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The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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"According to media reports, on January 28 police yesterday at least four journalists, beat a BBC reporters, and seized a camera from a CNN crew.  Starting January 25, they briefly detained at least 10 other reporters.

"Human Rights Watch said that the internet and mobile communications are essential tools for rights of expression, to information, and of assembly and association. The United States, the European Union, and influential regional governments should take immediate steps to press Egypt to end the nationwide telecommunications blackout. Companies and internet service providers in and outside of Egypt should act responsibly to uphold freedom of expression and privacy by pressing Egypt to stop censoring their products and services.

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"A state-directed shutdown of all internet access is deeply chilling," said Stork. "The international community should respond swiftly to put an end to Egypt's information blackout and human rights abuses."

Also over the weekend, the Egyptian Air Force flew low-flying fighter jets and helicopters over thousands of protesters in Cairo's central square. The show of force was seen as a message from Mubarak that he still controls the most important levers of state power.

But the relationship between the protesters and the Egyptian military remained enigmatic. The military was ordered into the melee to replace the universally-hated police, which fled to their headquarters at the Interior Ministry in Cairo, retreating in the face of an advancing army of citizens.

Police brutality, deaths in detention, torture at police stations, and unbridled corruption -" this described the reputation of the police held by virtually all Egyptians, except those with the means to buy themselves out of trouble.

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The Army commands great respect from the people of Egypt -" after all, it fought three wars on their behalf (and, according to Egyptian propaganda, was victorious in all three).

So when the tanks rolled into Cairo over the weekend and parked on The Corniche, the wide-sidewalked road running long the Nile in one of the city's upscale business districts, their crews were treated with shouts of welcome and handshakes. Indeed, some news reports said some of the soldiers were transparently in favor of the protesters.

When if ever the Army will receive orders to use force, and what form that force may take, the unanswered question is whether the troops are ready to carry out such orders.

Also over the weekend, the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said on Sunday that Egyptian authorities ordered its Cairo news bureau shuttered. The popular channel condemned the move as an attempt to "stifle and repress" open reporting.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo asked Americans in Egypt to consider leaving the country as soon as possible. This suggestion was for Embassy personnel as well as tourists.

Israel's Benyamin Netanyahu urged restraint. He told his Cabinet on Sunday that he is "anxiously following" the crisis in Egypt. In his first public comment on the situation, he said that one of the key factors was Israel's 30-year-old peace agreement with Egypt.

Unrest in Egypt begin creating gas shortages and interrupting the smuggling of gasoline to the Gaza Strip. This triggered panic buying by drivers afraid of the complete depletion of the local supply.  

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Egyptian protesters again defied the government-imposed curfew, as police effectively disappeared and military units made no obvious attempt to enforce it.

All of which leaves the reader or the viewer with many unanswered questions, beginning with: How did this all start?

There were many factors at work. One contribution came from the ubiquitous WikiLeaks organization, which released a number of diplomatic cables published in The Guardian/UK .

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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