Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned and is said to be in a coma or "psychologically devastated". His appointed replacement, Omar Suleiman, is nowhere to be found and the Egyptian army has taken over. There has been wild celebration in the streets of Cairo but there is good reason to think that all is not well and the danger is far from over. Thanks to the reporting of Robert Fisk, we now have the information upon which to arrive at the terrible conclusion of the title. Senior Egyptian army officers, the very ones that are exercising a military dictatorship now, where quite willing only two weeks ago, to carry out a wholesale slaughter of the thousands of protesters in Liberation Square.
Reporting in the Independent on Friday, Robert Fisk tells us that Hosni Mubarak had ordered the massacre of the people in Tahrir Square:
the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.
Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.
Fisk's report was raised near the end of 2011-02-13 Tales of Tyrants: Ben Ali, Mubarak & Suleiman yesterday but we feel it is important enough to bear repeating and elaboration:
Please note also something else that can be deduced from Robert Fisk's description of these events. Namely that it was the low level officers in the tanks, the ones that got their orders over headsets, that refused to carry out the mass murder in Tahrir Square. Had the top brass refused Mubarak, those orders never would have been heard over headsets.
That was on Sunday, January 30th. The very next day, the NY Times reported :
Within hours on Monday, the political landscape of the country shifted as decisively as it had at any moment in Mr. Mubarak’s three decades in power.
Was this in response to these events of the day before?
It was soldiers with cell phones that stopped the slaughter. It was the low level officers and tank commanders that organized a mutiny and refused to carry out the massacre. We now know that when an army spokesman announced on state TV the day after the refused massacre, that “the armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.” He was not speaking of the will or morality of the supreme military council, he was speaking of their limitations. He was referring to a power they had attempted to exercise but failed to exercise the night before.
We can now also conclude that that public announcement was directed as much at avoiding a full scale mutiny from below within the army as it was was about reassuring the protesters. It also explains why they made this announcement in spite of the fact, as noted by many commentators at the time, that it clearly would embolden and enlarge the protests. They were in danger of losing control of their army.
We can compare what apparently happened in Egypt to what happened in Tunisia. In Tunisia, when embattled President Ben Ali ordered the army to fire on protesters those orders were never heard over headsets because it was General Rashid Ammar, the chief of staff, later named hero of the revolution, that refused Den Ali's orders.
Even the night of the aborted army assault, some tank commanders in Tahrir Square were reported to be stripping off their uniforms while protesters swarmed over their tanks, and in the report cited above Robert Fisk says:
Last night, a military officer guarding the tens of thousands celebrating in Cairo threw down his rifle and joined the demonstrators, yet another sign of the ordinary Egyptian soldier's growing sympathy for the democracy demonstrators. We had witnessed many similar sentiments from the army over the past two weeks.
Now the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is consolidating it's control over Egypt. On Sunday it issued " Communique No 5 in which it made the head of the council the head of state, suspended the constitution, dissolved Mubarak's parliament and called for an end to strikes.
It vowed to rewrite the constitution within 10 days and put it to a vote within two months. It has promised to limit it's military rule to 6 months and it has included two young on-line activists, Google executive Wael Ghonim and blogger Amr Salama in the group of opposition leaders it is meeting with. These are hopeful measures.
But it has also failed to lift the state of emergency, failed to release the majority of the protesters it has arrested. It has also been using increasing force to remove pro-democracy activists from Liberation Square and today it made it very clear that it wanted all foreign reporters out of the way. These are the ways of a military dictatorship.
While everyone, including former supporters of the Mubarak regime like U.S. President Obama, is celebrating the victory of the Egyptian revolution, the same top brass that is ruling Egypt today were willing to pass down the orders to slaughter thousands of Egyptians for demanding democracy two weeks ago. Obviously the Egyptian Revolution will never be realized and the Egyptian people will never be safe as long as this senior officers corp controls the army. They must be systematically replaced. New leadership from among the officers who refused such orders must be found. No reprisals can be allowed against the rebellious soldiers. The state of emergency must be lifted and all protesters in custody must be freed. All this must be done while the people are still mobilized and strikes are still going on.
Otherwise the military dictatorship will quietly discipline and replace the mutinous officers and soldiers. They will roll up the networks of activists, clamp down again on free speech and protest and plunge Egypt again into the darkness.
Don't let your guard down! The Rebellion is still in danger.