Egypt Protesters Make Final Push: Call For General Strike and 'Mega Protest Of Millions'
The opposition movement has also vowed to stage a “protest of millions” on Tuesday.
Thousands of protesters were reported gathering in a misty dawn, two hours before the curfew was to be officially lifted. Most demonstrations in Cairo peak in the late afternoon, early in the wee hours on the American West Coast.
As the Egyptian popular uprising slogs into its seventh chaotic day, the looming question haunting the country is, exactly who’s in charge? Who’s in charge of the government? And who is in charge of the protest movement?
It’s anybody’s guess as to the eventual success of the strike called for Monday but business has already ground to a halt in Egypt. Food and basic goods are in short supply and gas stations are running dry. Banks and the stock market remain closed. Tourism has crashed and thousands of foreigners are being evacuated and fleeing as the country floats in a deepening power vacuum.
President Mubarak made a point Sunday night of televising a meeting he had with military chiefs, giving the impression that he was still firmly in charge. But in the streets, the military continued to maintain mostly a passive posture. It has not interfered with the protesters who defied a nightly curfew. Soldiers did arrest some looters, however, and fired some warning shots over the heads of others. On Monday morning, however, eyewitness reports said army units were more agressively blocking access to the central Liberation Square and other strategic points in the capital.
Just whose side the military will take on the revolt remains a global guessing game.
On the opposition side, there was one dramatic moves in the last 24 hours. Leading opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have united around the figure of Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei.
While there may be wide disagreement over whether or not ElBaradei, the former header of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has enough of popular base to succeed Mubarak, he has gained enough credibility to become the interlocutor for the opposition.
ElBaradei and other opposition leaders say they are ready now to negotiate a transition directly with the military, bypassing dialogue with Mubarak.
Mubarak is struggling to make economic concessions to hang on to power but the one point of unity fueling the thunderous protests is the demand that he and his dictatorial regime abandon power.
ElBaradei made a showing among the street crowds defying the Sunday night curfew. "You have taken back your rights and what we have begun cannot go back," he said as crowds chanted 'Down with Mubarak,' Reuters reported. "We have one main demand -- the end of the regime and the beginning of a new stage, a new Egypt."
Appearing earlier on Sunday morning U.S. talk shows, the Nobel Peace Prize winner called on the Obama administration to immediately pull the plug on Mubarak saying that "life support to the dictator" must be severed. "It is better for President Obama not to appear that he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, 'It's time for you to go," he told CNN.
In a statement released Sunday, the White House, indeed, took another small step backward from Mubarak. While Obama made no direct call for the Egyptian president to resign, he did use the politically freighted word “transition,” clearly implying he is thinking of a post-Mubarak era.
Writing in The Huffington Post, USC Professor and director of the Center on Public Diplomacy, Philip Seib, argues that Obama has missed a great opportunity in Egypt.
Not much was needed; just some phrasing such as, "President Mubarak has served his country well, and ensuring peaceful transition to new leadership would continue that service."
If President Obama had said something like that, Hosni Mubarak would have been furious and probably ignored the advice, but Egyptians and others throughout the Arab world and beyond would have seen that for once the United States was not defending a dictator, but rather was standing on the side of democracy.
Instead, Obama was overly cautious, and the moment was lost. There are times when caution should be set aside, and this was one of them.
The administration is not yet ready to abandon Mubarak — at least in public. Officials continue to strike a cautious tone in their statements, fearing that openly supporting calls for Mubarak's removal would alarm other U.S. allies in the region.
But both current and former government officials say the days of autocratic government in Egypt are over — with or without Mubarak.
It’s not only the U.S. that is keeping a close eye on Egypt. Its neighbor governments, most of them similar authoritarian states, are bracing for more shockwaves and wondering who is next.