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NightWatch 20110202


For the Night of 2 February 2011

Afghanistan-Pakistan: Afghan and Pakistani security forces exchanged fire today across the border with Khost Province, in southeastern Afghanistan, Pajhwok reported. BBC reported one Pakistani paramilitary soldier was killed and three others were wounded.

The Pakistani version is that four Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were injured during an attack by Afghan soldiers, which triggered an exchange of fire. The Afghan police chief Brigadier General Ishaqzai said the shootout began when Pakistani soldiers attacked an Afghan security post with heavy weapons. The Afghan soldiers fired in retaliation.

Meanwhile another Pakistani government official in North Waziristan Agency said NATO-led forces fired on the paramilitary post from across the border, though the NATO troops did not actually cross the border.

Comment: Local commentators claimed this exchange of fire was the worst in four years. If so, that is because of the casualties, not the fire fight itself. Exchanges of mortar and machinegun fire are weekly in some border marches.

The Pakistani description of events is very similar to Pakistani descriptions of fire fights along the Line of Control in Kashmir with Indian soldiers. The point is that the Pakistanis have a practice of using paramilitary or regular Army units to provide cover fire for infiltrators into Indian Kashmir and into Afghanistan's border provinces.

The Pakistani casualties suggest the Afghans caught them by surprise, most likely because the Afghans fired first. The most likely explanation is the Afghans, most likely with NATO support, detected an imminent infiltration attempt which was thwarted.

This incident has no strategic significance, but it spotlights security conditions in the border areas. Afghan and NATO soldiers operating in the border areas are shelled regularly from Pakistan and regularly return the honors.

Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he will make political concessions because Yemen's interests supersede the interests of individuals, parties, groups and commissions, Republic of Yemen TV reported 2 February.

Calling for a dialogue to reach common ground, Saleh called for the quartet committee which mediates between the General People's Congress and the Joint Meeting Parties to resume its duties. He also called for a freeze to constitutional amendments, an opening of electoral records, comprehensive reforms in provincial council and governor electoral processes and the expansion of social security to cover 500,000 new cases. He spoke of finding public and private sector job opportunities for university students as well as establishing a fund to support youth and fresh graduates.

Most importantly, President Saleh said he will not seek to extend his presidency when his current rule expires in 2013 and vowed not to pass the presidency to his son, Reuters reported. "No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," Saleh said.

Comment: Unsolicited, pre-emptive concessions always lead to more demands. After assessing the political impact of the concessions, Saleh may have to crack down.

Egypt: Health Minister Ahmad Farid said three people died and 639 were injured in street encounters on 2 February between pro-Mubarak supporters and the demonstrators in Cairo,

Thousands of pro-Mubarak protesters demonstrated in Cairo, Alexandria and other towns to show support for the president's latest speech condemning the opposition. Police cars made their first appearance in Semoha since the protests on 28 January. In Mahatit al-Ramal district, clashes erupted between pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak protesters in front of Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, though the army asked the pro-Mubarak demonstrators to leave the area.

Egyptian Central Bank Deputy Gov. Hisham Ramez said Egyptian banks will open 6 February after being closed for a full week, regardless of the situation. The banking system will be ready with sufficient funds to deal with all transactions

The Egyptian Army spokesman said the people's message has been heard and it is time for the protesters to help Egypt return to normal. The spokesman said the army will remain vigilant in preserving the country and protecting it by all means. He said the protesters started this revolution and thus are the only ones capable of returning the country back to normal, adding the military promises to stand beside the Egyptian people and their interests as well as the country.

Comment: Today was the day of Epiphany. In Tahrir Square, the atmosphere changed from euphoria to fear in less than 24 hours. The anti-government demonstrators were outnumbered and surrounded by pro-Mubarak supporters, trapped. They discovered that Army tolerance of their street displays also extended to the pro-Mubarak activists. The Army showed that it was strictly neutral, supporting neither side. Soldiers said they had no orders to move. This was the first epiphany.

There were four others.

The second epiphany was that the anti-government demonstrators were, in fact, not an outpouring of universal opposition to the Mubarak regime.

Many everyday people will be harmed by the end of the Mubarak administration. Mubarak extended and expanded the patronage state. The prospect of its disruption, even, would harm tens of millions of Egyptians. The Western media narrative of a nationwide uprising for increased political freedom derived from the activism of 250,000 people in Tahrir Square has proven to be flawed if not outright false, a story for entertainment news.

The youth of Cairo do not like Mubarak, but no news service has explored just what they prefer. Nor have any attempted to learn what the other 80 million Egyptians prefer. Mubarak apparently knew that when he refused to step down.

One press report stated that the incongruous images of men on horses and camels riding through Tahrir Square showed irate workers from the pyramids whose livelihood depended on tourism, which the demonstrators had wrecked. Actually, that account is more credible than that of a nationwide uprising for voting rights based on the actions of the youth of Cairo.

