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Egypt News — Revolution and Aftermath

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Egypt News — Revolution and Aftermath

Updated: March 21, 2011

Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, erupted in mass protests in January 2011, as the revolution in Tunisia inflamed decades worth of smoldering grievances against the heavy-handed rule of President Hosni Mubarak. After 18 days of angry protests and after losing of the support of the military and the United States, Mr. Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, ending 30 years of autocratic rule. The military stepped forward and took power. It quickly suspended unpopular provisions of the constitution, even while cracking down on continuing demonstrations. On March 20, a set of constitutional amendments that pave the way for elections was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum that drew record numbers of voters.

March 20 Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum on constitutional changes that will usher in rapid elections, with the results underscoring the strength of established political organizations, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and the weakness of emerging liberal groups. More than 14.1 million voters, or 77.2 percent, approved the constitutional amendments; 4 million, or 22.8 percent, voted against them. The turnout of 41 percent among the 45 million eligible voters broke all records for recent elections, according to the Egyptian government.

March 14 With the referendum over the constitutional amendments that will shape Egypt’s immediate political future just days away, the country’s nascent political forces were agreed on two things. The referendum, a simple up or down vote on about 10 amendments scheduled for March 19, will be a milestone and the first one not rigged outright in about 60 years. Also, and far more important, is that the referendum floats in a sea of confusion: the military has suspended the Constitution to rule, yet is asking the public to approve the reworking of bits of it.

March 9 Eleven people died in overnight fighting between Christians and Muslims in the suburbs of Cairo, in the deadliest unrest since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, which was striking for the solidarity between people of different backgrounds. The clashes broke out during a protest by several hundred Christians over the burning of a church in the village of Soul a week earlier, and raged into the early hours of the morning, adding to a sense of unease as the country charts a post-Mubarak future.

March 3 Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resigned, bowing to one of the main demands of Egypt’s opposition movement, which has called for his ouster from its informal headquarters in a resurrected tent city in Tahrir Square. Egypt's stock exchange, which suspended trading a month ago when nationwide anti-regime protests erupted, said it will remain closed until further notice.

March 2 Speculation that former President Hosni Mubarak had departed Egypt for Saudi Arabia heightened with a government-owned newspaper saying that he had gone late last week to a special Saudi military complex at Tabuk for chemotherapy treatment by his usual German doctors. He is suffering from pancreatic and colon cancer, it said.

Feb. 24 Egyptian authorities arrested Anas al-Fiqqi , the country's former information minister, and Osama el-Sheikh, the chairman of state TV and radio on corruption allegations. The arrests were the latest move made by the country's military rulers against figures in the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Feb. 23 About 1,000 police officers protesting a decision to dismiss them at the Interior Ministry’s complex set a building on fire with gasoline bombs and threw rocks after soldiers fired into the air, Egyptian security officials said. 

Feb. 22 The country’s top prosecutor said he would request that the Foreign Ministry ask governments to freeze any assets of Mr. Mubarak, his family and a handful of top associates. British Prime Minister David Cameron, held talks in Cairo with the military and civilian leadership controlling the nation, becoming the highest-ranking foreign official to visit Egypt since Mr. Mubarak was deposed.

Feb. 21 William J. Burns, the American undersecretary of state for political affairs, arrived in Cairo to meet with government officials and civil society representatives. In Alexandra, Egyptian legal officials arrested three police officers who were accused of firing live bullets at demonstrators during protests on Jan. 28, in an effort to bring to account the players in one of the most shocking episodes of violence from the 18-day uprising.

Feb. 20 The military government took more steps toward a handover of power. State television reported that that within six months, the government would end the so-called emergency law which, for 30 years, has allowed detentions without charges or trial. The judge heading the effort to draft constitutional amendments said his panel might soon produce recommendations for a referendum to take place in the coming weeks. And the government recognized the first new political party formed since the revolution, a moderate Islamist group that has sought recognition for 15 years.

