members just before the revolution, were now under investigation by the state prosecutor and prohibited from travel. A few were put under house arrest. Still the angry public was not satisfied, continuing to call on Mubarak to leave.

Moreover, throughout the popular protests the regime used all means to taint the main organizers of the revolution. First, they claimed that the protesters were members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. This claim while parroted by American Islamophobes and right-wing media, was never taken seriously in Egypt. It was clear to all that the main organizers did not belong to any political party or ideology. In fact, the MB did not join the protests until the Day of Rage on Friday, Jan. 28.

Then the state media repeated the claims that the organizers were agents of foreign powers, financed and manipulated by a foreign hidden agenda. The accusers could not make up their mind. They accused them of working for Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, the U.S. and Israel.

In one instance, state media falsely claimed to have obtained seven Wikileaks documents that showed a conspiracy between Qatar (read Al-Jazeera), the U.S. and Israel to de-stabilize Egypt. Why the U.S. and Israel would undermine a staunch ally like Mubarak was never addressed.

Najat Abdul-Rahman, a journalist in a state-owned magazine called 24 Hours, admitted to her boss that she was pressured by the regime to call a pro-government TV station and falsely claim to be one of the organizers of the protests. She then claimed on air that she and other fellow organizers were trained in the U.S. and Qatar by the Israeli Mossad to spread chaos in Egypt. Although she tried to change her appearance and mask her voice while on camera, her colleagues at the magazine were able to identify her and reveal her identity. She has been suspended without pay pending an investigation.

The regime then turned its fury against the media. It stripped the broadcasting license of Al-Jazeera and withdrew the accreditation of all its correspondents. It also started arresting, harassing, and beating up foreign journalists including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, and CBS’s Katie Couric. This prompted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare, “This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press. And it is unacceptable under any circumstances.” Egyptian journalist Ahmad Mahmoud was killed after being shot point blank while taking a photograph.

With intense international pressure mounting, Mubarak gave a second address in which he promised not to seek re-election for a sixth six-year term this September, but nonetheless he refused to bow out and resign. Throughout the crisis, he tried to portray a false image of being confidant and in charge. But clearly the ego of this dictator was bruised as he was denounced daily by millions of his people.

By the end of the first week, it was clear that the stubborn president would not listen to anyone. He was able to at least secure the neutrality of the army, which was not prepared to turn against the people. But it was still loyal to its long-serving commander-in-chief, and would not depose him.

Meanwhile, Vice President Suleiman moved quickly to contain the political fallout of the revolution, and invited the opposition parties for a dialogue including the regime’s nemesis, the MB. Although all opposition groups initially echoed the street demand of Mubarak’s ouster, some groups, which had very little public following, gladly joined Suleiman hoping to have a seat at the table and to get some attention.

But everyone knew that without the participation of the youth movement or the MB, any dialogue with the regime would be meaningless. While the youth steadfastly maintained their position of “no dialogue unless Mubarak is out,” the MB fell into the trap of the regime and participated, along with many other opposition groups, in a dialogue with Suleiman.

It was a classic trap. More than forty opposition members entered a room where a huge portrait of Mubarak hung on the wall, a slap across the face of millions of Egyptians who were chanting for his ouster in the past ten days. It was clear that Suleiman was in charge of the meeting as he chaired the session and dictated the agenda. The groups were guests in his house. Not a great start.

At any rate, the regime did not give an inch. Suleiman even refused to entertain discussing the idea of Mubarak’s ouster. He simply reiterated all the “concessions” given by Mubarak in his earlier speeches including cosmetic changes to the constitution, and pledging that Mubarak would not run in the next presidential elections.

It is not clear why the MB participated, but most observers believe that the group sought legitimacy after being outlawed since 1954. It is ironic that the group would seek legitimacy from a regime that has just been de-legitimized by its people.

Upon the end of the meeting, the regime immediately issued a communiqué that thanked Mubarak, and reiterated the regime’s perspective and interpretation of events. It claimed inaccurately that all participants agreed on the road map towards finding a solution to the “crisis,” which was based on limited reforms to the constitution and elections, while maintaining all state institutions and characters including the fraudulent parliament. It did not promise the immediate lifting of the emergency law. Ironically, a day after the dialogue Suleiman declared on national TV that “Egypt is not ready for democracy.” So much for a reform agenda.

