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The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians thronged into the streets of the country's major cities demanding an end to the 30-year rule of their aging, repressive, authoritarian President Hosni Murarak, the world's commentariat was earning a living wrestling with questions like: "How did this thing start?" and "Who's in charge?"

Was the world watching an Iranian plot to permanently derail the faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority? Or a CIA coup?   Or was it a spontaneous outpouring of voice from the voiceless? Was it a merely an important "second step" in the movement started in Tunisia? Was it engineered by such anemic political opposition as exists in Egypt? By the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps covertly, thus explaining that group's conspicuous absence from the early days of the demonstrations.

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Or did the wall to wall coverage of the Tunisian uprising by trusted media such as Al Jazeera embolden downtrodden Egyptians -" as well as Yemenites and Jordanians -- to risk life, limb and property in the streets? And how important was the role played by the so-called "social media" -" Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, etc. -" as an accelerant in the David and Goliath struggle?

Journalists trying to report the dynamic situation in Egypt were obliged by fast-breaking developments to add updates, virtually by the minute.  

Here's where the situation stands as of Sunday afternoon (ET) January 30:

Over the weekend, the demonstrations appeared to gather strength as thousands again took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Luxor and other large cities in peaceful protests.

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President Mubarak moved Egyptian troops into the center of Cairo to protect government property and historic sites from a wave of looting. The looting was widely attributed, not to the demonstrators, but to what one demonstrator called "thugs" -" poor people and common criminals.

Some media outlets reported that the criminals were released from jails and police stations by the police themselves in an effort to discredit the demonstrators.

One TV outlet reported that 10,000 prisoners had broken out -" or had been let out -" of a large prison just North of Cairo.

In the suburbs of Cairo, residents formed "vigilante groups" of family, friends and neighbors to protect their property from vandalism and theft.

Meanwhile, in the United States -" Egypt's longtime benefactor and financier -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton went on the television talk shows on Sunday and called for "an orderly transition to meet the democratic and economic needs of the people" in Egypt.

She did not, however, say President Mubarak should resign. But she may have been preparing the ground. Some media in Egypt were reporting over the weekend that the president's wife and family are already in London and that the president had arranged for the transfer there of large sums of money. These reports remain unconfirmed.

In her TV appearances, Mrs. Clinton said the Egyptian people would determine Mubarak's future. She added that the US was prepared to help a   transition that will address the political and economic freedoms sought by the demonstrators.

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Secretary Clinton referred to Mubarak's hurried appointment of a Vice President -" the first in 30 years. It was Omar Suleiman, currently head of Egyptian central intelligence and before that head of intelligence for the air force. Mubarak also ordered his government to resign and appointed a new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

CNN's veteran Egypt correspondent, Ben Wederman, reported that the new vice president and prime minister "are as Mubarak as Mubarak. Egyptians are in no mood for more of the same."

According to " The Dark Side ," a prize-winning book by New Yorker investigative journalist Jane Mayer, Suleiman has been Egypt's coordinator of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. Extraordinary rendition involves the transfer or kidnapping of a "war on terror" detainee or suspect procedure in which and then transfering them illegally to a countryknown for its use torture during interrogation. 

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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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