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Heading Off Chaos In Egypt?

  • February 4th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

egypt-protest-a.jpegStreet fighting in Cairo and other places in Egypt of the last two days has provoked fears of widening chaos rendering the country ungovernable, and also fears of communications blackouts(Internet and cell phones) being extended to mass media.


egypt-protest-b.jpegClaims by President Hosni Mubarak that he needs to remain in power for another eight months, to avoid anarchy, have been widely dismissed as too disingenuous, but other counsels are wanting to prioritise a peaceful settlement.

“There is no greater priority than ending the violence and preventing a slide into greater chaos”, says the International Crisis Group, which has provided an analysis urging honest negotiations.

A research centre and lobby for the prevention of violent solutions in politics, based at Brussels and Washington, it often brings in experienced diplomats or past government leaders for consultation.

Its summary this time, in part:-

“In recent days much of the focus has been on President Mubarak’s immediate resignation. Many throughout Egypt support the president and, fearful of the chaos that a precipitous end to his rule could usher in and of the dangerous effects of the current unrest, are content to see him remain in office until his term ends.

“The authorities, so far, have not suggested any willingness to concede on this point and have conditioned negotiations on an end to the protests. At the same time, the opposition refuses to enter any talks until the president goes and the violence against them stops; in this light, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine Egypt’s peaceful transition while he remains in office. Overcoming this obstacle will be difficult and could well require flexibility on both sides. For now, however, the most important task is for security forces to live up to their responsibility and obligation to prevent any further loss of life or destruction of property while upholding Egyptians’ rights to peaceful protest.

“On Wednesday … according to Crisis Group and other eye-witnesses, a significant number of regime loyalists took to the streets and in some cases engaged in organised attacks against what had been peaceful protests. They were spoiling for a fight and they provoked one.

“The military stood by. It is perhaps the last public institution with broad national legitimacy and is likely to play a crucial role in ensuring a stable transition. Neither it nor Egypt can afford the military’s legitimacy to be tarnished. Egypt’s leadership should issue orders to all security forces, including the military, to act in a manner consistent with their responsibility to safeguard public order while protecting citizens’ legitimate rights to peaceful protest.

“The second priority is for negotiations to begin between the authorities and a broadly inclusive umbrella group that pulls together representatives from all opposition political forces and respected independent figures. These negotiations should lead to the formation of an interim government … which would pave the way for free and fair elections later this year.”

The Crisis Group report stipulates that the existing administration would need to put in place reforms to allow elections to go ahead freely, especially, replacing the present Egyptian Emergency Law with “legislation that conforms to international norms.”


egypt-protest-3.jpegAttacks on journalists have stepped up since regime loyalists in Cairo began moving in against crowds of opposition protesters, threatening to block off vital international witnessing.

Camera crews have been most targeted; a few incidents have been reported in which men in plain clothes got into the Hilton hotel compound, trying to stop cameras being used from vantage point on the balconies. *

The International Federation of Journalists has listed detentions and beatings in the street, and in particular took up the case of a Belgian journalist Maurice Sarfatti, also known as Serge Dumont, who it said was arrested in Cairo by security forces and was being held at an unidentified military facility.

It said the reporter for European newspapers, including the Belgian daily Le Soir, Le Temps of Geneva and la Voix du Nord in France, was arrested while covering a pro-Mubarak demonstration, on allegations of spying, with evidence that he’d been severely beaten.

“Dumont is the latest victim of brutal violence of Egyptian police and security forces after last week’s beatings of media staff, including journalists of Al-Jazeera and France 2”, said a statement from the IFJ.

*(News media depend on the services of hotels that can provide reliable communications and normally fair security, amongst other facilities needed for doing work under pressure – and so can become a target. The famous Intercontinental Hotel in Bucharest, headquarters of media during the 1989 Ceausescu crisis, was besieged and threatened for a time in the following years, by supporters of the successor regime, angry at outside media coverage. More seriously; bomb attacks and shootings directed at hotels used by foreign journalists in Afghanistan and Iraq).


IFJ, Brussels, “IFJ Calls for Immediate Release of Belgian Reporter Held in Egypt”, 2.2.11.

International Crisis Centre, Cairo / Washington, “Crisis Group Statement on the Situation in Egypt”, 3.2.11.