Egypt: Mubark hangs on, Washington sends more mixed signals
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with his new government Feb. 5, as the executive committee of his ruling party stepped down in a purge evidently aimed at appeasing protesters who have now been taking to streets for 12 consecutive days. Tahrir Square remains occupied by demonstrators, who rejected the cabinet and party changes as inadequate and continue to demand Mubarak's resignation.
At a summit in Munich of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the crisis in Egypt, speaking of the need for democratic transition—but stopping short of calling for Mubarak to step down, and praising the "restraint" of Egypt's security forces.
A more openly pro-Mubarak stance was taken by Frank Wisner, the US diplomat who was dispatched to Cairo earlier this week. "You need to get a national consensus around the preconditions of the next step forward, and the president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through," Wisner said. "I therefore believe that President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical—it's his opportunity to write his own legacy."
Wisner later said he was speaking as an individual, not on behalf of the Obama administration. Bloggers noted that Wisner is in the employ as a "foreign policy advisor" to the PR firm —among whose clients is the Egytpian government.
Who was behind Sinai pipeline blast?
A gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula was hit by an explosion early Feb. 5. The pipeline runs through Israel and also supplies Jordan. The Israeli-Egyptian gas company, East Mediterranean Gas, said attackers blew up a measuring station in the town of Lihfen, near the Gaza Strip. The pipeline has been shut down as security forces beef up their presence in the area. Egypt supplies about 40% of Israel's natural gas, and in December four Israeli firms signed 20-year contracts worth up to $10 billion to import Egyptian gas. Militant Bedouin groups have apparently threatened to blow up the pipeline before, but no-one has claimed credit for the blast. (Ma'an News Agency, Feb. 5)
Hamas leader Salah Al-Bardawil dismissed reports in the Egyptian daily al-Akhbar linking Hamas to the explosion, saying such charges aimed "to export the crisis to Gaza." (Ma'an News Agency, Feb. 5)