Arab Media: U.S. Is Hijacking Egyptian Uprising

Arab Media: U.S. Is Hijacking Egyptian Uprising

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Arab journalists were shocked by recent comments made over last weekend by Frank Wisner, President Obama's envoy to Egypt, in which he said, "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical. It's his opportunity to write his own legacy."

Wisner also said, "We need to get a national consensus around the preconditions for the next step forward. The president [Mubarak] must stay in office to steer those changes."

The U.S. State Department quickly undermined the importance of Wisner’s statements claiming that he was expressing his "personal" position, not that of the Obama Administration.

Arab journalists, however, do not buy this claim and accuse the United States of co-opting the Egyptian uprising. They also charge the Muslim Brotherhood with being complicit.

“Worried and Afraid”

Abdel al-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, based in London, ran a front-page article that opened, “We acknowledge that we are worried and afraid about the fate of the revolution that was launched by the Egyptian youth.”

Atwan continued, “It is clear that the statements made by Frank Wisner--U.S. envoy to Egypt, where he said that President Mubarak should stay in office until the necessary constitutional amendments are made--have tipped the balance of power to the advantage of the regime.”

Atwan believes the United States enabled Mubarak to catch his breath in the wake of massive demonstrations in the Tahrir Square and helped him accomplish several achievements.

One of Mubarak’s biggest accomplishments has been dividing the opposition. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest and most organized opposition group, has given up its previous condition that Mubarak must leave office before any talks between the opposition and the regime.

Atwan wrote, “The Muslim Brotherhood sat at the negotiating table with Omar Suleiman, along with others, and accepted the closing statement for the meeting, which called for adopting everything in the recent speech of President Mubarak on the constitutional amendments, without any mention of his departure.”

According to Al Jazeera's correspondent in Alexandria, many Egyptians are surprised by the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to enter talks: “It is a major concession that might be seen as a ‘weakness’ in the sense that the [Muslim Brotherhood] did not stick to its stated position against joining negotiations until Mubarak resigns.”

Other opposition groups, such as Kefaya and El Ghad, as well as the uprising leadership committee, still insist that Mubarak resign.

The participation of the Muslim Brotherhood has enabled them to regain political legitimacy for the first time since they were banned in 1952 from the Egyptian government with U.S. support. This was reflected in the position of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in welcoming their participation.

These development, though, have strengthened Mubarak’s position, especially as negations with opposition groups continue. While demonstrations delegitimize Mubarak, the negotiations legitimize him and his proposed reforms.

Division in Opposition Increasing

The coalition of the two youth movements that led the demonstrations--the April 6 Youth Movement and We Are All Khaled Said--established the uprising leadership committee. It consists of 10 members representing Egyptian opposition groups, including Islamists, nationalists and liberals.

Although the coalition’s objective was to unite the uprising leadership with the opposition parties, the effort seems to be failing.

Some opposition groups participated in the meeting with Suleiman despite strong opposition by the leadership committee.

In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, these groups include the liberal opposition Wafd Party and a group claiming to represent the Egyptian youth who participated in the demonstrations. This shows that the division among the opposition, as well as the uprising leadership, is increasing.

The Egyptian army, which claimed that it would stay neutral, shifted sides first by allowing Mubarak armed supporters to clash with protestors in the Tahrir Square. Now army tanks are slowly squeezing the demonstrators away from the square.

Some demonstrators are still defiant and they sleep during the night--right under the tanks to prevent the army from pushing them out. But it is not clear how long they can do this, considering that 40 percent of the Egyptian population lives on daily wages.

Youssef Elbaz, representing activists for the Unified Egyptians in the United Kingdom, told Al Jazeera, “We have learned that the Army does not have the full-hearted interests of the people in their minds. At the end of the day, Mubarak acts as the focal point for the army, which holds America’s $1.5 billion vote. The army will not do anything to jeopardize its relations with the U.S. and end the funding that guarantees its existence.”

Atwan believes the Egyptian army’s decision not to back the populous uprising must have been influenced by the United States.

He wrote, “The Egyptian army is closely watching the situation, and its senior generals are complying with agendas agreed upon by foreign forces, especially the U.S. We do not know when the army will stop watching and intervene in a practical way to end the tense situation.”

Protestors want Mubarak to step down before negotiations with the transitional government begin, and they refuse to have Suleiman lead it because he is very loyal to Mubarak. They want new leaders not affiliated with the former regime, and they want them elected to office in legitimate elections.

The United States, however, is trying to ensure a smooth transition that replaces Mubarak with someone from the regime, ideally Suleiman. Even if Suleiman’s ascension to the presidency is temporary, the United States sees it as ensuring no change in its Egyptian foreign policy agenda. U.S. backing of Suleiman, though, is alienating Egyptians.

In a report on coverage of the protests by mainstream media in the United States, Al Jazeera interviewed Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra, the magazine published by U.S. media-watch group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. He noted that reporting has focused on the U.S. to replace Mubarak with Suleiman, who heads the secret intelligence agency.

“This is the guy who is the boss of the people who are capturing reporters and taking them to torture centers,” Naureckas said.

Suleiman Support Confirms Doubts on U.S. Role

Egyptians have seen their suspicions of the U.S. role confirmed. Doubts first emerged when Pres. Obama refrained from demanding that Mubarak step down despite the widespread protests.

Even though Obama said, in a carefully worded televised statement that "an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now," Atwan believes that Obama’s statements are not sincere. He said they are aimed at showing that the United States does not support a dictator, while in reality it has been doing just that.

Ordinary Egyptians also share this view. An Al Jazeera correspondent in Cairo said that the protesters are not pleased with Obama's statements and stance on the crisis.

He said, "They want immediate change, and the feeling among many of them is that the way the U.S. is handling this crisis is not good for the way America is perceived both here and in general in the wider region."

Editor's note: Al Jazeera withheld the names of its reporters for their protection, since many were detained by Egyptian authorities.