The third epiphany is that Mubarak has flushed out his opposition. Readers may be confident that the secret police have photographic images of every protestor in Tahrir Square. That is no longer a technological challenge.

The fourth epiphany is that pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak activists both look to the Army to stabilize the situation. The Army got what it wanted from Mubarak and is now living up to its promises and responsibilities. It is in control now.

The Army and the Ministry of Defense called on the anti-Mubarak activists to leave the Square, early on 2 February. The open source reports indicate the violent, pro-Mubarak men showed up in force when the anti-government demonstrators ignored the Army's orders. They still labored under the misperception that Army inaction was Army sympathy or support.

The fifth epiphany is that the Army has not sided with the anti-government demonstrators. It appears the Army tolerated and used the demonstrations to ensure no dynastic succession. Every Egyptian leader since 1952 has been a military officer. The Army's action protected that precedent. The Army all along appears to have acted in pursuit of its own parochial interests, which are negative towards Gamal Mubarak as the next president, but positive towards letting Hosni Mubarak serve to the end of his term of office.

One well informed, Brilliant Reader suggested that the next leader of Egypt will be announced this week, after Friday prayers. He is the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff.

What seems to have happened. A crackdown by pro-government proxy forces and secret police occurred on 2 February. The Army got what it wanted and will now proceed to clear Tahrir Square. Having satisfied the Army on the issue of succession, Mubarak has found a line he can hold so that he will make no further concessions.

Everything now depends on the actions of the army. In the NightWatch instability analysis, the onset of violence, precisely like that seen today, indicates a convergence towards power sharing. The government is attempting to prevent any further transfer of power to the opposition.

The opposition has been swelled by the infusion of power. It has obtained international legitimacy, because el Baradei is its spokesman. It is trying to hold its ground. It does not have legitimacy in Egypt necessarily and might not even be pro-democratic, despite the uncritical adulation of the American press. Some significant elements of the opposition are pro-Sharia, anti-US and anti-Israel.

The violence means that the pro- and anti-Mubarak entities are converging. Convergence is always violent because both sides seek to use force to achieve political dominance. Neither wants to share power.

If the Army stays neutral, some form of power sharing will be negotiated by el Baradei and Vice President General Omar Suleiman because the regime will have lost its guns. If not, the Army will clear the Square, indicating the guns remain loyal to the President.

The NightWatch prediction is the Army will clear the Square before Friday prayers. If that occurs, it will confirm that the Army has taken control of the government but is keeping Mubarak as a figurehead.

If that does not take place, the next phase of unrest will occur in which the uprising evolves into a movement for systemic change, also known as revolution. The Army collapses and every one from the Mubarak era runs for the exits.

Egypt-US: For the record. An Egyptian official remarked on 2 February that there is a contradiction in U.S. demands for both an orderly transition of government and for President Mubarak to step down immediately, The Associated Press reported. The official also said that Mubarak's decision not to seek re-election in September was not a result of pressure from the United States.

Comment: No matter the outcome in Egypt, Egyptian leaders will not trust the US. They will take US incentives, but they will never consider the US a reliable ally, paraphrasing an Israeli Ambassador today.

Tunisia: The interim government moved to control the security forces and state institutions by firing dozens of senior allies of President Ben Ali. Prime Minister Ghannouchi's administration dismissed 30 top police officials, appointed a top military officer to head up the national security service and named new chiefs for seven key regions in the country. It also fired all 24 of the country's governors along with the bosses of several state-owned bodies, including the national radio and Internet agency, the official TAP news agency reported.

Ghannouchi said the situation in the country was stabilizing and called on Tunisians to resume normal life. "The government calls on you to preserve its independence by going back to work, otherwise the country risks collapse," he said in televised remarks.

Admiral Ahmed Chabir, the new director of national security, has been charged with sweeping away Ben Ali stalwarts from key positions.

A Tunisian reporter remarked on the enormity of the Admiral's task. Some 100,000 police officers were members of Ben Ali's now-reviled Constitutional Democratic Assembly (RCD) party -- which had two million members in all. The RCD were the eyes and ears of the old regime and enforced the former dictator's repressive rule. Cleaning house will be no easy task.

In contrast, the army, which supported the uprising by refusing to fire on the protesters, has only 35,000 men, mainly posted along the country's borders.

Comment: Ghannouchi is attempting to impose a top-down revolution, it appears. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe his course as a correction, an aggiornimento, a renewal. These almost never last but create conditions that precipitate a subsequent bottom-up revolution.

The dismissal of all the top security officials from the Ben Ali regime is almost certain to provoke a backlash. Some old hands would consider that unwise. If Ghannouchi does not last, who are the next leaders of Tunisia?

End of NightWatch for 2 February.

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