The MB leaders who attended the meeting held a press conference afterwards that not only contradicted Suleiman’s assertions, but also previous statements given by other MB leaders such as Abdul Monem Abu-el-Futooh, who maintained the original stand of no negotiations until Mubarak’s ouster. It seems that for a perceived short-term gain, the MB was looking weak and confused. A day later the MB rejected Suleiman’s characterization of the talks and renewed its demand for Mubarak’s ouster.

Meanwhile, the Youth leadership in Tahrir Square immediately rejected Suleiman’s offer and proclamations. They declared that they were neither party to any agreement nor willing to consider any proposals until Mubarak is removed. For the previous twelve days they have been able to mobilize over ten million Egyptians in the streets, why should they compromise on their first demand? They asked rhetorically. The will of the people shall be respected, and must defeat the stubbornness of Mubarak and his regime, they declared. After fifteen days the crowds have been sharply on the rise all over the country. Daily they number in the millions from all walks of life.

Checkmate: Revolution legitimacy trumps an archaic constitution

For a day, the declared results of the so-called dialogue by the regime created breathing space for the feeble regime to recover. On Monday Feb. 7, the U.S. and its European allies, which for days had been hinting and pushing for Mubarak’s resignation, suddenly changed their stand and accepted for Mubarak to stay until September in order to allow for “a constitutional transfer of power.”

On Feb. 8, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowly stated, “if President Mubarak stepped down today, under the existing constitution, … there would have to be an election within 60 days. A question that that would pose is whether Egypt today is prepared to have a competitive, open election.”

In effect, supporters of the revolution feared that its momentum might slow down, a stalemate may come to pass.

Since the uprising began, Mubarak has been hiding behind the new face of the regime, Gen. Suleiman. The U.S, Israel and other Western countries strongly prefer him over any other candidates to maintain the status quo and “stability,” in order to keep the current balance of power in the region, which is hugely in favor of Israel.

Newly released Wikileaks documents reveal that Suleiman has been a long-standing favorite by the U.S. and Israel to succeed Mubarak for many years. The London Daily Telegraph recently published leaked cables from American embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv showing the close cooperation between the Egyptian Vice President and the U.S. and Israeli governments.

The newspaper described that “One cable in August 2008, stated that “Hacham was full of praise for Suleiman, and noted that a ‘hot line’ set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use,” in reference to David Hacham, a senior adviser from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

In another cable, Tel Aviv diplomats added: “We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Suleiman.” Moreover, the paper stated that “the files suggest that Mr. Suleiman wanted Hamas isolated, and thought Gaza should go hungry but not starve.”

Regardless, the organizers of the revolution declared that they have no trust in the regime. They asked rhetorically how could they trust a Vice President whose loyalty is to a discredited and illegitimate president. Thus they firmly rejected not only Suleiman and his parameters for a way forward, but also the premise that any real change would come from adhering to a constitution that has been shredded many time by an illegitimate regime. They advocated a position that called for the legitimacy of the revolution over any outdated constitutional legitimacy.

The youth leaders maintain that all institutions of state power, except the army, which on the surface declared its neutrality, have lost their legitimacy in lieu of the will of the people to support the revolution. They insisted that the people have already spoken and called for Mubarak’s ouster, the dissolution of parliament, the replacement of the government, and the formation of constitutional experts to re-write a new constitution. Therefore, all efforts by the regime to re-constitute itself through promised reforms to maintain its grip on power are illegitimate and rejected. This is a popular revolution not a protest, they maintained.

As the government attempts to weather the storm and deal with Tahrir Square as a Hyde Park phenomenon, a place where people vent their frustrations, the leadership of the revolution has devised new tactics to force the regime to accept their demands.

They have called for massive demonstrations not only in public squares but also called for similar protests around strategic governmental buildings. For example, on Feb. 8 in addition to a million demonstrators in Tahrir Square, hundreds of thousands held huge demonstrations around the Prime Minster’s building, preventing him from reaching his office. They also blocked the parliament, preventing any member from going in or out. They vowed that soon the presidential palace would be surrounded.

The protesters were also joined this week with professional syndicates and labor unions. Hundreds of judges stood in Tahrir Square on Tuesday wearing their judicial robes in support of the revolution. Similarly, hundreds of journalists chased away the pro-government head of their union declaring the union independent and free. Likewise, hundreds of university professors from colleges across Egypt showed up at Tahrir Square declaring their full support for the goals of the revolution.

Next week schools and universities will be back from the Spring break. The organizers plan to call on hundreds of thousands of students to participate in the demonstrations that could paralyze the whole education system. Meanwhile, they have also reached out to labor unions calling for massive strikes across the nation, especially in state factories and public industries. When this is fully implemented, Egypt’s export business could come to a screeching halt.

