Tens of thousands of protesters continue to hold Tahrir Square in central Cairo today. As Heba Morayef from Human Rights Watch writes:
…the mood is more subdued than yesterday, and the crowds smaller. One reason may be that the weather is colder and there is a slight drizzle. But it is also likely that the protesters need a break after the rollercoaster events of the last 12 days.
The military also made a more concerted effort to clear the Square. Reuters reports that an Egyptian army commander addressed a crowd of thousands, encouraging them to go home:
“You all have the right to express yourselves but please save what is left of Egypt. Look around you,” Hassan al-Roweny said using a loud speaker and standing on a podium.
The crowd responded with shouts that President Hosni Mubarak should resign, at which Roweny stepped down saying: “I will not speak amid such chants.”
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that:
Frank Wisner, a special envoy for Barack Obama, the US president, has said Hosni Mubarak “must stay in office to steer” a process of gathering “national consensus around the preconditions” for the way forward.
These are not helpful signs from the Obama administration, and show in essence its fear of real democracy in Egypt. In an interview with Reuters, Robert Springborg, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School, explains what he believes the West and the Egyptian military are really up to:
“Its political jujitsu on the part of the military to get the crowd worked up and focused on Mubarak and then he will be offered as a sacrifice in some way,” he said by telephone.
“And in the meantime the military is seen as the saviors of the nation.”
“The military will engineer a succession. The West – the U.S. and EU — are working to that end.
“We are working closely with the military … to ensure a continuation of a dominant role of the military in the society, the polity and the economy.”
I don’t doubt that this is our intention and what the Egyptian military is trying to do, but the question remains whether the protesters will allow this to transpire. There is every indication that demonstrators want genuine democracy, not another government that is led by or subservient to the military.
In fact, the Guardian has seen a new list of demands drawn up by an important coalition of opposition groups, which is instructive of what those on the streets want for their country.
These include the resignation of not just Mubarak but also the entire ruling party establishment – including Omar Suleiman, the vice-president whom the Obama administration believes is best placed to take the helm during the post-Mubarak transition period. Protesters are calling instead for a broad-based transitional government appointed by a 14-strong committee which would be made up of senior judges, youth leaders and members of the military.
The document that has emerged from Tahrir details calls for the election of a founding council of 40 public intellectuals and constitutional experts, who will draw up a new constitution over the coming months under the supervision of the transitional government, then put it to the Egyptian people in a referendum. Following the passage of the new constitution, fresh elections would be held at a local and national level.
Other demands to have come out the square include the end of the country’s Emergency Law, the dismantling of the state security apparatus, and the trial of key regime leaders, including Mubarak.
This inclusive but reasonable list of demands is not a sign of on opposition that will settle for superficial change.