Feb. 18 Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential Sunni cleric who is banned from the United States and Britain for supporting violence against Israel and American forces in Iraq, delivered his first public sermon in the country in 50 years, emerging as a powerful voice in the struggle to shape what kind of Egyptian state emerges from the uprising. He addressed a crowd of more than one million who gathered in Tahrir Square to mourn those who died in the protests. Meanwhile, the military warned restive workers that it would stop what it declared were illegal strikes crippling Egypt’s economy, declaring “it will confront them and take the legal measures needed to protect the nation’s security.”

Feb. 17 Hundreds of workers went on strike along the Suez Canal, one of the world’s strategic waterways, joining others across Egypt pressing demands for better wages and conditions and deepening the economic strains of the widespread labor unrest.

Feb. 16 Strikes and labor protests spread to the Cairo airport and the nation’s largest textile factory, despite pleas by the military for people to get back to work. Economists have warned that the labor unrest is deepening an already catastrophic financial crisis and scaring off foreign investors.

Feb. 15 The military The military officers governing Egypt convened a panel of jurists, including an outspoken Muslim Brotherhood politician, to revise the country’s Constitution in the first tangible evidence of a commitment to move the country toward democracy after President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

Feb. 14 The military The Egyptian military consolidated its control over what it has called a democratic transition, dissolving the feeble Parliament, suspending the Constitution and calling for elections in six months, in sweeping steps that echoed protesters’ demands.
The crowds  Youthful volunteers swept streets, painted fences and curbs, washed away graffiti that read, “Down with Mubarak,” and planted bushes in Tahrir Square, which many want to turn into a memorial for one of the most stunning uprisings in Arab history.
 
Feb. 13 The military As a new era dawned in Egypt, the army leadership sought to reassure Egyptians and the world that it would shepherd a transition to civilian rule and honor international commitments like the peace treaty with Israel.
The opposition The uprising’s leading organizers, speaking at a news conference in central Cairo, asked protesters to leave the square.
The former president Swiss officials ordered all banks in Switzerland to search for — and freeze — any assets of the former president, his family or close associates. In Egypt, opposition leaders vowed to press for a full investigation of Mr. Mubarak’s finances.

Feb. 12 The military The United States, its Arab allies and Israel are now pondering whether the Egyptian military, which has vowed to hold free elections, will give way to a new era of democratic dynamism or to a perilous lurch into instability or Islamist rule.
The vice-president It was not clear what role Omar Suleiman, whose credibility plummeted as he stood by Mr. Mubarak and even questioned Egypt’s readiness for democracy, will have in the new government.

Feb. 11 The military Egypt's powerful armed forces appeared to assert their leadership amid indications that that a transfer of power was under way. President Hosni Mubarak left the Egyptian capital for his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik. 
The crowds Tens of thousands of angry protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square and across the country, chanting and calling on Mr. Mubarak to leave. The elation they had felt the day before had evaporated during Mr. Mubarak's speech Thursday night.
The Obama administration After a day of dashed hopes in Egypt, the Obama administration faces a stark choice: break decisively with Mr. Mubarak or stick to its call for an “orderly transition” that may no longer be tenable.

Feb. 10 Egypt's armed forces said they had begun to take measures to "protect the nation,''  creating a supreme military council. But in a late-night address to the nation, Mr. Mubarak unexpectedly refused to budge, saying he would stay on through the end of his term.
Labor strikes and worker protests flared across Egypt, affecting post offices, textile factories and even the government’s flagship newspaper, providing a burst of momentum to protesters, even as the government pushed back with greater force against their demands.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit dismissed calls by Egyptian protesters and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to scrap the country’s emergency laws, which allow the authorities to detain people without charges.
 
Feb. 9 Inspired in part by the emotional televised interview with Wael Ghonim, the largest crowd of protesters in two weeks occupied Tahrir Square, surrounded the Egyptian Parliament and staged sporadic demonstrations and strikes in several Egyptian cities.
Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have pressed the United States not to throw its weight behind the democracy movement in a way that could further destabilize the region, diplomats said.

