Threat of military intervention looms over Egypt

Atul Aneja
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Widening base: Doctors and medical students join the anti-government demonstration at Tahrir Square on Thursday. — PHOTO: AFP
Widening base: Doctors and medical students join the anti-government demonstration at Tahrir Square on Thursday. — PHOTO: AFP

Stung by the wave of nationwide strikes and an upbeat opposition poised for more protests on Friday, the Egyptian authorities, on Thursday have warned of military intervention to quash the uprising, now in its seventeenth day.

With the pro-democracy movement and the status quoist regime of President Hosni Mubarak both digging in, Egypt appeared to be edging dangerously close to a phase of spiralling violence.

In an interview with Al Araybia television, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step which would lead to a very dangerous situation.”

Mr. Gheit appeared to be ratcheting up the ominous military threat for, a day earlier, Vice-President Omar Suleiman had issued a warning about the possibility of a “coup” in case transition talks with the opposition, as structured by the government, broke down.

Backed by support from conservative regional empathiser Saudi Arabia, Mr. Gheit had on Wednesday rebuffed the call from the United States to urgently lift Egypt's hated 30-year-old state of emergency. Responding to telephonic conversation with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, who had told the Foreign Minister that Egypt should lift emergency laws, Mr. Gheit said in a television interview that such a step, under the current difficult circumstances, would be premature.

Staunch ally

As the pro-democracy movement, bolstered by the release of the popular Google executive and cyber active campaigner Wael Ghonim exerted pressure for the ouster of the Mubarak government, the Egyptian regime has found a staunch ally in Saudi Arabia.

The Times is reporting that Saudi Arabia has threatened to come to the rescue of the Mubarak regime, should the U.S. push for swift changes.

The daily said in a telephone conversation on January 29 with U.S. President Barack Obama, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has warned that his monarchy would bankroll the Mubarak dictatorship, in case Washington withdrew its annual aid package of $1.5 billion.

At Tahrir Square, the sanctum of the anti-Mubarak revolt, the opposition movement appeared to become even more representative.

Thousands, including professionals such as lawyers, in flowing black robes and medical personnel, easily identifiable from their white coats, trooped in, signalling that the support base of the pro-democracy movement was broadening.

Earlier, establishing himself further as one of the symbols of the uprising, Wael Ghonim said emotively in a television interview that the opposition would not give up. Referring to Mr. Suleiman, who had earlier darkly hinted of using military force to crush the uprising, Mr. Ghonim told CNN: “You're not going to stop us. Kidnap me, kidnap all my colleagues. Put us in jail. Kill us. Do whatever you want to do. We are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years. Enough. Enough. Enough.”

Not far from the area, postal workers on strike raised a banner, outside Cairo's main post office, expressing support for the Tahrir Square protesters.

This was only one among the wave of strikes that have energised the pro-democracy protests.

Since Wednesday, Upper Egypt which had so far been on the margins had fully joined the uprising.

Egypt's lucrative Red Sea tourism has also suffered a blow with the Egyptian daily Al Ahram Online reporting that the protests have led to hotel closures in the resort city of Sharm-El-Sheikh.

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