Feb 11, 2011

What you need to know about the crisis in Egypt

I have been asking for someone to explain it to me properly since the protesting first started.   I read all the news reports, watched the videos, tried to blog the ones I felt were important and re-tweeted when I read things that were helpful.   All of that and I still can't quite figure out what the problem is, exactly.   My understanding is that government services are sorely lacking and the citizens are fed up.   Then there is the other issue that Mubarak has been President for an extremely long time and the people protesting want him out of power.   Within the last 24 hours he threw the world for a loop when he stood up and made the announcemenet that he is NOT stepping down, as was expected, but rather is transferring some of the responsibilites to other people.   The protesters didn;t like that and the army is sort of stuck in the middle were they don't want to use force on citizens who have a legitimate claim, but the claim is against their boss- who apparently told them he would announce he was stepping down so they announced that to the world but then he did the exact opposite...awkward.

I say all of this without having read the following article- only seeing the title and hoping that once and for all someone will explain it properly.   It just seems like this situation has gotten way out of control if people are rioting and being killed over government services and politics.

Experts explain why what happens in the streets of Cairo matters to you

Image: Supporters of the Mubarak demonstrate and head towards Tahrir square in Cairo
Khaled Elfiqi  /  EPA
Demonstrators display a giant poster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a pro-government march through central Cairo on Feb. 2.
The uprising in Egypt is a complex and fast-moving story. To help you make sense of it, msnbc.com has asked these experts to share their insights on the protests against the government of President Hosni Mubarak and answer readers' questions. To submit a question of your own, scroll down this page.



Recent developments
    Army assurances
  • Image: Lawrence Pintak
    Robert Hubner  /  Courtesy of Lawrence Pintak
    Question: Why would officials of the Army publicly assure the protesters that their demands would be fully met, hours before President Hosni Mubarak announced he would stay on until the elections in September? Did he defy the wishes of the military or is there division in the army’s ranks?
    Answer from Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, longtime Mideast correspondent and author of "The New Arab Journalist": What is going on behind the scenes right now is about as clear as mud. More questions than answers. Did the Army think it had a deal and did Mubarak renege? Did a general speak too soon? Did the military think some limited handover of power would satisfy the crowds? Are there competing factions within the military? We simply do not know. We started the day with everyone, including the director of the CIA, convinced Mubarak was stepping down. Now look where we are. It underscores the danger of speculation.
    Handover of powers
    • Image: Stephen Zunes
      stephenzunes.org
      Question: What do you make of Mubarak’s statement that he had, according to initial translations, “delegated to the vice president some of the powers of the president, according to the constitution?”
      Answer from Stephen Zunes, professor  of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco: A generous interpretation is that since an outright resignation would require an election within two weeks which — with the current constitution in place and with the same crooks in charge that stole all the previous elections — it would make matters worse. So by resigning in every way but in name, Mubarak could make possible a more gradual but more meaningful transition to democracy.  If that is indeed what they want the Egyptian people to believe, however, I doubt they're going to buy it.


      Army's next move?


      Answer from Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, longtime Mideast correspondent and author of "The New Arab Journalist": Not long before the speech, the military issued “Communiqué #1” and announced another would follow shortly. That would seem to indicate the Army intends to play an active role. It also tracks the idea circulating early in the day that the Army was actually going to take power in a gentle coup. So it comes back to the question of whether or not the Army as a whole acceded to Mubarak’s decision to stay on. There will be massive protests again tomorrow. The Army is quickly heading toward a point where it will need to choose between the people and the regime. That decision will rest, at least in part, on what the majority of the generals think is in their long-term interests.


      Will opposition fragment?
    • Image: Nader Hashemi, Assistant Professor
      University of Denver
      Question: The protest movement has been united by a common cause — removing Hosni Mubarak from office. If he does leave, what are the chances the many factions in the protest movement can agree on governance or leadership? Do you see any risk that Egypt could be immersed in a civil war?
      Answer from Nader Hashemi, assistant professor at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies:  Talk of a civil war among Egyptians after Mubarak is possible (in the long term), but if Tahrir Square and the pro-democracy protests are a measure of how Egypt will fare in the future, there is considerable room for optimism. Most factions involved in these protests agree on basic principles of political pluralism, democracy and respect for human rights.  The threat of violence today comes not from the pro-democratic forces/factions but from the remnants of the Mubarak-Suleiman regime.
      • Fighting on Sinai Peninsula

        Image: Robert Danin
        Council on Foreign Relations
        Question: There has been a little coverage of fighting in the Sinai Peninsula, including reports that anti-government protesters have taken over government facilities in the north. Is there a clear picture of what’s going on there?
        Answer from Robert Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs: We don’t have a clear picture of what’s going on, though we do know that the gas pipeline connecting Israel and Egypt has been severed, and that Egyptian authorities are engaged in armed fighting with Sinai Bedouin.  The Sinai has always been difficult for the government to rule, and there are indications that the authorities in Cairo have lost control of the situation, at least in parts of the region. You have a diverse range of militant groups, ranging from armed Bedouin to Somali warlords, roaming the terrain. Sinai smuggling has always been lucrative and somewhat unfettered, and with Egyptian authorities focused on developments in the major population centers, primarily Cairo and Alexandria, it is not surprising that these disparate elements would seek to exploit the situation.

        Important issues

        Missed opportunity?

