The regime of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has ramped up its suppression of anti-government protests while trying to divide the movement with minor concessions and claims the protesters are being used by foreign governments.
In developments over the past 24 hours:
- The death toll from government-orchestrated attacks on anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square — from which pro-Mubarak forces tried to drive them yesterday — reached 13, with 1200 injured. Pro-Mubarak snipers had shot into the protesters during the night. After failing to intervene as violence mounted yesterday, the Egyptian Army has now moved to separate the two sides, establishing relative calm in Tahrir Square.
- In an interview with the US ABC network, Mubarak claimed to be tired of public life and wanted to stand down but couldn’t do so because it would lead to chaos in Egypt. He also denied the long-accepted belief that he intended his son Gamal to succeed him, saying that had never been his intention. And in apparent contradiction of US claims that the Obama Administration had told Mubarak the transition to a new government must start “yesterday”, Mubarak said he had told Obama “you don’t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now”. Suleiman had also indicated elections may be brought forward from September to August.
- Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologised for the violence and promise to “hold accountable” those responsible.” However, Egyptian vice-president Omar Suleiman blamed “foreign agendas” for the violence and again demanded an end to protests.
- There were reports that Suleiman and Shafiq held what were described by diplomats as “cordial but inconsequential” talks with opposition figures. However, at least one major opposition figure denied his party had participated in meetings with the government.
- While tempering its rhetoric, the government launched a concerted campaign of harassment of journalists, claiming they were agents of Israel in what has apparently been a successful effort to stir up Egyptians against foreign journalists. There is now a lengthy list of journalists beaten, detained, arrested, harassed or threatened over the past 24 hours. Human rights activists, protest organisers and bloggers have also been harassed, beaten and arrested.
- After pro-Mubarak armed with Molotov cocktails and guns forces failed to dislodge protesters from Tahrir Square on Wednesday night, there are now claims the square has been sealed off and food, water and medical supplies blocked from being given to protesters, and another wave of pro-Mubarak forces sent against them. However, the state-run broadcaster ran a statement from Shafiq that it will not try to stop another massive demonstration planned for Friday’s “Departure Day”.
- The Obama Administration criticised the crackdown on journalists and call for an end to violence, but still refused to call for Mubarak to stand aside.
- In developments elsewhere in the Middle-East, tens of thousands of Yemenis peacefully rallied against the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has already responded to protests by vowing not to stand again for election in 2013. The Algerian government, which faces a new round of demonstrations, promised to lift the country’s state of emergency, which has been in place for nearly two decades. Major demonstrations in Syria are planned for Saturday but the regime of Bashar al-Assad has already moved to suppress them.
- Vodafone Egypt, which is majority owned by Vodafone in partnership with the government-controlled Telecom Egypt, tried to fend off criticism that it had been complicit in the spamming of pro-Mubarak messages by saying they were sent under emergency powers and the company had protested the use of its network by unidentified pro-Mubarak figures.
The Mubarak regime has clearly adopted a carrot-and-stick approach as protesters aim to increase the pressure on the government through a massive demonstration on Friday. Its campaign of intimidation against journalists is clearly working, with reporters from Al Jazeera saying it was now virtually impossible for them to report from the streets in Cairo, while individual protest organisers and opposition activists have been targeted as well. However, the regime’s official position is one of compromise, with Shafiq apologizing for the violence and Suleiman referring to “only 200 days” until the election and the need for a “road map” involving constitutional reform, even as opposition figures are attacked.