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Publish Date : Wednesday 23 November 2011 - 08:27
'People's power, Egyptians' sole weapon'
Interview with Christopher Walker, defense & Middle East expert
Islam Times - Egyptian protesters have planned another million-man march as the death toll from three days of clashes between the demonstrators and security forces climbs to 33.
More than 38 opposition parties called for a million-man march on Tuesday to pressure Egypt's junta to hand over power to a civilian government.

Press TV talks with Christopher Walker, a defense and Middle East expert in London, about the issue.

The video offers the opinions of one additional guest: Abdullah Al-Ashaal, the former assistant to Egypt's foreign minister. The following is an approximate transcription of the interview.

Press TV: Why do you think that these clashes have happened at this time?

Walker: I think probably the main thing we have got to look at is the fact that it is only a week ahead from the start of parliamentary elections and the people have now seen openly that the military that has ruled the country since Mubarak was stood down has no real intention as it stands of handing complete power over to whoever should win those elections.

People just could not believe when they read that the military was suggesting the new civilian administration --whoever runs it-- would not have power over their budget and would not have power over various military matters and even than that the military appeared to be demanding the final say that it could step in and we did not like what was going on. So I think you can say you cannot be seen.

I know it is a bit of a cliché? but it was the straw that broke the camel's back because had these elections gone ahead with the people not showing their feelings, they would have been pretty well as meaningless as elections that took place under Mubarak when he used to get his famous 99.3 percent majorities. So once again the people decided they had to take matters into their own hands and with that symbolic square --Tahrir or Liberty Square-- people started marching there and the thing has got quickly not out of control but due to the social media and the television, people in Alexandria, people in Aswan, took to the streets.

So could this be the tipping point for what has been really a pretty naked attempt by the army and under them the police to keep power and it really was them that wielded power under Mubarak. So you have got a very direct clash here. It could potentially be even more dangerous in the long run to people safety than the Egyptian revolution so-called when people fell back in the first instance on the army thinking that they would perform an honorable role.

Press TV: Egyptians say they want the head of military council Muhammad Tantawi and the whole council to step down immediately. How likely is that to happen being that since February this transitional panel that has been put in place they were supposed to be there for a very short period of time and that people have continued to say that they want a civilian rule? So what do you see happening now that the people are trying to put more pressure on the military junta?

Walker: I think it really boils down to the fact of how many people actually turn out. The last we heard that people still heading towards the square but of course we have not got anywhere near the numbers approaching a million that we had in the revolution.

But if those numbers continue to swell, anything could happen but I think we have to remember that the army has a terrific lifestyle as it were to protect; it is not only the ordinary soldiers that we see on the streets around the square trying to hold back the crowds; it is the officers, the generals, who have clubs ways of life, swimming pools, cars; they have a whole lifestyle that is based on the army being as it was under Mubarak the basic arm of power.

What we do not often perhaps speak about publicly is that under Mubarak, Egypt was basically a military state, although he had these factual selections that nobody took seriously and the protesters as anybody who has met them knows fell passionately that that must change and there they find after 8 months that really when you look hard all it seems to have changed is that instead of having Mr. Mubarak appearing before them and telling them what to do, you had General Tantawi.

So something has got to give. I cannot see this just rolling away as it were. It has been a climate change; the Arab spring that we spoke about has given away to something much more harsh; maybe we have not got to a winter yet but we have got to the reality of an autumn where hope suddenly has been dashed and that, as I said before, is very dangerous because before the hopes appeared to have been satisfied enough by the fact that Mubarak and his cronies and family went away and they went on trial but of course that too has been postponed that just has not been really the pace of change the people want.

Press TV: You talked about the pace of change that the people want, but in general, do you think how would people be able to allow Tantawi to remain in power even this long. I mean, we are talking about somebody who has served as defense minister for a couple of decades in the Mubarak regime. What kind of expectations did they have from this man leading this junta other than continuing what had been the status quo?

Walker: I think the trouble is that is probably what you say if they looked in the mirror, that is what happened but at the time what was the alternative; what people are trying to avoid here as the type of near civil war situation that we have had in some other places and so far that has been avoided.

And the other factor is that --as far as I know-- these people that are marching to the square and protesting do not really have the weaponry to take on the army; they do not have private arsenals; they do not have piles of arm stuff at homes, so how are they going to do it?

They do it by people power and that really is the only weapon that they have. But it is quite broad and I think what they are lacking so far and it has emerged in the 8 months, they have not got a single leader, these revolutionaries, some of them Islamists, some of them liberal, have split into many parties and they have not got the figure to rally around.

Press TV: You just touched on something as far as dealing with the leadership, how important is that point --that perspective of leadership-- because as we saw in the early days of the revolution when talking to the young people on the street that basically they said almost similar to what we hear now in the United States during the Occupy movements that it is a grassroots movement and basically no leadership is needed and everyone will lead together. How important now is that leadership factor in your perspective?

Walker: Very important, that is very sort of idealistic sentiment that have been voiced in revolutions over the ages. I mean, back to the Bolshevik revolution and such like against Czars but you do have to have these committees. You know, they do say that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.

They have got to make quick decisions; you cannot have endless discussions getting on about that shall we do that, shall we do that, shall we do the other, meanwhile; the army is there opposing them. So whatever people may say idealistically, I do feel that until some figures emerged around --which might have emerged-- and might emerged from the elections if they are allowed to go ahead. But at the moment, who do you ring up as it were to find the leadership of this new --if it is-- second wave of revolution.

Press TV: Now I want to look at the role of some foreign entities. We know that the UK foreign secretary has refused to call for the military council to step down and also with this latest crackdown; there have been canisters of poisonous tear gas found on the streets made in the United States. In this almost 9-month-period since the revolution, how effective do you think that foreign powers such as London and Washington have been in infiltrating and controlling this junta?

Walker: I do not think they had to be. They always did control and do not forget ever since the peace treaty with Israel, the Egyptian army has received 1.5 billion dollars a year from the United States in military aid.

It is the biggest single receiver of that aid around the globe and so it is no surprise that its weaponry is supplied by America and similarly the Americans and the British and the other Western leaders are caught between two conflicting arguments; they genuinely want democracy but on the other hand, they want the strategic role of Egypt in the area particularly the continuing peace with Israel that really only the army can give. So we have got a complex situation here. I am not personally surprised that American [tear] gas has been used; I imagine just plenty more of it in the warehouses of the Egyptian army.

Press TV: What do you think though that it will take for the Egyptians to get their revolution on the track that they want it to be?

Walker: I think an enormous swelling of opinion; perhaps this Friday after prayers. Somehow again to gather in such huge numbers that the army is really powerless or has to start gunning down vast numbers of its own people which is something that I do not think many Egyptian troops would tolerate.
Story Code: 116483