Feb. 8 As the authorities and protesters struggle to grasp the see-sawing initiative in the 15-day-old revolt, the government unveiled new pledges of reform, but demonstrators gathered in ever greater numbers to reject anything less than the president’s immediate ouster.
In a live television interview after his release from an Egyptian prison, the Google executive Wael Ghonim acknowledged that he was one of the people behind the anonymous Facebook and YouTube campaign that helped galvanize the protest that has shaken Egypt for the last two weeks.
 
Feb. 7 The reorganized government announced a 15 percent salary hike for its six million employees, a move apparently aimed at shoring up support for Mr. Mubarak and defusing popular support for the protests. Elsewhere in Cairo, many parts of the city appeared to be returning to normal.
Treated as a liability by an old guard intent on saving itself, Ahmed Ezz, a wealthy confidant of Mr. Mubarak's son, is under investigation on suspicion of corruption.

Feb. 6 Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that a transition to a post-Mubarak era had begun with a meeting with opponents of the government. He said the gathering had produced a “consensus” about a path to reform, but leaders of the protest movement denounced his remarks as a political ploy.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that removing Mr. Mubarak too hastily could undermine the country’s transition to democracy.
Egyptian, Arab and Western officials dealing with Mr. Mubarak in recent days said he has reacted to the calls for his resignation with what one Arab official called “his reflex adherence to the status quo.”

Feb. 5. The United States and European nations backed attempts by the country’s vice president to broker a compromise that wouldn’t immediately remove President Mubarak.
Whoever becomes the new president of Egypt after elections in September, American officials say that the rich and secretive Egyptian military holds the key to governing.
As Egypt struggles to reinvent itself, many experts in the region say that it might look to Turkey for some valuable lessons in combining Islam, democracy and a vibrant economy.
Two reporters tell  how their detention threw into haunting relief the abuses of security services, the police, the secret police and the intelligence service.

Feb. 4 Cracks in the establishment’s support for Mr. Mubarak appeared when jubilant crowds remained in Tahrir Square and demanded his ouster, unmolested by either security police or uniformed Mubarak loyalists. Amr Moussa, easily Egypt’s most popular politician, was cheered when he visited the square.
The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for Mr. Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military.
Nine days after a diverse band of protesters mobilized on the Internet and gathered by the thousands in Tahrir Square, their campaign seems to have survived, improbably, without a recognized cadre at the top giving orders.
After maintaining a low profile in protests led largely by secular young Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition force, appeared to be taking a more assertive role, issuing a statement asking for President Hosni Mubarak to step aside for a transitional government.

Feb. 3 Clashes between government supporters and opponents continued for a second day, as the government broadened its crackdown to the international media and human rights workers, in an apparent effort to remove witnesses to the battle with anti-government protesters. By the afternoon, the fighting spread beyond the square to the October 6th Bridge, which rises above the Egyptian Museum. At least five more people were said to have died.
After maintaining a low profile, the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition force, appeared to be taking on a more assertive role, calling for Mr. Mubarak to make way for a transitional government.
As the diplomatic crisis in Egypt has intensified, the potential Republican candidates and the party’s leaders in Congress have, with only a few exceptions, had little to say. 

Feb. 2 Waves of pro-government provocateurs armed with clubs, stones and knives fought their way into and around Tahrir Square in a concerted effort to rout the protesters. After first trying to respond peacefully, the protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails as battles broke out around the square. The military stood by, restricting itself mostly to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs. At least five people are thought to have died in the fighting, and 800 were wounded.
After days of delicate public and private diplomacy, the United States openly broke with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, as the Obama administration strongly condemned violence by allies of Mr. Mubarak and called on him to speed up his exit from power.
With neighboring Egypt and other parts of the region in upheaval, the prospect of the Israeli government’s making peace with the Palestinians, already distant, receded further.
This week, Frank G. Wisner, whose stints around the globe have included four ambassadorships, one of them to Egypt, was briefly President Obama’s man in Cairo, charged with prodding an old friend, President Hosni Mubarak, to make his exit.

