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Time is on whose side in Egypt?

Pro-Mubarek protestors and secret security forces are attacking anti-government protestors in Egypt.  Al Jazeera is reporting that Mubarek’s speech yesterday took some of the fire out of the public who were demanding his ouster.

The Art of War probably has a whole subsection on time.  I can almost hear Sun Tsu telling his students that making your enemies hesitate is crucial to undermining their momentum.  It sounds like Mubarek appealed to the public’s sense of fairness to him, a national hero whose patriotism is unquestioned.  He promised to not run again, isn’t that enough?  It sounds so reasonable.  The public is probably wondering why to bother protesting anymore.  It’s too much chaos, too dangerous.  Too messy.

Yes, democracy is messy.  And there will always be speechwriters who know how to appeal to our weakest instincts, who will sneak into our subconscious and whisper to us of our powerlessness and will play up fear.  Sort of like what David Brooks does weekly in the New York Times.

If the Egyptians can resist the messaging and stick it out and redouble their numbers, who knows what they can accomplish?

Of course, it’s easy for us to say, sitting in our warm houses, minding our own business, not making trouble.  This year, economic conditions and corruption are enflaming the middle east.  In twenty years from now?  Who knows?  It may be us.

Is time on our side?

Lambert is live blogging the situation in Egypt on Corrente.  Check it out.

72 Responses

  1. I hadn’t thought of “making your enemies hesitate is crucial to undermining their momentum.” — It’s a strategy similar to those maneuvers where you use the other persons momentum as a weapon.

    • Sort of. It was the strategy that the Obots used in 2008 to undermine Clinton’s campaign. Remember “It’s the math!”? That message came out right after SuperTuesday. They made her sound like she was already behind when she had just beat the pants off of Obama in the biggest states. It was *just* enough to give people pause. Suddenly, she wasn’t the frontrunner anymore. She became the underdog. It was just a moment in time. A tiny blip. But it crippled her momentum going on.

      • I remember — I couldn’t believe people fell for that. But, it’s amazing how many people still believe it was a real issue (one of my brothers).

        • Yeah, I think even Karl Rove was amazed. I remember his commentary on SuperTuesday when the results came in. Karl gave the race to Hillary. She had swept most of the big Democratic states. He said that he didn’t see how Obama could win. I wonder if that’s on youtube somewhere?
          And he was right. For all intents and purposes, the Democrats had spoken. They wanted Hillary, Florida, Michigan, NJ, California, NY, Massachusetts are kinda hard to overlook.
          What I don’t think even Karl could comprehend is that the Democrats would ignore their own voters and use the caucus system to annoint Obama instead. Funny how that would have offended even Karl’s sense of fairness.
          Oh, well, the Democrats got themselves into this mess. I’m just waiting for a third party candidate to run. 2012 may be the year it happens.

  2. I’m actually quite impressed with Al Jazeera’s coverage. The propaganda isn’t extremely obvious. It reminds me of what CNN used to be like 25 years ago.

    • I agree; Al Jazeera has gained tremendous credibility in their work on this.

      • I have been watching Al Jazeera for more than five years. It has, in my opinion, been consistently solid in its reporting and less biased than the BBC over issues where western interests are involved.

    • I’ve been equally impressed with AlJazeera. I’ve been watching their live stream since the start of the uprising. And frankly, they’ve put our journalists to shame. Do they have a slant? Yes, I’m sure they do. But they’re doing what journalists are suppose to do–on the ground reporting, background information with a minimum of opinion-based analyses.

      Our so-called reporters ought to dial them up. Maybe it will remind them of what journalism looked and sounded like ‘back in the day.’