Slowly but surely selected major industries such as transportation, oil, or navigation through the Suez Canal could also be severely hindered. Sports activities have already ceased. The film industry has stopped all productions. There is no end to what activities the revolutionaries could advocate or call for. The initiatives are in their hands. They believe that they have the legitimacy and the support of the people.

In short, the revolution has adapted to the maneuvering of the regime and has adopted a comprehensive program of activities that are creative and extensive. Time is no longer on the regime’s side. With the passing of each week more Egyptians are joining the revolution. A culture of freedom and empowerment is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the international community could speed up the inevitable, which is the collapse of the corrupt and repressive regime. Last week the Guardian and several financial publications including the Wall Street Journal and MSNBC, showed that Mubarak’s family might be worth between $40 to $70 Billion. Most of this wealth is believed to be in the U.S, the U.K, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In short, Western governments have access to ill-gotten money that belong to the Egyptian people. They can start investigations to determine the legality of these assets.

Similarly, they can encourage Mr. Mubarak to go to Germany for his annual (extended) medical check-up, after which he could render his resignation. The people of Egypt would not forget who stood with them during their revolution, who stood against them, and who was on the sideline.

When Mahfouz, the revolution’s video blogger was asked what her expectations are now after the massive demonstrations, she answered, “All Egyptians, not only the protestors, have broken through the fear barrier. I expect only one outcome - protests will continue until Mubarak steps down from power.”

Mubarak and his Western backers better take notice. Checkmate.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 02/11/2011 - 19:04


Cairo Protest Organizers Describe Ruses Used to Gain Foothold Against Police; the Candy-Store Meet That Wasn't on Facebook.



CAIRO—The Egyptian opposition's takeover of the area around the parliament this week began with a trick—the latest example of how, for more than two weeks, young activists have outwitted Egypt's feared security forces to spur an uprising many here had long thought impossible.

View Full Image

A boy shouts antigovernment slogans Thursday at Egypt's parliament building. Protesters used a feint to gain territory there this week, the latest attempt to outflank security forces.

On Tuesday, young opposition organizers called for a march on the state television building a few blocks north of their encampment in central Tahrir Square. Then, while the army deployed to that sensitive communications hub, protesters expanded southward into the lightly defended area around Egypt's parliament building.

As Egypt's antigovernment protests reached their 17th day on Thursday, President Hosni Mubarak's regime was deep in turmoil. The head of the ruling National Democratic Party said he advised Mr. Mubarak to step down. The country's army moved to take control of the streets. But Mr. Mubarak, to the rage of demonstrators, didn't step aside.

The demonstrations that now bedevil Mr. Mubarak across Cairo and Egypt took seed in part thanks to one trick play, interviews with several protest planners show.

On Jan. 25, the first day of protests, the organizers from the youth wings of Egypt's opposition movements created what appeared to be a spontaneous massing of residents of the slum of Bulaq al-Dakrour, on Cairo's western edge. These demonstrators weren't, as the popular narrative has held, educated youth who learned about protests on the Internet. They were instead poor residents who filled a maze of muddy, narrow alleyways, massed in front of a neighborhood candy store and caught security forces flatfooted.

That protest was anything but spontaneous. How the organizers pulled it off, when so many past efforts had failed, has had people scratching their heads since.

After his release from detention Sunday, Google Inc. executive Wael Ghonim recounted his meeting with Egypt's newly appointed interior minister. "No one understood how you did it," Mr. Ghonim said the minister told him. He said his interrogators concluded that outside forces had to have been involved.

Officials at the interior ministry, which oversees the police, couldn't be reached to comment.

The plotters, who now form the leadership core of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which has stepped to the fore as representatives of protesters in Tahrir Square, in interviews over recent days revealed how they did it.

In early January, this core of planners decided they would try to replicate the accomplishments of the protesters in Tunisia who ultimately ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Their immediate concern was how to foil the Ministry of Interior, whose legions of riot police had contained and quashed protests for years. The police were expert at preventing demonstrations from growing or moving through the streets, and at keeping ordinary Egyptians away.

"We had to find a way to prevent security from making their cordon and stopping us," said 41-year-old architect Basem Kamel, a member of Mohamed ElBaradei's youth wing and one of the dozen or so plotters.

Regional Upheaval

View Interactive

A succession of rallies and demonstrations, in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria have been inspired directly by the popular outpouring of anger that toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. See how these uprisings have progressed.

