Continuing our all-Egypt-all-the-time theme from the past few days, a few more small tidbits.
Per the NYT, last night’s riots seem to have specifically targeted government buildings, police stations, etc, and (significantly) left shops largely undamaged; many were reopening for business this morning, even as the party headquarters is still on fire. This is a good sign; shop looting during riots generally indicates that people are using a period of anarchy for score-settling, or (worse) that absent centralized control deeper faults in the society, especially along class or ethnic lines, are opening up. In short-term riots (such as e.g. the Rodney King riots in 1992 or the Crown Heights riots in 1991) this can exacerbate preexisting tensions; in situations where the existing government is likely to collapse altogether, that can quickly lead to large-scale internecine violence. Let’s hope this situation persists.
Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman, his head of security services, as VP. I don’t think this is meant as a signal of proposed successorship (because, seriously, who would listen to that now?) but rather as a signal to the security forces of handing them more overt power and control in exchange for their loyalty. It’s not horribly surprising that those forces would ally with Mubarak, but it’s definitely to his advantage that they did so openly. The position of the army appears to still be ambiguous.
Finally, the important piece of background info which I keep forgetting to mention in these posts. About a week ago, al-Jazeera leaked a huge trove of documents from the past decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These didn’t seem to get much news coverage in the US for some reason, but they’re a really big deal. Europeans were mentioning how they were harmful to Israel, because they show the Israelis rejecting significant Palestinian concessions as insufficient – but in the short term, these documents are potentially much more damaging to Fatah, since they show them not only negotiating in good faith, but offering significant concessions. This isn’t the sort of leak you dump out lightly; it’s the sort of thing which has the potential to lead to a popular (/Hamas- and Iran-guided) uprising in the West Bank, and the collapse of what’s left of the PLO/Fatah in favor of Hamas and more radical organizations. It plays well with al-Jazeera’s overall slant towards encouraging radicalism, and it could be a brilliant stroke against the last few relatively moderate people in the region. The impact so far seems at least somewhat limited; polls indicate that Fatah supporters largely believe the papers to be fabricated, while Hamas supporters largely believe them to be real. External corroboration from Israeli and US sources seems to indicate that the docs are in fact legit.
Basically, this was an attempt to throw a grenade into the middle of Middle East politics, set off a quick bloodbath, replace moderates with Iran-backed radicals, and in the long term do some damage to Israeli standing in the Western community. I suspect that it would have been more effective had the instabilities in Tunis and Egypt not grabbed the headlines away so dramatically, but they could still have an impact down the line. Keep your eyes open on this one.