      • They’re kicking ass and taking names. It’s like real news again. How weird is it that a news org from an Arab country is one of the most reliable sources of information.
        And another thing: This is for the readers out there who are convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind this. Ask yourself what it means that Fox News keeps shoving the muslim angle down their viewers throats. I’m not saying that there isn’t a religious component to this. In fact, that would be an unrealistic assumption in a country that is mostly Muslim. Let’s just ignore for the moment that Coptic Christians volunteered to protect Muslim protestors during their prayers. What is Fox trying to say? That it is unreasonable for a country that has lived under what is a de facto dictatorship with a President who has been “reelected” over the past 30 years, to want to end that regime? Is that what Fox is saying? It’s OK that Fox shoves Christianity down our throats in support of some Republican agenda but it’s not OK for Egyptians to resist a corrupt and impoverishing regime because some of them might be observant Muslims? What kind of bullshit is that? I mean, I knew what Fox was before but that it would deliberately mislead its viewers in support of an undemocratic and repressive regime?? That’s just UnAmerican.

        • Or maybe too blue American. Given the choice of democratic rule or a puppet government that supports American interest, where has the sword fallen? In recent memory I think of our support of the corrupt South Vietnamese dictatorship, the Colonels in Greece, Allende’s assassination, the propping up of Sadaam as our man in the Mideast, after our previous dictator in the region, the Shah of Iran, had his run. Seems throughout our history our democratic ideals on paper haven’t prevented our citizens’ tax dollars from propping up puppet regimes that are preferable to international business interests.

          • I won’t deny that we’ve supported some pretty repressive regimes in the past. My point is that I have never seen an American media outlet actively take a dictator’s side so blatantly. We would be outraged if we had protests here over economic conditions and repression and Al Jazeera reported us as being nothing but a bunch of fundamentalist Christians.

          • See also what was happening in a previous century, per Gen Smedley Butler: “War is a Racket”.

  3. I am worried. What is going to come out of this “revolution” in Egypt? Is this is situation where anything is better than what they currently have? Is there an “opposition” that will help the world (not sure what that means, exactly), or will this ultimately result in things being worse. Isn’t there a big/growing Islamic faction waiting in the wings?

    I have no idea.

    • It doesn’t sound like there is a strong religious flavor to this eruption. It sounds like it cuts across many different socio economic groups and religious sects.
      But, if it turns out that it takes a religious turn, that is up to Egypt. It is their right to determine what kind of country they want to be. I think we would all prefer a government like Turkey’s but it isn’t our country. It is theirs.
      As I said before, Egypt has been in the nation business for 5000 years. They have a rich cultural heritage. They are a jewel in the crown of civilization. They have an interest in protecting their historical franchise.
      Don’t you think?
      As for the Egyptians, maybe living under a repressive corrupt regime is worse than an uncertain future. Let them work it out. The sooner Mubarek leaves, the sooner things will return to normal.

      • It seems like overall it is secular but disorganized and disparate, but the worry comes from the fact that the MB, while a minority overall, is highly organized as a group and probably outnumbers all other protesting groups one on one.

        • Do you really think Egyptians want to look like Iran???
          I don’t think so. Funny, al jazeera is hardly mentioning the MB at all.

          • I think that’s what scares me….not much being said about the MB. Chris Hedges take: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/what_corruption_and_force_have_wrought_in_egypt_20110130/

          • No, not Iran.
            Maybe a bit like Lebanon and Gaza?

          • What if the MB is just one of many different factions of people who want Mubarek out? Are we saying that the only people who have a reason to get rid of Mubarek and his repressive regime are highly observant Muslims? There is no other reason to want to get rid of this government except to replace it with an equally repressive but religious one?
            I would caution people from jumping to that conclusion. Just before Tunisia’s government was toppled, Hillary gave a speech warning these countries that the economic conditions and lack of democracy was causing significant unrest among young people. This is all very predictable and does not necessarily correspond to a religious uprising.
            BUT the longer it drags on, the more likely it is that people will turn to God for their salvation.
            Is that what we want?

