Egypt’s military has said it will not use violence against protesters, in response to calls for a “march of millions” on Tuesday aimed at dethroning President Hosni Mubarak.
The claim came by way of Egyptian state television, which had for days shown a sanitized, obscured portrayal of events on the ground in Cairo.
However, Al Jazeera was able to confirm the statement by mid-Monday, recycling the sentence “Egyptian Army says it will not use force against protesters around the country,” over and over throughout its broadcast day.
The announcement appeared to be a cautious positioning of the military between anti-Mubarak protesters and the administration. While promising not to harm Egyptians, they also cautioned that protesters should not engage in activities that destabilize the country.
The move will likely be seen as a significant victory for the US, as President Barack Obama’s State Department has been lobbying furiously behind the scenes to get Egypt’s military to accept responsibility for the country until new elections can be held.
While that’s not the public line — and President Obama has not officially called for Mubarak’s resignation or new elections — BBC North America’s editor noted a “near unanimous view” among Washington policy think tanks pointing to the US president’s influence on Egypt’s military.
“[The] buzz in Washington is that the Obama administration is working behind the scenes to ensure Mr Mubarak goes and the army takes charge until there can be new elections,” Mark Mardell wrote on Monday afternoon. “One source thinks it has got down to the detail of where Mr Mubarak goes, how much money he takes with him and whether he is immune from prosecution.”
Mubarak, a longtime US and Israeli ally, has been in power for 31 years, ruling Egypt under a perpetual “state of emergency” that gave his government legal authority to detain citizens without charge, try and convict people by secret court, prevent any form of speech and inhibit public assembly. Police abuses, according to human rights groups, grew to be so extreme that torture was a daily reality in Egypt’s prisons.
Israeli officials cursed the Obama administration for its position, even as Vice President Joe Biden had said just days prior that Mubarak should not resign. A column by Aviad Pohoryles, published in Israeli daily Maariv, suggested the US was being “politically correct” in pressuring Mubarak to change his government.
Israel asked on Monday that the US and Europe tone down criticism of Mubarak, with one unnamed official remarking to Haaretz that the Obama administration had been blinded to its “genuine interests.”
“The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren’t considering their genuine interests,” a “senior Israeli official” told Haaretz. “Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they’re not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications.”
“You can’t run a country on repression, detention, torture, lack of economic opportunity for 30 years,” Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel winner Mohamed ElBaradei said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday. “I have been warning of that for many years. Many others have been seeing the painting on the wall.”
Instead of resigning, Mubarak dissolved his cabinet and appointed new advisers. There were also unconfirmed reports that he’d ordered a series of constitutional reform proposals.
Egypt ordered riot police back onto the streets nationwide two days after they virtually disappeared as the army was deployed to deal with the revolt, but few police were visible on Monday morning.
President Jimmy Carter, who once brokered a peace accord between Egypt and Israel, said Sunday that Egypt’s revolution was an “earth-shaking event” and that it appeared Mubarak “will have to leave.”
Despite over 100 fatalities reported since the uprising began on Jan. 25, millions of Egyptians were expected to return to the streets Tuesday for another push to topple Mubarak’s government.
This video is from Reuters, published Monday, Jan. 31, 2011.
With AFP and prior reporting by Eric W. Dolan and Sahil Kapur.