THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
MIDDLE EAST NEWS
FEBRUARY 14, 2011
Mideast Unrest Spreads
Parliament, Sets Elections
WSJ's Charles Levinson and Jerry Seib report on how public protests in Egypt have sparked protests throughout the Middle East, namely Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Iran.
Egypt's dramatic moves incorporate many demands issued during the mass demonstrations by doing away with the institutional framework that buttressed Mr. Mubarak's three-decade rule. But the military's new road map for governing Egypt in the short term came down by fiat, without input from the political opposition, raising questions about how deeply the military understands the democratic process and the demands of modern politics.
On Monday, Egypt's ruling military council issued a communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country, the Associated Press reported. The communique, read out by a military spokesman on state television, came as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and transport workers, protested Monday to demand better pay and conditions. Egypt is in the midst of a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the uprising that ousted Mr. Mubarak from the presidency on Friday.
Egyptians continue their celebrations, a day after the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak came to an end. Video courtesy of Reuters.
And in Iran, opposition leaders planned a demonstration on Monday in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts. The streets of Tehran rocked to the chants of residents shouting "Death to the dictator" and "God is great" Sunday night, according to witnesses and videos posted on Youtube.
Activists are calling for protests in Libya on Thursday, testing whether Col. Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year regime will be forced to make political concessions.
Egypt's cabinet removes Mubarak's portrait as Israel welcomes news that Egypt will abide by its treaties. Video courtesy of Reuters.
In a possible worrying sign of new instability, hundreds of civilian police officers demanding higher wages, protested in front of the Interior Ministry, the site of bloody clashes between the political opposition and these security forces two weeks ago. The lack of law and order throughout many of Cairo's dense neighborhoods has become a major worry for many residents, and military leaders met earlier in the day with top internal security officials to agree on a plan to return civilian security forces to the city streets, according to state television.
The Central Bank also announced that banks would be closed Monday and Tuesday, due to strikes by some state-owned bank employees and because of a religious holiday.
Since taking control of the country on Friday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has issued five communiqués which have scrupulously repeated its intentions to bolster democracy in Egypt and restore the stability lost during the nearly three weeks of protests and political upheaval.
US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Israel to reassure the country about instability in Egypt. Video courtesy of Reuters.
Sunday's statement, read on state television, indicated that the small group of army generals was ready to take radical steps to achieve those goals.
The military council is "fully cognizant that the true challenge that faces our dear country Egypt is to release the creative powers of every member of our great people by providing freedom, and facilitating democratic processes through constitutional and legislative amendments," the document said.
The nine-part statement issued by the council outlined in terse terms the military order of life for the next few months.
A New Day in Egypt
Photos from Cairo's Tahrir Square a day after Mr. Mubarak stepped down.
It said that the Defense Minister, Hussein Tantawi, would act as the head of the country until new elections are held within six months. It also declared that the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq and populated with many ex-military officers, would handle the day-to-day issues of government until elections are held.
Late Sunday, a group of youth activists who organized the first demonstration on Jan. 25 met with some of the nation's top generals, according to Bassem Kamel, one of the opposition members who attended the meeting. He wouldn't divulge any details about the meeting.
Many of Egypt's political opposition and democracy activists say that they welcome many of the goals outlined in the statement. They also expressed relief at the council's definitive timeline for holding elections.
Revolution in 18 Days
Demonstrators deface a poster of President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria Egypt, Jan. 25.
A succession of rallies and demonstrations, in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria have been inspired directly by the popular outpouring of anger that toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. See how these uprisings have progressed.
Clashes in Cairo
By abolishing the parliament and the constitution, the military council removed institutions that many in the opposition considered toothless and illegitimate. Mr. Mubarak and his political allies used both institutions to bolster his rule and prevent political parties and opposition from functioning.
But many political leaders also expressed concern with what the military council left out of the statement, including no mention of when it would lift the nation's punitive emergency law, which allows security forces to detain anyone without charge and forbids public demonstrations of any kind.
The communiqué said that the military council would oversee the writing of new constitutional amendments, but gave no detail as to what parts of the constitution it would focus on or whether it would seek guidance from experts from outside the military brass. Since Friday, the military has not contacted the major political opposition groups or the constitutional reform bodies that former President Mubarak had set up to help him cling to power while reform was under way, some opposition leaders said.
"The silence is very worrisome," says Ibrahim Moallem, the owner of one of Egypt's largest publishing houses who was one of the elder statesmen heavily involved in the political liaison work over the last two weeks.
Through the nearly three weeks of political instability in Egypt, the military has emerged as the country's most respected institution, with many U.S. and other officials giving Field Marshall Tantawi high marks for his leadership skills during the crisis.
On Saturday night, Mr. Tantawi spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying Egypt remained committed to their bilateral peace agreement, Israeli officials said. They said it was the first high-level contact between Israel's government and Egypt's new rulers.
The military's move against the Tahrir protests Sunday appeared to be part of its stated desire to bring normalcy back to the capital. But the solders' heavy handed tactics brought controversy as well.
Scuffles broke out early Sunday as soldiers broke down the protesters' tents that had been blocking the roads in the square, and television showed footage of soldiers violently wielding wooden switches against the protesters who obstructed the clearance operation.
Resistance subsided quickly, and the army was able to allow traffic to flow. Along the eastern edge of Tahrir Square, a row of tourism agencies opened their doors for the first time and workers there were seen mopping and sprucing up the offices that had been shuttered for 18 days due to the protests. Small business owners complained of taking sharp losses during this period.
By the middle of the day, about 3,000 protesters were congregated at the eastern end of the square. Some were holding sit-ins in the central area, but without obstructing traffic.
"Just because the Pasha left, does not mean we've received everything we have been asking for," said Mohamed Naemtallah, a 30-year-old lawyer, referring to Mr. Mubarak's departure.
Meanwhile, foot traffic resumed to the hulking government edifice known as the Mugamma, which houses much of Egypt's sprawling bureaucracy. At the doors stood army soldiers, checking who was entering and exiting.
—Farnaz Fassihi in Beirut and Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem contributed to this article.
Write to Margaret Coker at firstname.lastname@example.org