  4. You are right — time is actually on the protestors side.
    I think Mubarak’s idea was to pretend that he has enough popular support to stay in power; that the protestors are an angry minority. So he assembled the pro-M protestors (who seem to be coordinated by out-of-uniform police). If that works he can hand on and get the international community off his back.
    If he does an outright suppression with uniformed police the Army might step in and his western allies will be forced to cut him loose (because if they don’t the regional backlash will be very ugly).
    Iran is officially expressing islamic solidarity with the protesters; if Mubarak turns openly violent they will see it as a political opportunity.
    Mubarak is still in a very tight spot.

    • Forgot to add; the Egyptian military is still key here. SO far they seem unwilling to openly oppose M.

      • Shots rang out a few minutes ago in Tahrir square. Not sure what is going on.

          • Sounds like warning shots from the Army.

          • things usually deteriorate fast once the guns come out

          • Sounds like the army is taking a hands off attitude. They are not intervening on either side’s behalf..

          • I have heard that one of the reasons why the army is not going after protestors is because military service is compulsory. So, some of the people in those tanks might very well have been protestors if they weren’t in service. Similarly, protestors understand the situation that military personnel are in.

          • The military is looked up to, partly because it is a meritocracy (in contrast to corrupt government) and partly because they aren’t used by M to do his dirty work, unlike the police.
            But if I try to look at the sitch form the military’s pov, even if they are unhappy with M, throwing in with the protestors is very iffy for them. WHo comes out in chargeof them if they support the protestors, for one thing.
            A lot of the uncertainty is because the opposition has no clear leader that can be negotiated with.

    • If I were Iran, I’d be careful what side I was rooting for. This flame is spreading.

    • If there is nobody willing to apply a Tienanman solution, then I think — definitely FWIW from my Barcalounger up here — the protesters will win. I think if the police COULD have done this, they WOULD have done it. Likewise the mlitary. Perhaps I’m optimistic. And every time AJ’s fluky connection goes out, I think “That’s it, the end.” But I’ve been wrong every time.

  5. Too funny. The head of the Cairo Museum was asked if Mubarek’s claim that if he steps down there will be more instability and the museum head said, “No, nobody believes a liar.”
    Refreshing honesty from a guy with a lot of responsibility for safeguarding precious objects.

  6. Wow, Al Jazeera is really good. They are asking questions that I would ask and not speculating too much. They are qualifying their information based on the data they have and what they are directly observing. There is very little spin.
    I had almost forgotten what real news was like.

    • Are they showing a lot of violence? CNN keeps talking about it but things still look calm in the footage they’re showing.

      • Not showing a lot of violence. There are molotov cocktails and the reporter is on one of the side streets with anti Mubarek protestors. She says she hasn’t seen violence yet but has heard that pro Mubarek protestors are moving in from side streets carrying baseball bats and sticks. Um, wouldn’t that be cricket bats? How much baseball do they play in Egypt? So far, she hasn’t actually witnessed it but she also says that it isn’t safe for reporters to be out on the street. Journalists have been attacked. Some of Al Jazeera’s cameras were broken and one of their staff was beaten up today.
        There’s a limited amount that she can actually report but what is refreshing is that it’s more or less, “just the facts”. No embellishment. It’s hard to say what side she’s on, which is how it *should* be but she is geographically closer to the anti mubarek protestors and communicating their concerns in a straightforward, non hysterical way. No geraldo rivera crap.

  7. Off Topic: It’s really hard to knit and nap at the same time.

  8. Hillary Clinton says transition of power must happen now.

  9. It sounds like the army may have to make a decision soon.

  10. i think your right RD sooner or later the army will make that but sooner than later

  11. Thanks also for the link RD. I love the connection between campaign 2008 and Sun Tzu. There are many lessons for us all in this story, and none of them simplistic (not saying you are). Let’s hope for a happy outcome!

