Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of thousands of people are gathering today in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the country’s new symbol of protest. A million people is expected in this iconic setting, a plaza overlooked by the Egyptian Museum, the headquarters of the Arab League, Cairo’s American University and the Mogamma, the enormous building housing dozens of departments of the country's notoriously corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.
Demonstrators today appear more organised. Streets were guarded by volunteers wearing tags reading "Security of the People" who claimed that they were watching for government infiltrators who might try to instigate violence.
Soldiers are also in the square as well, and their presence acquired a special meaning overnight when military spokesman Ismail Etman said the military "has not and will not use force against the public", underlying that "the freedom of peaceful expression is guaranteed for everyone." At the same time, he warned that protesters should not commit "any act that destabilizes security of the country" or damage property.
Conversely, the government has tried to limit today’s demonstration by blocking transportation to prevent people from coming as well as stopping communications and the internet.
Nevertheless, each attempt to stop the uprising is running against the crowd’s desire to see Egypt’s strongman go. In Cairo and elsewhere, people are trying to one more push to end Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime. Mohammed ElBaradei, who appears to be a leading figure in the movement, said he should be gone “by Friday”.
Mubarak’s probable fall is raising questions about the future with many fearing a domino effect. In Jordan, the government for example is paying closer attention to the powerful Islamic Action Front (IAF). An IAF delegation met Prime Minister Samir Rifai on Sunday and gave him a list of demands. They include the resignation of the government, the amendment to the electoral law and the formation of a national salvation government headed by an elected prime minister.
Syrian President Bashir al-Assad is also concerned about the turn of events. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said that the Middle East has developed a “kind of disease” because of decades of stagnation. Prodded by the paper, he refused however to comment events in Tunisia and Egypt. We “are out of this,” he said.
Israel is equally concerned about events in Egypt. Israeli Army and Border Police have been beefed up along the Egyptian border out of fear that terrorists might exploit the situation to cross the border and perpetrate attacks inside Israel. Military planners are also concerned that masses of Sinai Bedouin might seek to flee Egypt for Israel.
In Jerusalem, the fear is that the Cairo uprising could turn Egypt into another Iran, a sentiment further stirred by Iranian Foreign Minister Akbar Salesi who said, “Egyptian brothers and sisters showed that they will not continue to tolerate the Zionist regime's crimes”. Events in Egypt will herald “a Middle East that is Islamic and powerful [. . .] that withstands the Zionist occupiers”.
For Iran, the domino effect is a good thing. Others are wondering why it is happening and what its impact could be. Former Jordanian Foreign minister Marwan Muasher, in an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, said that Arab leaders should learn their lesson if they do not want to share the fate of the toppled leaders. “Although the wave of protests was set off by economic complaints, it’s wrong to think that it was all about the economy—the true threat to stability in the Arab world is poor governance,” he said.
Similarly, an editorial in the well-respected Asharq Alawsat noted, “The crisis concerning our Arab republics is that they are governed by an approach closer to monarchical rule. [. . .] The kings have changed, but the presidents remained the same. This is the real crisis, whereby the principle of a fixed-term presidency does not exist. Therefore, regimes in the region ultimately arrive at an impasse, using whatever tricks they can, which results in a crisis of legitimacy.”
For the editorial writer, the only way out “is to follow the Turkish model. Under this system, the army plays the role of the initial guarantor, and authority, until suitable candidates emerge in field of politics. This happens as a result of constitutional amendments, of course beginning with a defined presidential term. This is what we see forming in Tunisia today, and this is also what appears to be happening in Egypt.”