Al Masry Al Youm, Sat, 05/02/2011 -
For eleven days, tens of thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets, raising highly politicized demands and impressing analysts who always contended that such an uprising could not happen on Egyptian soil.
And with unprecedented persistence, demonstrators have been sleeping night-on-night in the square in downtown Cairo, refusing to suspend their sit in until President Hosni Mubarak steps down.
Despite bloody attempts to quell the protest, the movement seems to have established itself as a force to be reckoned with, succeeding in mobilizing western pressure on Mubarak’s regime and provoking concessions--albeit limited--from the 82-year-old president. While the sporadic and decentralized nature of the protest is believed to have contributed to mobilizing large masses, analysts believe the critical time to rally around a leadership and a precise blueprint for reforms has come.
“If there is a good leadership that enjoys enough credibility, it can present itself as an alternative to Mubarak and assure people who do not necessarily like Mubarak but support him for fear of chaos or the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Samer Soliman, political science professor at the American University in Cairo.
Leadership is also needed to develop further pro-democratic demands post Mubarak’s ouster, adds Soliman.
“What will we do if Mubarak disappears tomorrow?” asks Soliman. “It is also very important to have a leadership that would negotiate the reforms [with the regime]. You cannot have 5000 people sit at the negotiation table."
The main spark of the uprising was a youth-initiated call on the social-networking website Facebook. Inspired by the Tunisian revolt, which culminated in the ouster of Zein Elabedine Ben Ali, youth-led groups called for mass rallies to denounce Mubarak's rule.
The plea resonated with tens of thousands of Egyptians, who on 25 January broke the spiral of silence and flooded to Tahrir Squar shouting slogans against Mubarak. Three days later, hundreds of thousands marched to Tahrir Square after a bloody battle with the riot police. Since then, protestors have been camping in downtown.
In response, Mubarak sacked the old cabinet, announced that he would not run for a sixth presidential term in September, and pledged two constitutional amendments that might relax restrictions on eligibility conditions for presidential candidates and put a curb on the number of terms a president can serve. Upon these announcements, public sympathy with the anti-Mubarak protests began to wane.
Thousands took to the streets hailing Mubarak’s concessions and urging the opposition to suspend the sit-in for the sake of national stability.
“The lack of leadership is problematic. These protesters are not part of a single political movement,” says Ashraf al-Sherif, political scientist with the American University in Cairo, who has been participating in the protests on the square for the past few days.
“Hence, the regime will find no one to negotiate the post-Mubarak arrangements with except the Muslim Brotherhood because it is the only organized entity that participated in the protests,” he adds.
The Muslim Brotherhood has thrown its full backing behind the uprising since Friday. It has risen as the savior of the revolt after its members succeeded in thwarting an attempt by pro-Mubarak thugs to evacuate the Tahrir Square on Wednesday. Despite the group’s reluctance to raise religious slogans, their recent success in safeguarding the revolt aroused fears that the Islamist group might hijack the uprising.
“The way out is to have young protesters come up with a document with popular demands and negotiate with the regime over these demands,” says al-Sherif.
Hazem Kandil, a Los Angeles-based Egyptian analyst, agrees.
“The textbook definition of how to transform protests into a revolutionary situation is by establishing dual sovereignty; an old regime holding on, and a new one demanding recognition,” he says.
To increase pressures on the regime, protesters should elect a committee to draft a new constitution and form an interim government that could earn recognition from the masses, the army and other states, Kandil adds.
“It will be the people's government and they can defend it and take directions from it. But instead, they keep relying on people to come out every day and pressure the regime to give in, which is highly unlikely, knowing the stubbornness of the man on board,” he explains.
Yet such a scenario seems far-fetched given the decentralized nature of the uprising, according to historian Sherif Younes, who has also been at the square.
“This can only happen if there has been a strong leadership and a more ideological consistency among protesters,” says Younes pointing out that the uprising lacks political vision for the future.
“This uprising knows what it does not want more than it knows what it really wants. It knows who should leave but does not know who should come instead,” he says.
Given the lack of leadership and outlook, the continuation of protests is the only way to force the regime to make more concessions, adds Younes.
For some young activists, the existing environment hampers any attempt to discuss leadership and a common manifesto.
“We are are still being shot at with bullets and beaten with stones and insulted in the [state-owned] media," says Alaa Saif, a 29-year-old left-wing activist and blogger.
“How can we promulgate our demands and choose a leadership while under siege and attack?” he wonders.
At least 300 people have been killed in clashes since the first day of protests. Earlier this week, Tahrir Square turned into a battlefield after dozens of pro-Mubarak thugs attacked demonstrators with light weapons and molotov cocktails. Some of these assailants even stormed in on camels and horsebacks, waving swords and iron chains to disperse the anti-Mubarak crowd. At least eight were killed in the duel.
"We have a clear vision...If the attacks cease and we start feeling secure, we will be able to get together and discuss ideas," adds Saif.
None of the leaders of most official opposition parties are likely to be accepted as a leader to speak on behalf of the movement. Most such parties have little credibility and a meager constituency. Some independent names have been suggested as rallying figures that could serve the leadership vacuum, including Mohamed ElBaradei, former heard of the UN nuclear watchdog and Amr Moussa, current secretary-general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister whose sharp criticism of the US and Israel have earned him wide popularity among lay Egyptians.
“Both do not belong to the current regime. They are known for their liberal and national positions. They are not tainted with corruption and are internationally accepted,” says al-Sherif.
Earlier this week, a group of independent writers, legal experts and businessmen hammered out a bill that could serve as a vantage point for negotiations with the regime.
The six-point bill urges President Mubarak to delegate all his authorities to his deputy, Omar Suleiman, to introduce necessary constitutional amendments. It also demands the lifting of the state of emergency, the formation of a new independent cabinet, and no retribution to be taken against protesters.
Yet, it remains to be seen whether the bill is enough to win-over protesters who insist that Mubarak be ousted.