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Tensions grow between military, masses in Egypt

Published Mar 6, 2011 5:19 PM

A new cabinet was sworn in on Feb. 22 in the aftermath of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and the suspension of parliament and the previous government. This was precipitated by the Feb. 11 Supreme Military Council’s coup. The new cabinet’s appointment and publication of the first set of political reforms on Feb. 26 is an attempt to address the Egyptian people’s demands for a rapid return to civilian rule.

The reform package resulted from discussions among the military, civilian organizations and a panel of “experts,” which was established by the ruling military council. This panel is expected to call for a national referendum in March on proposed changes to the constitution.

After the March referendum, national elections involving political parties are anticipated by September. Sobhi Saleh, who was appointed to the judicial committee set up by the military council, told Al Jazeera, “The military council hands power to the people in a gradual process.” (Feb. 26)

Demonstrations on Feb. 25-26 were called to celebrate the two-week anniversary of Mubarak’s resignation and also guard against what activists called a “counter-revolution of the people’s power.”

During the Feb. 25 demonstration, activists called for the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq’s interim government, the immediate release of political prisoners, and a general amnesty for all protesters who were arrested since Jan. 25. Shafiq had served under Mubarak.

But Feb. 26 actions by the military raised concerns inside Egypt. Al Jazeera reported that the army “used force to disperse activists gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the removal of Hosni Mubarak loyalists from the interim cabinet.”

Reuters reported, “Soldiers fired in the air and used batons in the early hours of Saturday to disperse the crowd. Demonstrators had also gathered in front of the parliament building in Cairo, where police beat protesters and used tasers to suppress the crowds.”

Ashraf Omar, a demonstrator, told Al Jazeera, “I am one of thousands of people who stood their ground after the army started dispersing the protesters, shooting live bullets into the air to scare them. It is a cat-and-mouse chase between the army and the people. There is no more unity between the people and the army.

“They were using tasers and sticks to beat us without any control. I thought things would change. I wanted to give the government a chance but there is no hope with this regime,” stressed Omar. “There is no use. I am back on the street. I either live with dignity or I die here.”

Soldiers who attacked protesters in Tahrir Square and the parliament building that day wore black masks so activists could not identify them. Military buses were brought in to detain demonstrators who refused to move out of the square.

Imperialists move to derail revolutionary movement

Egypt’s democratic movement is not only confronting the country’s military, but is also up against U.S. and other imperialist states’ efforts to control and misdirect the struggle for a genuine transformation of the state and society.

On Feb. 28 it was announced that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has 1 billion euros available to invest in Egypt and Morocco, which also had recent mass demonstrations.

Bloomberg News reported that bank president Thomas Mirow said, “The EBRD, which has fostered the building of market economies in Eastern Europe in the past two decades stands ready to help nations in North Africa and the Middle East.”

At the same time, militarist U.S. Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman visited Israel and Egypt in efforts to influence the situation in the region. They told the international media that Israel would be even more secure under the “democratic” regimes that will be established in North Africa and the Arab Peninsula.

“In the short-term, [Israel is] obviously less secure because of the unpredictability here and the situation is unpredictable. But in the long-run, I think [Israelis] are confident they can do business better with democracies than they can with dictatorships,” McCain told the French Press Agency on Feb. 27.

Lieberman added that the U.S. “should feel good about the assistance we have given the Egyptian military over the years since the peace deal” with Israel in 1979. He continued, “The Egyptian military really allowed this revolution in Egypt to be peaceful and let the people carry out their desire for political freedom and economic opportunity.”

The French Press Agency also reported that McCain and Lieberman held high-level meetings with the Egyptian military and “urged them to be inclusive, to meet with opposition figures, to be thoughtful about how and when they hold elections because the Egyptian military doesn’t want to run this country.”

Gareth Porter, a Washington-based investigative journalist, emphasized that the two senators were sent to assess the current situation in the region amid ongoing strikes and mass demonstrations by Egyptian youth and workers’ organizations. Porter said that their statements indicate “how ignorant the right-wing senators are about the nature of the democracy movement and the problem that is now faced in Egypt.” (Press TV, Feb. 28)

On Feb. 27, the Ampal-American Israel Corporation — which has a 12.5 percent interest in East Mediterranean Gas — said Egyptian gas supplies would resume to Israel on March 4. The Egyptian National Gas Company’s flow was disrupted due to an explosion in the Sinai.

The situations in Egypt and Tunisia are also becoming more complicated in light of Western imperialists’ efforts to remove the Libyan government from office. The United States and NATO are using the events to enhance their military involvement in North Africa.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, professing concern about the “humanitarian” situation of tens of thousands of displaced workers who have worked in Libya’s oil and construction industries, announced that “aid” teams are being sent to Egypt’s border with Libya. She told AFP, “We’re also immediately dispatching two expert humanitarian teams to the borders with Tunisia and Egypt, to assist those fleeing the violence.” (Feb. 28)

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is moving war ships and planes closer to Libya.