When her bosses at the state-run Nile News channel told Soha al-Naqqash to report that the chaotic streets of the country's largest cities were calm, she resigned rather than lie on the air. Last week, Shahira Amin, deputy head of the network, quit for similar reasons. Those resignations were illustrative of the antigovernment protest movement broadening to include Egyptian professionals, a critical inflection point in the weeks-long revolt. For the first time, unions, government employees, journalists, and others joined the protests. There were labor strikes in other areas of the country, including, most significantly, some 6,000 Suez Canal workers.
The ongoing unrest convinced President Hosni Mubarak to resign his post on Friday, apparently ceding control of the nation to Vice President Omar Suleiman and the military. But it remained unclear who was in charge of the country, even as the jubilant crowds celebrated in the streets of Cairo. Whether the Mubarak's ouster will satisfy those demonstrators will be a critical question moving forward. Many of the protesters have said that rule by Suleiman—the Mubarak regime's feared intelligence chief—would be unacceptable.
Suleiman on Thursday, implored the protesters to "go back to your homes, go back to your jobs." Earlier in the week he had warned that if negotiations with the government did not continue peacefully, a coup could follow. It was a clever phrase, because a coup could mean either a military junta (which has precedent in Egypt's history) or a takeover by Islamic extremists, like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt has long used the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood to fend off Western calls for reform. A 2005 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, published by WikiLeaks, noted that "The Egyptians have a long history of threatening us with the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] bogeyman." The embassy's position then was that "the MB's rise signals the need for greater democracy and transparency in government . . . The best way to counter narrow-minded Islamist politics is to open the system."
A House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday was dominated by talk of the Brotherhood. "The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with driving these protests, and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt," said Florida GOPer and committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
President Obama is expected to address the new developments this afternoon. The White House is working feverishly behind the scenes, but it has been quieter this week than last on the topic. Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden called Suleiman and pressed him to end emergency rule, which has been used to repress opposition figures. But Suleiman, a long-time partner of U.S. intelligence agencies, refused, saying that the country wasn't ready.
More ominously, Suleiman told Egyptian newspaper editors that the regime was drawing a line regarding continued civil disobedience, saying further unrest is "extremely dangerous for society, and we absolutely do not tolerate it."