      • Image: Lawrence Pintak
        Robert Hubner  /  Courtesy of Lawrence Pintak
        Question: While the U.S. government is in an undeniably delicate position on Egypt, has the Obama administration missed an opportunity to polish America’s image in the Mideast by not voicing stronger support for the pro-democracy protests?
        Answer from Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, longtime Mideast correspondent and author of "The New Arab Journalist": This is a unique moment for the U.S. In his Cairo speech in June 2009, President Obama  vowed to “seek a new beginning” with the Muslim world. That was initially greeted with enthusiasm which then turned to disdain when there was no concrete follow up. This is another historic opportunity to seize the reins of the new era that is inevitable in the Arab world. That doesn’t mean turning on our allies, but it does mean openly calling for democratic reforms, openly endorsing the forces of change and then working with Arab leaders to facilitate this transition. If we fail to do this, the reformers will turn on us and the radicalization so feared by some could come to pass.

        • Why should I care?

          Image: Lawrence Pintak
          Robert Hubner  /  Courtesy of Lawrence Pintak
          Question:  Why should Americans care what happens in Egypt?
          Answer from Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, longtime Mideast correspondent and author of "The New Arab Journalist":  Egypt is a critical ally. It has played a very important mediating role in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, in the confrontation with Iran and, politically, in the Iraq war. And there can be no peace between the Arabs and Israelis without Egypt. If Egypt were to turn on the U.S., it would have a major ripple effect on U.S. Middle East relations.
        • Why now?

          Image: Stephen Zunes
          stephenzunes.org
          Question: I know this situation has a very long history, but can you tell us what has spurred this to happen now?
          Answer from Stephen Zunes, professor  of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco: Frustration with the Mubarak regime has been growing, but no doubt the democratic revolution in Tunisia played a role. Indeed, recent decades have seen scores of unarmed insurrections against corrupt autocratic regimes from the Philippines to Poland, from Chile to Serbia, from Maldives to Mali.
        • Protesters' goals

          Image: Stephen Zunes
          stephenzunes.org
          Question: What are the basics that the people are demanding? That is, for what are they struggling/fighting?
          Answer from Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco: Freedom of speech, press, assembly, free/honest elections, etc., which they believe is impossible as long as Mubarak (or his son) is in power. Also, greater economic justice; poverty and inequality are growing. Liberalizing the economy while not liberalizing the political system is a dangerous combination.
          • Internet's role

            Image: Lawrence Pintak
            Robert Hubner  /  Courtesy of Lawrence Pintak
            Question: What role did new technologies play in helping the protests build momentum ?
            Answer from Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, longtime Mideast correspondent and author of "The New Arab Journalist":Social media played a critical role in helping the political activists organize in both Tunisia and Egypt. The virus of change flowed seamlessly from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond. But satellite TV played an equally critical role. Al Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels allowed the people of Egypt and other Arabs to watch events play out on the streets live, it inspired many Egyptians to join the demonstrators and it is feeding to aspiration for change in other parts of the Arab world. Without satellite TV, none of this would be happening. As recently as 1990, the people of Saudi Arabia did not even know for three days that Iraq had invaded neighboring Kuwait because the Saudi media sat on the story – that’s like Canada invading New York and people in Massachusetts not knowing about it. Today, that kind of control is unthinkable.
          • Muslim brotherhood

            Image: Ellis Goldberg
            Courtesy of Ellis Goldberg
            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
            Question:  How much influence does the Muslim Brotherhood wield in Egypt and how radical are their beliefs?
            Answer from Ellis Goldberg, political science professor, University of Washington, currently in Cairo working on a book: There are many, many Egyptians who do not want a government headed > by the Muslim Brotherhood. I think the general consensus is that they represent maybe 20 to 30 percent of the populace. … There are certainly people who are much more extreme and dangerous. … The problem for a lot of analysts is that if Mubarak insists on taking the system down with him, so there’s no structure for transition, you could end up with the Muslim Brotherhood as the only organization capable of providing any structure. ... During the Iranian revolution, the shah was unwilling to recognize the need for a transition until it was too late. If that happens here, everything will fall apart and someone will pick the pieces. Although here it is more likely to be the army.
          • ElBaradei

            Image: Lawrence Pintak
            Robert Hubner  /  Courtesy of Lawrence Pintak
            Question: Is there popular support for Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, who has spent many years living abroad?
            Answer from Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, longtime Mideast correspondent and author of "The New Arab Journalist": El Baradei is a compromise figure seen as “safe” by most of the opposition, but he is not the leader of, or inspiration for, this uprising. If Mubarak does step down – and that’s a big “if” given the chaos he appears to have unleashed in the last 24 hours – and the government dissolved, would he be in a position to assume power?  He would not likely have much opposition but the bigger question is whether he would simply be a caretaker until the presidential elections in the fall.
            • Other leaders

              Question:  Apart from Mohamad ElBaradei and the senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, are there other opposition figures that would be capable of leading a new Egyptian government?
              Answer from Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, who is reporting in Cairo: Egypt never allowed opposition parties to develop. There are many parties, many exist only in name. The opposition is unorganized. The Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized group.
            • Armed intervention

              Question: Will the U.S. or U.N. deploy troops to ensure that a new, more democratic government is established in Egypt?
              Answer from Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, who is reporting in Cairo: I certainly don’t think the U.S. or U.N. will deploy troops. An Islamic takeover does not seem likely. The Muslim Brotherhood will continue to gain power, but this is not at this point an Islamic revolution.

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