No Longer A Candidate, Mubarak Gains Support

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Journalist Issandr El Amrani tells Steve Inskeep some Egyptians were swayed to support President Mubarak after he said he would not run in the next election. El Amrani covers culture and politics in the Middle East on the blog The Arabist.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Lets go next to a journalist and political analyst who is based in Cairo. Issandr El Amrani is the author of The Arabist, a blog, and hes on the line.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ISSANDR EL AMRANI (Journalist; Author, The Arabist): Nice to be here.

INSKEEP: When you back away from Tahrir Square, when you move around Cairo, how divided are people?

Mr. EL AMRANI: I think the regime has been quite successful in dividing public opinion over the last two days, especially after President Mubaraks speech in which he announced he would step down in September. I mean basically the line that's going out on state TV is that the protesters are being unreasonable and that they're the ones responsible for the insecurities over the last week. Obviously, that's clearly not true but it does appear convincing to some people.

I mean let me just tell you something that happened to me yesterday.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EL AMRANI: My garbage man came for the first time in days to pick up the garbage and I talked to him a little bit. And he really disapproves of the protests and what he was worried about is lack of security in his very poor neighborhood, and the fact that because people have been hoarding and supplies aren't regular, the price of food has gone up and he was angry. He was also appeared to be believing what he was hearing on state TV, that this is on all 10 channels of state television it's pretty much nonstop, trying to divide the population and say that the people protesting in Tahrir Square are traitors or saboteurs. Its really quite a worrying phenomenon.

INSKEEP: Was your garbage man the kind of guy who would not have been a fan of Mubarak but hes just been persuaded by the anxiety of the situation and what's on TV?

Mr. EL AMRANI: Exactly. I think he was saying, you know, Mubarak's agreed to step down. You know, what's another thing that I've heard from other people - a taxi driver - the other day is, OK, so, he's going to stay for another six months. You know, he's been around for 30 years; can't you wait another six months? And I think the feeling does resonate with people. I mean, you have to remember that nothing like this has happened in Egypt for a long, long time.

INSKEEP: Do anti-Mubarak protesters have a convincing answer to that question of why must you continue protesting and insisting that he leave immediately?

Mr. EL AMRANI: Well, they're convinced the answer is the truth, is that the regime has been behind a lot of the insecurity that we've seen over the last few weeks and that they cannot trust a government that carried out with that level of cynicism this propaganda and this deliberate creation of insecurity nor do they trust negotiating with a government that's still headed by Hosni Mubarak.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask, because the Associated Press, among others, is quoting U.S. officials who say they're in talks with President Mubarak to leave immediately or more immediately than he's wanted to, and for the new vice president, Omar Suleiman, to head a transitional government heading into elections in a number of months. Do people who distrust Mubarak trust Suleiman any more?

Mr. EL AMRANI: Most of them do not trust Suleiman that much for various reasons. I mean, the biggest one is that he's been Mubarak's right-hand man for the last 20 years. But beyond this, I mean, I think that really symbolically what the protesters in Tahrir, most of them are personally, they're really committed politicized activists. They just want Mubarak to go.

I think if they get that symbolic victory, what I'm hearing is a lot of people would say, well, you know, if he goes I go home and then we'll work on the negotiations and we're willing to, you know, everything else is negotiable. But Mubarak's departure is the one non-negotiable item.

INSKEEP: Do you think that President Mubarak is in control of his own supporters?

Mr. EL AMRANI: My gut feeling, and, you know, I've worked on the Egyptian politics for over a decade now, is that as soon as he appointed Omar Suleiman as vice president, Omar Suleiman was the person really in control. What we have right now is a government in Egypt that's led by four or five senior military commanders. It is a military government. You know, Mubarak, the vice president, the prime minister, senior generals - they're the people who run things.

So, it's certainly not a one-man show and if there's one dominant personality, I would say that today it's Omar Suleiman.

INSKEEP: And do you think that Suleiman is in control of these pro-Mubarak protesters who have been blamed for violence around Tahrir Square and elsewhere?

Mr. EL AMRANI: You know, I wouldn't say that they're in direct control. I mean, some of the pro-Mubarak people who have been apprehended by the pro-democracy protesters were found carrying security IDs and so on. So some of them may be some form of agent provocateurs.

But this is also a result of state propaganda on television that's been fighting people each other. So, you know, it's not everything is directly controlled and indeed it may be that to a certain extent it went outside of their control, that once they riled up these people they couldn't control them anymore.

INSKEEP: Issandr El Amrani lives in Cairo. His blog is called The Arabist. Thank you very much.

Mr. EL AMRANI: Thank you.

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