Thursday, February 3, 2011

Guess Whos Praising Mubarak and Oppose Elections?

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WASHINGTON, Feb 2: Tony Blair has described Hosni Mubarak, the beleaguered Egyptian leader, as "immensely courageous and a force for good" and warned against a rush to elections that could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

The former British prime minister, who is now an envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, praised Mubarak over his role in the negotiations and said the west was right to back him despite his authoritarian regime because he had maintained peace with Israel.

But that view is likely to anger many Egyptians who believe they have had to endure decades of dictatorship because the US put Israel's interests ahead of their freedom.

Speaking to Piers Morgan on CNN, Blair defended his backing for Mubarak.

"Where you stand on him depends on whether you've worked with him from the outside or on the inside. I've worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians so this is somebody I'm constantly in contact with and working with and on that issue, I have to say, he's been immensely courageous and a force for good," he said. "Inside Egypt, and I have many Egyptian friends, it's clear that there's been a huge desire for change."

But asked if the west had not been an obstacle to change, Blair defended the policies of his and other governments.

"I don't think the west should be the slightest bit embarrassed about the fact that it's been working with Mubarak over the peace process but at the same time it's been urging change in Egypt," he said.

Blair argued that the region has unique problems which make political change different from the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe. He said the principal issue is the presence of Islamist parties which he fears will use democracy to gain power and then undermine the freedoms people seek.

"It's perfectly natural for those of from the outside to want to support this movement for change at the same time as saying let's be careful about this and make sure that happens in this process of change is something that ends in free and fair elections and a democratic system of government and it doesn't get taken over or channelled in to a different direction that is at odds with what the people of Egypt want," he said.

Blair said that meant there should not be a rush to elections in Egypt.

"I don't think there's a majority for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On the other hand, what you've got to watch is that they are extremely well organised and well funded whereas those people who are out on the street at the moment, many of them will be extremely well intentioned people, but they're not organised in political parties yet. So one of the issues in the transition is to give time for those political parties to get themselves properly organised," he said.

But Blair said he did not doubt that change is coming to Egypt.

"People want a different system of government. They're going to get it. The question is what emerges from that. In particular I think the key challenge for us is how do we help partner this process of change and help manage it in such a way that what comes out of it is open minded, fair, democratic government," he said.

Cairo Braces for Mammoth March As Israel Defends Mubarak

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CAIRO, Feb 1: Tens of thousands of protesters are currently gathered in central Cairo for the seventh day, calling for a general strike and demanding President Hosni Mubarak to step down. They are expected to march to the presidential palace later today.

The crowd gathered in Tahrir Square and several other key locations despite heavy military presence in Cairo. Protesters have also called for a general strike on Monday.

While President Mubarak has promised economic and political reforms, protesters remain defiant and say they will not give up until Mubarak steps down.

At least 150 people have lost their lives and thousands more have sustained injuries over the past week.

A protester was killed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday after a bullet fired by security forces hit his head, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Million-Man March

Several Egyptian political groups and peace activists have called for a million-man march in Cairo as President Mubarak refuses to step down from power.

The rally planned for Tuesday will mark a week since the start of the biggest anti-government protests in Egypt.

Western countries urged to stop supporting Mubarak

The Muslim Brotherhood has condemned the United Nations and Western countries for failing to take action against the government crackdown on protesters and the killing of civilians.

The United States has called for political reform in Egypt. US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both demanded an orderly transition to a more politically open Egypt.

They have, however, stopped short of urging their long-time ally, Mubarak, to heed calls by protesters to resign.

The United States has also rejected reports of cutting aid to Mubarak's regime over its crackdown on protesters. The US gives about one and a half billion dollars a year to Egypt, most of which is in military aid.

According to reports, thousands of protesters have chanted anti-US slogans and burnt effigies of President Obama in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez over the past days.

Mubarak appoints pro-Israeli VP

The Egyptian president has appointed military intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has good relations with Israel, as his new vice president.

This is while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to discuss the uprising in Egypt with his security cabinet.

Mubarak has sworn in a new Egyptian cabinet led by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. The cabinet comprises a largely unchanged lineup.

However, the widely disdained interior minister Habib al-Adly is absent. Adly's dismissal was one of the protesters' demands who have also demanded the ouster of Mubarak.

The finance and culture ministers of the previous cabinet as well as the Egyptian business tycoons are not among the new ministers either.

Egyptians view the close proximity of business tycoons to the government as a sign of corruption.

Israel fears another Islamic revolution like Iran

Reports suggest Israel is trying to convince its allies to support the embattled Egyptian ruler.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has issued a directive to its ambassadors to the US, China, Russia, Canada and several European countries rally support for Mubarak.

The diplomats have been told to emphasize the importance of Egypt's stability to their host countries and ask them to curb criticism of President Mubarak.

At a news conference alongside Angela Merkel, the German chancellor (left), on Monday in Jerusalem, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Egypt could wind up with a radical Islamic regime as in Iran.

He hoped Israel's three-decade-old peace treaty with Egypt would survive any changes that were taking place.

Israel allows Egyptian troops

Israeli officials said Monday that they have agreed to let Egypt move several hundred troops into the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the countries reached peace three decades ago.

With street protests threatening the Egyptian regime, the officials say that Israel allowed the Egyptian army to move two battalions - about 800 soldiers - into Sinai on Sunday. The officials said the troops were based in the Sharm el-Sheikh area on Sinai's southern tip, far from Israel.

Now, as the unrest in Egypt has spread, Israeli officials have grown increasingly concerned about the stability of their southern neighbor. They are especially worried that Palestinian militants could take advantage of the unrest to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip through tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

Egypt has been engulfed in one of its worst political crises in decades. Many people around the world have shown solidarity with Egyptians in their uprising against the Mubarak government.

Israel Tells West Don't Condemn Mubarak

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TEL AVIV, Jan 31: Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.

Tel Aviv seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West's interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime. The diplomatic measures came after statements in Western capitals implying that the United States and European Union supported Mubarak's ouster.

Israeli officials are keeping a low profile on the events in Egypt, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even ordering cabinet members to avoid commenting publicly on the issue.

Senior Israeli officials, however, said that on Saturday night the Foreign Ministry issued a directive to around a dozen key embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries. The ambassadors were told to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt's stability. In a special cable, they were told to get this word out as soon as possible.

EU foreign ministers are to discuss the situation in Egypt at a special session today in Brussels, after which they are expected to issue a statement echoing those issued in recent days by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Obama called on Mubarak to take "concrete steps" toward democratic reforms and to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, sentiments echoed in a statement Saturday night by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany.

"The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests," one senior Israeli official said. "Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications."

Netanyahu announced at yesterday's weekly cabinet meeting that the security cabinet will convene tomorrow to discuss the situation in Egypt.

"The peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these relations will continue to exist," Netanyahu told his ministers. "We are closely monitoring events in Egypt and the region and are making efforts to preserve its security and stability."