Clashes in Cairo

View Interactive

Since late January, antigovernment demonstrators have swarmed the streets of Cairo, calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down and at times clashing with the president's supporters. See where the action took place.

They met daily for two weeks in the cramped living room of the mother of Ziad al-Alimi. Mr. Alimi is a leading youth organizer for Mr. ElBaradei's campaign group.His mother, a former activist who served six months in prison for her role leading protests during the bread riots in 1977, lives in the middle-class neighborhood of Agouza on the west bank of the Nile.

Those present included representatives from six youth movements connected to opposition political parties, groups advocating labor rights and the Muslim Brotherhood.

They chose 20 protest sites, usually connected to mosques, in densely populated working-class neighborhoods around Cairo. They hoped that such a large number of scattered rallies would strain security forces, draw larger numbers and increase the likelihood that some protesters would be able to break out and link up in Tahrir Square.

The group publicly called for protests at those sites for Jan. 25, a national holiday celebrating the country's widely reviled police force. They announced the sites of the demonstrations on the Internet and called for protests to begin at each one after prayers at about 2 p.m.

But that wasn't all.

"The 21st site, no one knew about," Mr. Kamel said.

To be sure, these activists weren't the only ones calling for protests that day. Other influential groups rallied their resources to the cause. The Facebook page for Khaled Said, the young man beaten to death by police in Alexandria, had emerged months earlier as an online gathering place for activists in Egypt.

There was an Arabic page and an English page, and each had its own administrators. Mr. Ghonim, the Google executive, has now been identified as one. The pages' other administrators remain anonymous.

An administrator for the English-language page, who uses the online moniker El-Shaheed, or The Martyr, recounted the administrators' role in the protests in an interview with The Wall Street Journal via Gmail Chat. El-Shaheed recalled exchanging messages with the site's Arabic-language administrator on Jan. 14, just as news broke of the Tunisian president's flight from his country. Mr. Kamel and his cohorts, who had already begun plotting their protest, now had another powerful recruiting force.

"I was talking with Arabic admin and we were watching Tunisia and the moment we heard Ben Ali ran away, he said, 'We have to do something,' " said El-Shaheed, whose true identity couldn't be determined.

The Arabic administrator posted on the Arabic page an open question to readers: "What do you think we should give as a gift to the brutal Egyptian police on their day?"

"The answer came from everyone: Tunisia Tunisia :)," wrote El-Shaheed.

For the final three days before the protest, Mr. Kamel and his fellow plotters say they slept away from home, fearing police would come to arrest them in the middle of the night. Worrying their cellphones would be monitored, they used those of family members or friends.

They sent small teams to do reconnaissance on the secret 21st site. It was the Bulaq al-Dakrour neighborhood's Hayiss Sweet Shop, whose storefront and tiled sidewalk plaza—meant to accommodate outdoor tables in warmer months—would make an easy-to-find rallying point in an otherwise tangled neighborhood no different from countless others around the city.

The plotters say they knew that the demonstrations' success would depend on the participation of ordinary Egyptians in working-class districts like this one, where the Internet and Facebook aren't as widely used. They distributed fliers around the city in the days leading up to the demonstration, concentrating efforts on Bulaq al-Dakrour.

"It gave people the idea that a revolution would start on Jan. 25," Mr. Kamel said.

In the days leading up to the demonstration, organizers sent small teams of plotters to walk the protest routes at various speeds, to synchronize how separate protests would link up.

On Jan. 25, security forces predictably deployed by the thousands at each of the announced demonstration sites. Meanwhile, four field commanders chosen from the organizers' committee began dispatching activists in cells of 10. To boost secrecy, only one person per cell knew their destination.

In these small groups, the protesters advanced toward the Hayiss Sweet Shop, massing into a crowd of 300 demonstrators free from police control. The lack of security prompted neighborhood residents to stream by the hundreds out of the neighborhood's cramped alleyways, swelling the crowd into the thousands, say sweet-shop employees who watched the scene unfold.

At 1:15 p.m., they began marching toward downtown Cairo. By the time police redeployed a small contingent to block their path, the protesters' ranks had grown enough to easily overpower them.

The other marches organized at mosques around the city failed to reach Tahrir Square, their efforts foiled by riot-police cordons. The Bulaq al-Dakrour marchers, the only group to reach their objective, occupied Tahrir Square for several hours until after midnight, when police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.

It was the first time Egyptians had seen such a demonstration in their streets, and it provided a spark credited with emboldening tens of thousands of people to come out to protest the following Friday. On Jan. 28, they seized Tahrir Square again. They have stayed there since.