Feb. 1 The largest outpouring of protesters yet. The scene rivaled some of the most epic moments in Egypt’s tumultuous modern history. In the evening, Mr. Mubarak went on television to announce that he would not run for another term as president of Egypt. His decision came after President Obama urged the embattled president not run in the fall elections, effectively withdrawing American support for its closest Arab ally.
But Mr. Mubarak's concession was rejected as insufficient by demonstrators, and Mr. Obama also strongly suggested that it was not enough, declaring that an “orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, brimming with confidence after days of protest, traveled like pilgrims to gather at Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, to speak freely and to be heard.
In Washington, the Obama administration struggled to balance its ties to Mr. Mubarak, its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, with its fear of ending up on the wrong side of history.
 
Jan. 31 The Egyptian Army said it would not fire on protesters, even as tens of thousands of people gathered in central Tahir (Liberation) Square for a seventh day, and Egypt’s new vice president, Omar Suleiman, said that Mr. Mubarak had authorized him to open a dialogue with the opposition for constitutional and political reforms.
Some of the mostly young protesters have rejected not only the current national leadership, but much of the opposition.
Egypt’s economy approached paralysis as foreign commerce, tourism and banking all but halted, placing acute pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to find a way out of the weeklong chaos.
As the opposition on the streets of Cairo has increasingly coalesced around Mr. ElBaradei to negotiate on their behalf, the Obama administration is scrambling to figure out whether he is someone with whom the United States can deal.

Jan. 30 A week-old uprising has had a transforming effect on a people long treated as subjects, not citizens, by a state that saw elections as a scripted exercise in affirmation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition movement, and other secular parties threw their support behind Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and prominent government critic, to negotiate on behalf of the forces seeking Mr. Mubarak's ouster.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Egyptians to take up a national dialogue that would lead to free and fair elections in the fall and, while not explicitly distancing the United States from the embattled president, said that the United States stood “ready to help with the kind of transition that will lead to greater political and economic freedom.”

Jan. 29 A change in the cabinet announced the night before did not slow the protests, as troops and demonstrators fraternized.  Mr. ElBaradei said that Mr. Mubarak should step down immediately so that a new “national unity government” could take over, although he offered no details about its makeup.
President Obama’s decision to stop short, at least for now, of calling for Mr. Mubarak’s resignation was driven by the administration’s concern that it could lose all leverage over the Egyptian president, and because it feared creating a power vacuum inside the country.
Political organizers, many younger than 30, are taking the lead in efforts to topple a regime older than they are.
As the government shakes from a broad-based uprising, long-simmering resentments have burst into open class warfare.

Jan. 28 Hundreds of thousands of protesters went to afternoon prayers and then marched into demonstrations that turned into battles with the police. Through the day and night, control of the streets cycled through a dizzying succession of stages.
After an all-out war against anti-government crowds, the legions of black-clad security police officers — a reviled paramilitary force focused on upholding the state — withdrew from the biggest cities. After the jails were opened, looters smashed store windows and ravaged shopping malls as police stations and the national party headquarters burned through the night.
Mr. Mubarak called the army into the streets and late that night ordered his government to resign but did not offer to step down himself. He named the head of military intelligence, Omar Suleiman, as his new vice president, and the air force chief, Ahmed Shafik, as prime minister, in an attempt to shore up support among the military.
President Obama increased the pressure on Mr. Mubarak, warning that violence against protesters could lead to the loss of the billions Egypt receives in American aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States government stood ready to help "with a transition.'' Yet neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton specifically called on Mr. Mubarak to step down.
 
Jan. 26 The Egyptian government intensified efforts to crush a fresh wave of protests, banning public gatherings, detaining hundreds of people and sending police officers to scatter protesters who defied the ban. The driving force behind the demonstrations were tens of thousands of leaderless young people who braved tear gas, rubber bullets and security police officers notorious for torture.
Despite restrictions placed on the Internet, Egyptian bloggers managed to report new unrest, posting accounts and images of fresh demonstrations on the streets of Cairo online.

