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NightWatch 20110201


For the Night of 1 February 2011

South Korea-North Korea: Update. Officials agreed to hold preliminary military talks on 8 February. South Korea had been insisting on 11 February.

Syria: The political opposition plans to hold a demonstration during the weekend beginning 5 February in support of Egypt's people and against poverty, oppression and corruption in Syria, according to report in DPA reported.

Comment: The Syrian government is not likely to be as tolerant towards demonstrators as the Egyptian government has been. It is a minority government whose members belong to a sect of Shiism. The protestors will be Sunni Arabs, representing the majority of Syrians.

Free and fair elections in which the majority ruled would spell the end of the Asad regime with all its Alawite generals and secular Baathist supporters. Authentic majority rule would ensure the end of secular government and that Syria would become an Islamist state aggressively hostile to Israel.

Egypt: In a speech to the nation President Mubarak announced he never had any intention of running for re-election in September. He refused to step down from office before the elections.

Various international news services reported that the "opposition" issued its first list of demands 1 February, consisting of four principles that should provide the basis for negotiations with the government. According to the list, which was given to Vice President Omar Suleiman, President Mubarak and his regime must resign; transitional leadership must be formed; a committee to write a new constitution should be created; and parliament must be dissolved.

Liberal groups and Mohamed El Baradei said they support the list. However, officials in the Muslim Brotherhood said they would not negotiate with Suleiman, though they would not impede other opposition groups' talks with him, DPA reported.

Comment: Contrary to the thrust of American press treatment, Mubarak said nothing. He made no concessions to the demonstrators or to the US. There is no revolution or even a change in leadership. The US President's statement looks uninformed, poorly timed and lacking in insight. Mubarak may have duped the US and tried to dupe his opponents. If the US was not duped, then it must be a party to Mubarak's attempt to deceive his own population.

Mubarak stuck out his chin and told the world he is staying until the end of his term. He did not resign. He did not agree to leave office early. He did not agree to bring opposition leaders, whoever they are, into his national decision-making circle.

He re-affirmed what everyone already knew, namely, that he did not intend to run for office in September. What everyone knew is that he wanted his son Gamal to run for the presidency in September. Gamal is in London, not cut of the same cloth as his father, apparently.

He thumbed his nose at the world and said he is going nowhere, but the media interpreted the statement as a resignation speech!!! It takes a brilliant practitioner to dupe the whole world into believing its own Cinderella version of the news. Mubarak is a P.T. Barnum-class politician. US news apparently needed a Pollyanna-ish news story on Tuesday night.

The Muslim Brotherhood understood the message. They announced their refusal to negotiate with anyone from the Mubarak regime until Mubarak leaves. One spokesman for the Brothers said the chief of the armed forces would be an acceptable replacement for Mubarak.

Readers must expect outrage and a turn to violence as the defiance in Mubarak's statement sinks in. The protestors will misinterpret the speech as offering more concessions that fall short of responding to their primary demand that the president must leave now. They will renew and intensify their demand that Mubarak must leave.

For old hands, the US seems to have a tin ear in listening to and understanding Arab politics. The timing of the US statement was horrible. The US administration has not given the Mubarak government a reasonable chance to find a line it could hold before the US intervened. The Mubarak government has handled the demonstrations much more adroitly than did Ben Ali in Tunisia, with almost no violence. Mubarak is on his way out, but what was the basis for the US panic?

Sometimes it is better to say nothing, rather than to abandon in public a steadfast ally for 30 years. The street demonstrators will not make policy, ever. So what did the US gain by obliquely supporting a leaderless mob. Meanwhile, all the other US allies in the Middle East will appreciate that the US threw one of its most steadfast supporters under the bus because of street demonstrations and an insubordinate Egyptian Army.

As for the leaderless mob, Readers might wonder who printed the elegant Arab calligraphy on the banners, flags and signs flaunted by the spontaneous uprising. The leaders of this well-organized movement have not yet shown themselves.

There was no good news about Egypt today.

Egypt-US: The U.S. State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency government personnel and their families from Egypt as a result of recent events. The evacuation of U.S. citizens who require assistance will be facilitated, the State Department said, adding that the Cairo airport is operating, but flights may be disrupted and transport to the airport may be hampered due to protests.

End of NightWatch for 1 February.

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