  12. Sounds like the army is standing up to the pro Mubarek contingent.

  13. The Al Jazeera reporter in the square is grace under fire. Literally.
    She sounds very calm but it’s clear from the background noise that she’s closer than she should be.

  14. Girl in the square says, “We are tired. We can’t go back at this point. We are not leaving”
    “I’m too tired to be terrified”
    Sounds like they have been drenched in adrenaline all day. It must be exhausting.

  15. If there are women participating in this in Tahrir Square, fighting for what they want, that better be recognized when this is all over. They stood their ground too.

  16. My god, those people are so brave.

  17. This has been a very bad night. I hope the dawn is better, and not worse. Yes, incredibly brave.

  18. I would be very cautious about accepting al-Jazeera as the gospel truth.

    Don’t forget they are the ones that the Taliban trusted with their exclusive interviews.

    I have seen myself how al-Jazeera was able to manipulate the Arab community to an emotional pitch of hatred in my city during the Iraq invasion by showing corpses of children every 10 minutes.

    Yes, the English version of al-Jazeera is much slicker–they could never get away with that on an English-speaking audience, but watch a documentary about them sometime and how they speak about religion.

    A case in point is how they covered the demonstration in Cairo the other day. They were claiming a crowd of one million while the AP had estimated 100,000.

    If you watch al-Jazeera, do balance it with something else. Here is one service that has been live-blogging pretty consistently from a variety of sources without adding their own opinion as if it was fact–it’s a continuously updated thread:

    • I’m not watching Al Jazeera exclusively.
      HOWEVER, I have read some of the criticisms of Al Jazeera as well and there isn’t a single country in the middle east that hasn’t filed a complaint about them.
      The Bush administration absolutely hated Al Jazeera. That doesn’t make them good but it does suggest that they weren’t going to do the Bush administration’s bidding.
      Here’s what I look for: do they ask the questions I would ask? Do they ask followup questions that make sense and are not accusatory? Do they only report what they see not some third party report twice removed?
      Al Jazeera seems to be doing those things rather well right now.
      Don’t forget that Hillary Clinton said that this was coming right before the turmoil in Tunisia broke out. What is happening now is consistent with her assessment of the region.
      As far as the crowds in Cairo, it looked pretty impressive to me. It looked much higher than 100,000.
      What would be the point of lying? We can see it with our own eyes. Shouldn’t we trust what we see?
      This is not just happening in Egypt. It started in Tunisia, it’s spreading to Yemen and Jordan and even the Saudis are getting nervous. This is not a one off. It is a revolution. Al Jazeera just happens to be one of the outfits that is covering it.

      • Estimating crowds is not an exact science, and the size of the crowd fluctuated some what during the day (I checked about 10 am) but when one organization comes up with a figure that is ten times higher than the other news services, you have to stop and wonder.

        If you think it is spreading to Jordan, a country I follow somewhat closer than Egypt, read the statement of Jordanian MB leadership on the Jordan Times.

        Shouldn’t we trust what we see?
        How do you know when you are being shown things selectively? When I lived in Jordan, al-Jazeera collaborated with MB to broadcast a “student demonstration” at a particular university. What they didn’t show was the demonstrators being bussed in the back gate. That’s when al-Jazeera got thrown out of Jordan.

        Do you trust Chris Matthews to show you something? Other countries have the same thing going on and Al-Jazeera is particularly opaque when it comes to funding and agenda. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but to me it makes sense to keep flipping channels.

        • Nijma, I have already told you that I use more than one source for information. So, are you telling me that when I see photo after photo from many different sources that show an incredible swelling of support for mubarek’s ouster and a carpet of people in Tahrir square that I should ignore that and think it’s not really that many people? Really?? After Tunisia’s government was toppled just a couple of weeks ago?
          That kind of thinking flies in the face of reason. This looks very, very real to me. It reminds me of the fall of the Berlin Wall when the military refused to intervene.
          As for flipping channels, I deliberately stay away from American cable channels. If there is one source of information you absolutely cannot trust, it’s American news orgs. THEY’RE the ones with the non-stop propaganda 24/7. And it’s very noticeable. What I see on Al Jazeera is not absolute certainty of what is going on. The feed is from Reuters which presumably has no dog in this fight. What Al Jazeera is doing is showing stuff and not making conjectures. I happen to like that.

