Pro-democracy Movement Negotiating Mubarak Departure

The news from Egypt this Saturday suggests pro-democracy demonstrators have begun negotiations with the authorities on ways to ease Hosni Mubarak out of power. Under pressure from foreign governments and diplomats across the region, as well as the UN, EU and US, Egyptian government officials and the military have reportedly begun planning for a process that would first sideline, then replace Pres. Hosni Mubarak, in power for 30 years, under emergency rule.

There are reports that Mubarak has resigned as leader of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), but the reports have not been independently confirmed. With speculation swirling about whether an agreement has been made that would see Mubarak relinquish power to an interim government in which power would be shared by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the military and opposition parties, Mubarak’s resignation from the NDP, following his son’s resignation, could be a sign the transition is beginning.

A doctor working at the makeshift field hospital at the edge of Tahrir Square told the BBC today that the square is “the embryo of a new nation”. While clashes continue in other parts o the capital and in Alexandria, Tahrir Square, he said “is free Cairo”. After two days of bloodshed, chaos and fear, families joined youth activists, opposition leaders and religious figures to call for a peaceful transition to a new and democratic Egypt.

The demonstrators and the military cooperating to keep the square safe and allow for peaceful mass demonstrations are showing the way to a new civic order, in which people of diverse backgrounds and interests treat each other civilly and welcome each other into a great national debate; they are setting the stage for the first period of genuine popular self-determination in Egypt’s history.

Amnesty International welcomed news that human rights activists have been freed, but called for an independent criminal investigation into the detentions:

Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the detention of some 35 human rights activists and journalists, including two Amnesty International staff members, who were freed after spending almost two days in military custody.

The Egyptian and international human rights activists, lawyers and journalists were arrested Thursday when military police raided the offices of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.

Human Rights Watch reported today that the military appears to be planning to push the protesters out of Tahrir Square:

The military is becoming more restrictive in allowing access to Tahrir square and seems to be preparing to pressure the protesters to end their occupation. A new army checkpoint has been put up on the Gezira side of the Qasr al-Nil bridge, and a second military checkpoint at the entrance to Tahrir square. Because of these checkpoints it is taking longer for people to get into the square. Long lines are backing up.

We met with the organizing committee of the protesters, to discuss their security concerns, as well as their obligations under human rights principles. One of the organizers said they had some informal discussions with the army that morning, and had been told that the army wanted the protesters to leave the square. He said that for the first time, the army was actively encouraging protesters to leave and had asked the organizers to help them end the protests.

Experts on Middle East political regimes and economics estimate the assets of Hosni Mubarak and his family may exceed $70 billion, accumulated after 30 years of authoritarian rule. If true, the figure would make Mubarak the most extreme kleptocrat in modern history, having stolen more than $2 billion per year by setting up businesses through his political and military positions.

Reports on the massive estimated wealth of Mubarak and his family suggest much of it may be held in secret accounts in Switzerland, or in more conventional accounts in Britain, or in expensive real estate inside Egypt and abroad. Calls for criminal prosecution of Mubarak have been on the rise since his forces killed pro-democracy demonstrators and now at least one journalist, and a conviction on charges of crimes against humanity could lead to the seizure of all assets accumulated during his reign.

There has been speculation that Mubarak, who last week said he’s tired of the battle to stay in office and wants to step down —but can’t, lest chaos ensue—, may be using extreme force and a propaganda campaign against demonstrators, foreign press and foreign governments, to hold onto billions in ill-gotten gains. There are also now calls for investigation into alleged crimes from throughout Mubarak’s 30-year reign.