Jan. 25 Tens of thousands of people demanding an end to the nearly 30-year rule of Mr. Mubarak filled the streets of several Egyptian cities in an unusually large and sometimes violent burst of civil unrest.
The Obama administration, confronting the spectacle of angry protesters and baton-wielding riot police officers from Tunisia to Egypt to Lebanon, scrambled for a plan to deal with a vexing region that could suddenly spin in dangerous directions.

Background

Egypt is a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, in part because of its peace treaty with Israel, and as a key ally of the United States. The country, often the fulcrum on which currents in the region turn, also has one of the largest and most sophisticated security forces in the Middle East.

Mr. Mubarak has been in office since the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat on Oct. 16, 1981, whom he served as vice president. Until the recent unrest, he had firmly resisted calls to name a successor. He had also successfully negotiated complicated issues of regional security, solidified a relationship with Washington, maintained cool but correct ties with Israel and sharply suppressed Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism — along with dissent in general.

The government has maintained what it calls an Emergency Law, passed first in 1981 to combat terrorism after the assassination of Mr. Sadat. The law allows police to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.

 In 2010, the government promised that it would only use the law to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, but terrorism was defined so broadly as to render that promise largely meaningless, according to human rights activists and political prisoners.

From Apathy to Anger

While Mr. Mubarak's regime had become increasingly unpopular, the public long seemed mired in apathy. For years, the main opposition to his rule appeared to be the Muslim Brotherhood, which was officially banned but still commanded significant support.

In 2010, speculation rose as to whether Mr. Mubarak, who underwent gall bladder surgery that year and appeared increasingly frail, would run in the 2011 elections or seek to install his son Gamal as a successor. Mr. ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, publicly challenged Mr. Mubarak’s autocratic rule, but the Mubarak political machine steamrolled its way to its regular lopsided victory in a parliamentary vote.

The anger fueling the street protests was not new. It had been seething beneath the surface for many years, exploding at times, but never before in such widespread, sustained fury.The grievances are economic, social, historic and deeply personal. Egyptians often speak of their dignity, which many said has been wounded by Mr. Mubarak’s monopoly on power, his iron-fisted approach to security and corruption that has been allowed to fester. Even government allies and insiders have been quick to acknowledge that the protesters have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.

In the last few years, Egypt has struggled through a seemingly endless series of crises and setbacks.The sinking of a ferry left 1,000 mostly poor Egyptians lost at sea, an uncontrollable fire gutted the historic Parliament building, terrorists attacked Sinai resorts, labor strikes affected nearly every sector of the work force and sectarian-tinged violence erupted.

And in nearly every case, the state addressed the issue as a security matter, deploying the police, detaining suspects, dispersing crowds. That was also true in 2010, even as evidence mounted of growing tension between Egypt’s Muslim majority and a Christian minority that includes about 10 percent of the approximately 80 million Egyptians.

A Police State

Egypt’s police bureaucracy reaches into virtually every aspect of public life here, and changing its ways is no easy task, everyone concedes. Police officers direct traffic and investigate murders, but also monitor elections and issue birth and death certificates and passports. Every day, 60,000 Egyptians visit police stations, according to the Interior Ministry. In a large, impoverished nation, the services the police provide give them wide — and, critics say, unchecked — power.

The Egyptian police have a long and notorious track record of torture and cruelty to average citizens. One case that drew widespread international condemnation involved a cellphone video of the police sodomizing a driver with a broomstick. In June 2010, Alexandria erupted in protests over the fatal beating by police of beating Khaled Said, 28. The authorities said he died choking on a clump of marijuana, until a photograph emerged of his bloodied face. In December 2010, a suspect being questioned in connection with a bombing was beaten to death while in police custody.Abuse is often perpetrated by undercover plainclothes officers like the ones who confronted Mr. Said, and either ordered or allowed by their superiors, the head investigators who sit in every precinct.

The government denies there is any widespread abuse and frequently blames rogue officers for episodes of brutality. Even so, for the past 10 years, officers from the police academy have attended a human rights program organized by the United Nations and the Interior Ministry.


<The New York Times>,2011/03/22