      • Oh, and I’ve seen a lot of comments on al Jazeera criticizing Hillary for SUPPORTING THE MUBARAK GOVERNMENT(!). I don’t know what kind of coverage Hillary has been getting from them, buts it’s as if their readership hasn’t even seen her public statements…

        • I don’t know which version of Al Jazeera you’re consulting but I have not noticed any criticism of Clinton. They have been critical of the Obama administration for being behind the curve. Yep, that’s the way I see it and I had this opinion before I found Al Jazeera’s stream today. Obama HAS been behind the curve. He should have been much more forceful than this but that’s not Obama’s way. He is not a leader. He doesn’t see opportunities when they present themselves and he dithers way too much. The Egyptians want Mubarek out. It’s not just the MB. But give it time and the MB may prove to dominate the protestors who remain. If that happens, Barry will have to bear some of the responsibility for not calling for transition on a faster time frame. So, in that respect, Al Jazeera isn’t that far off.
          If we support a government headed by a guy who has been in power for 30 years and who rigs elections to keep certain groups out of parliament, that says more about US than we probably care to admit. It ain’t pretty.

          • Here’s a sample of al Jazeera comment :

            “Egypt has suffered for longer time, compared with many Arab countries including Tunisia. and When the Egyptians say enough is enough, Clinton should shut up. ”

            “Egypt according to Mrs Clinton is a “Stable Country” because she doesnt care about what happens to the ordinary Egyptian! ”

            “…if they were to publicly decry the Egyptian leadership, they (meaning Clinton and Obama) risk losing a primary mediator in the peace talks between Israel and Palestine. ”


            I can’t comment on the US feeds since I don’t have access to streaming content, but in general, the Chicago stations show only local news, heavy on the human interest stories.

            What’s really troubling to me is that the “liberal” sources (I mean blogs, mostly) just say “let’s hear it for the good guys-yaaay, let’s hear it for the bad guys–booo”, while “conservative” sources are providing in depth analyses of internal power groups and economics.

          • oops, I said the i-word

          • Obama’s still voting “Present”.

          • “Behind the curve”. That’s my take on Obama’s (every!) response too. Something like “Can’t I eat my waffle … first!” Or yes, ‘voting present’, lolsob.

            And it bothers me to see articles like this one from Reuters – i.e. influencing the world wide media view – ‘Risks in Egypt were on Obama’s radar early on’ – which gives the impression that not only is he fit and ready for the 3 o’clock call but also for informed and intelligent decision making. If only …

  19. Here’s a curious thought about Egypt’s economic problems:

    “In 50 years, less than two generations, Egypt’s population has exploded from less than 30 million to close to 75 million. Its population pyramid looks like a pyramid sitting on a huge raised dais as the vast majority of the population are under 30 years old, with a median age of 24.”
    source: http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-migration-social-justice/game-over

    Think of how bad our economy is. Now think of how bad it would be if our politicians had to find more than twice as many new jobs for everyone.

    When I ask my Arab friends how many brothers and sisters they have, they say something like 5 brothers and 6 sisters. These families of 11 and 12 children are not unusual at all. But how fast can you grow an economy, maybe 3% per year?

  20. One of the foreign journalists injured and detained in Cairo is Swedish National Television reporter Bert Sundström.

    [W]hen his producer called him […] a voice in Arabic answered [before] the connection [was] cut: “Your man is being held by the military. You sons of whores, if you want him back you will have to come get him. Your man is held by the Egyptian government. He is alive and awake.”

    Swedish reporter stabbed in Cairo drama.

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