Geopolitics

In Cairo, Protesters Try To Sway Soldiers To Their Side

The army may be decisive in the outcome of popular uprising in Egypt. And protesters try to convince them to hold their fire.

(Ramy Raoof)


Adrien Jaulmes

CAIRO - When the Egyptian army finds itself face to face with its own people, commanding a tank becomes something of a dubious honor. Standing on the turret of his enormous Abrams tank, a young Egyptian captain on Sunday night found himself an involuntary player in a historic movement; one in which the smallest error of judgment, the slightest incident, could spark a bloodbath or bring down a regime.

"We need to advance to Tahrir (Liberation) Square," the officer tries to explain to the crowd gathering in front of his armored tank. "The army with us!" the demonstrators shout back at him. In front of the iron gates of the National Museum, under the gaze of the ancient Egyptian granite statues placed around the garden, hundreds of people sit down in rows in front of the metal monster's tracks. The column of tanks rolling toward Tahrir Square is brought to a halt.

Other protestors shout slogans, shaking soldiers' hands, trying to convince them to come over to their side. "You're our brothers!" a young man cries out to an officer. "We have nothing against you!" the soldier responds. The captain remains calm and jumps down to the ground to give orders. The blocked tanks do not force the way. Their machine guns are not loaded and the heads of the cannons are covered.

American Stooge

Tensions go up a notch when two F-16 fighter planes fly low over the square, engines roaring, in a bid to rattle the demonstrators. "Mubarak's a coward! American stooge!" people yell, shaking their fists at the sky. On the ground, the soldiers remain patient. The Egyptian military seems to be keeping its cool, in a bid to avoid the worst-case scenario. But the political impasse remains.

Cairo is still in shock. Burning police vehicles at intersections, piles of garbage and broken windows testified to the violence of the clashes of the past days. In streets nearly empty of cars, a sight unseen in this congested capital city of 18 million, residents exchanged worried looks, alarmed by the sudden collapse of an omnipresent security and police apparatus. There is joy, but also fear in these faces amidst such an unprecedented situation. Nobody knows how this popular uprising will end. Will order be re-established or it is just a prelude to even greater change?

"I thought we'd be safe here," says a woman who lives with her cats in an apartment in downtown Cairo. "But the looters came. They broke windows. The men in the building are now organized to protect us. I've got out an old golf club that used to belong to my father, just in case," she says.

For now, Tahrir Square in central Cairo is the nerve center of the Egyptian uprising. It is there where everything is being played out. The police force has been absent from the streets since violent clashes on Friday. The last Egyptian institution left is the army. Over the weekend, it was sent onto the streets to maintain order.

Unaccustomed to this mission, the soldiers slowly took possession of the situation and reinforced their positions. Without aggression, but resolutely, the soldiers parked their vehicles in front of official buildings and set up roadblocks in the streets leading to the square.

Demonstrators are allowed onto the square but only after having been searched. In the square, the mood is relatively amicable with the army largely spared the criticism of the Mubarak regime.

But the military solution has its limits. The tanks may dissuade the looters from taking the still-functioning ministries with brute force, but can do little to convince the protesters to go home. For a government on the verge of collapse, the soldiers offer only two options: to fire or not to fire on the crowd. For now the second option has prevailed. The big unknown is how long this policy will remain in place. The Egyptian people respect the army. "The soldiers are our children, our brother and our fathers. They are on the side of the people!" is the opinion of most people gathered in Liberation Square.

"It's over for him"

But not everyone is quite so trusting. "No one can tell how this is going to go," says Nahriman, a young air hostess who has been present since the beginning of the demonstrations. "The soldiers aren't trained to make a distinction between orders, but simply to obey. I've got two cousins in the army and I'm sure they would fire on me if the order was given," she says.

For the most part spontaneous, unorganized, united only in their collective rejection of a long ossified regime incarnated by Mubarak, the crowds of protesters no longer have a clear idea of where to go from here.

"What is certain is that Mubarak's move to shift the blame onto his ministers by firing them has not worked," notes Hisham Kassem, a former columnist and now an independent analyst. "He is the one who is personally responsible for everything over the past 30 years. Today, people want to work, but most of all, they want to be treated with dignity. They've had enough of him, of his brutal and corrupt police state. His regime completely fell apart this weekend. It's over for him. His resignation, in my opinion, is days away. For the first time in my life, the scent of liberty is in the air."

But interestingly, the pro-democracy analyst Hisham Kassem has no confidence in a radical revolution. "In Egypt we completely lack the institutions necessary to one day build a democracy," he said. "Our hopes rest with Omar Suleiman (the newly appointed vice president and former head of the security service). People want first and foremost to restore law and order. We need a strong army and gradual reforms aiming to create a legal and judicial system worthy of its name. And for that, it means not pushing the military too far."

Read the original story in French

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


💡  SPOTLIGHT

Bulgaria is COVID fail of the week: Our roving reporter is tired of asking "why"

With much attention now focused on rising COVID-19 cases in the UK and Moscow's new lockdown, a hidden story is in Bulgaria, which claims both Europe's highest death rate and lowest vaccination rate. By now, this reporter knows the drill

I suspected, while Google translating the Bulgarian news Wednesday morning, that I might be the last person in Sofia with an internet connection to have found out about the new COVID rules.

Following reports of 4,979 new COVID-19 cases and 214 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, the Bulgarian government had announced that proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests will be required for access to restaurants, theaters, cinemas, gyms, clubs and shopping malls. Starting tomorrow.

I'd heard some chatter at the co-working place the night before, but after 18 months of coronavirus reporting, and pandemic living, both in my native Sweden and my former home in Paris, I wasn't up for another round on the topic.

Perhaps, that same plague fatigue was what caused me — when deciding to set up shop in Bulgaria a month ago — to miss the detail that this is both Europe's least vaccinated country and the one with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.

I had chosen Sofia (Europe's oldest city!) on the latest stop of my now 12-year hunt for a place to sort of settle down for its cheap rent, cobblestoned city center … and its excellent nationwide WiFi. What more could you ask?

Well, vaccinations, it turned out. So here I was facing the COVID story again, after months exploring France's extra strict lockdown measures, Sweden's famous flirt with herd immunity, the mask morality police and anti-vaxx ideologues everywhere.

The world's pandemic press this week is focused on the UK, where again cases are skyrocketing, and Moscow's new lockdown. But here in a country of barely 7 million, where I didn't speak the language or know the history, what might I find? After just six weeks, I considered the social dispositions I had discerned, what political leanings I'd nosed out that might explain why 80% of the population still isn't vaccinated.

I had, for example, observed with great interest that Sofians never jaywalk. Maybe that was the angle? The striking incongruence between social conformity and vaccine refusal? Or maybe the upcoming parliamentary elections held a clue to the bad COVID management.

To answer these questions, I went where any hungry reporter would go: the burger joint on the corner.

- "So new restrictions huh? You think they might lockdown?"

- "Dunno. The usual? No chili?"

- "Right, no chili … So you think more people will get vaccinated now?"

- "We'll see. That'll be four leva."

Having spent the past 18 months among the army of finger-wagging, number-crunching armchair social scientists (both in and out of print) I had suddenly lost my hunger to "explain" why Bulgarians were the world's bad boy of the moment on the COVID front. Consider this just one roving reporter's version of pandemic fatigue.


Carl-Johan Karlsson

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

A child stands in front of burning tires during a protest in Beirut against a new rise in fuel prices as Lebanon faces a crippling energy and economic crisis. — Photo: Marwan Naamani/dpa/ZUMA


✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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