Analysts fear further violence over speech

| Apr. 11, 2011

Dubai Initiative Executive Director Ashraf Hegazy speaks to The World Today about the political situation unfolding in Egypt preceeding Hosni Mubarak's departure.

ASHLEY HALL: As we've just heard tensions are high in Egypt with the potential for violence to flare further. And as Timothy just mentioned the leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei has warned his followers on Twitter that Egypt will explode and that the army must save the country now.

One analyst who agrees with that says Hosni Mubarak's speech reveals just how out of touch with his people the Egyptian president is.

Ashraf Hegazy is the son of a senior Egyptian diplomat and the executive director of the Dubai Initiative at Harvard University which focusses on leadership and negotiations in the Middle East.

He's also on the national policy council of the Arab American Institute.

A short time ago Ashraf Hegazy told me the president has badly mishandled the situation.

ASHRAF HEGAZY: He is in defiance. He is clearly not listening to what the people are saying.

But now he is also to what the military is saying. And I think he has really painted himself into a corner where the military will have no option but to remove him, otherwise the people will march on the presidential palace tomorrow where when they have called for a 20 million person march.

And if that happens that is a set up for a major disaster tomorrow in terms of violence, clashes with the security forces and then the military will be forced to also intervene.

ASHLEY HALL: Let's run through a few of the themes that president Mubarak ran through in his speech.

He acknowledged the protesters' efforts and promised that the blood lost at the barricades wouldn't be in vain. He said he'd felt all the pain that they had felt and respected the call of youth for change. Is this merely words?

ASHRAF HEGAZY: Well it's not just merely words. It's actually offensive and patronising. And we heard that as the reaction of people immediately afterwards.

He is basically saying that it was not his doing that people's lives were lost, that he had no hand in this, that his regime is not responsible. And yet he is continuing to not do what people are demanding of him.

Also his tone was really quite patronising. You know he's referring to the youth as the children. He called himself the father.

After him Omar Suleiman came on and said people to go home and go to their parents. So that tone of voice is not sitting well with the youth leaders of this movement.

ASHLEY HALL: It seems like he is talking at completely cross purposes to the protesters.

ASHRAF HEGAZY: Well everything he said about the negotiations had already been said. And that's also part of the frustration. People were expecting him to announce substantive changes and other than saying he has transferred his powers to the vice-president which again was essentially the case anyway, I think people didn't hear anything new.

ASHLEY HALL: The boos in the crowd, the protesters were most angry it seemed when Mr Mubarak reached his most defiant.

He said that he will die in his country during his speech. At that point the protesters waved their shoes at him. How significant is that as a protest?

ASHRAF HEGAZY: The waving of shoes is an extremely offensive sign in Egypt and in Arab culture in general. And what people are basically saying is that they have lost any respect for him or for the regime. And if he is saying he is going to die here then if that's what will take I think we will see people marching towards the palace tomorrow and potentially with the aim of physical violence.

ASHLEY HALL: Let's come back to the relationship, Mr Mubarak's relationship with the army.

We had a group of generals releasing a communique that they called communique number one. And they announced that they were moving to protect the aspirations of the people. It seemed to be a withdrawal of support from the president.

Has he not heard their call? How are they going to respond to his speech?

ASHRAF HEGAZY: Yeah that's one of the very confusing things that just happened. It's completely unclear what message he had given them.

But what he said on TV is completely incompatible with what they have been saying. And when they announced that people's, all of the people's demands were going to be met that clearly included Mubarak stepping down.

And when he says he is not stepping down I think the military will have to either, in order to live up to the people's expectations, will have to go in and remove him.

ASHLEY HALL: So Mr Mubarak is staring down the army at this point?

ASHRAF HEGAZY: Yes I think he is staring down everybody at this point. I mean really except his inner circle it will be very hard to find someone who is saying that he should stay in power.

ASHLEY HALL: So this is in a sense a slow motion coup?

ASHRAF HEGAZY: Yeah except it's not even really a coup. It's a revolution because it's the people, the civilians who have demanded the change and they have asked the military to come in to support them.

So if the military goes in and removes him I think they can make a legitimate argument that they are responding to the civilian leadership in the country who ultimately are the people to whom the government should be reporting.

ASHLEY HALL: So I suppose that brings us to the question of how united the army is. Is the Council of Generals speaking for all of the soldiers or is there a divide between younger and older members of the military?

ASHRAF HEGAZY: I think you would only see a divide if senior officers gave the command to fire on protesters.

The soldiers in the military are all average Egyptians because almost every young man in Egypt has to do his national service so he is part of the military.

And so there is, you know the military is really very much part of the social fabric of society and I don't think soldiers would be willing to fire on unarmed civilians or basically their family and friends.

And that's why I think the military leadership is very smart and really has very little option you know when they say we are not going to fire a single shot on civilians.

So in order for them to maintain the unity of the military and to maintain the relationship between the military and the population I think that's the path that they have to stay on.

ASHLEY HALL: Ashraf Hegazy the executive director of the Dubai Initiative speaking to me from Harvard University.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Hall, Ashley. "Analysts fear further violence over speech." The World Today, ABC News, February 11, 2011.

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