February 6, 2011


[The meeting would be a break with decades of Egyptian policy and strike at the core of the government’s depiction of itself as a bulwark against political dominance by the popular Islamist party — an argument that, for decades, won it Western support.]

By Kareem Fahim, Mark Landler and Anthony Shadid
CAIRO — As the United States and leading European nations threw their weight behind the Egyptian vice president’s attempt to defuse a popular uprising, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said it would meet with him for the first time later on Sunday in what seemed a significant departure in the nation’s uprising and political history.
But a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamal Nassar, said the often huge and sometimes violent demonstrations that have paralyzed Cairo for 13 days, reverberating around the Middle East, would continue “until the political path can have a role in achieving the aspirations of the protesters” — an apparent reference to their goal of removing President Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Nassar said mediators had brokered the encounter with Vice President Omar Suleiman, which would be a remarkable first meeting between the Islamist organization — Egypt’s biggest opposition movement — and an autocratic government that has depicted it as a bitter adversary committed to the overthrow of the secular order.
The meeting would be a break with decades of Egyptian policy and strike at the core of the government’s depiction of itself as a bulwark against political dominance by the popular Islamist party — an argument that, for decades, won it Western support.
Mr. Nassar did not say where or exactly when on Sunday Mr. Suleiman would meet with representatives of the Brotherhood’s political bureau, whom he did not identify by name. The organization, founded in 1928. Since then, official attitudes to it have veered sharply between outright repression and reluctant tolerance.
“The brothers decided to enter a round of dialogue to determine how serious the officials are achieving the demands of the people,” Mr. Nassar said. “The regime keeps saying we’re open to dialogue and the people are the ones refusing, so the Brotherhood decided to examine the situation from all different sides.”
“The Egyptian regime is stubborn, and cannot relinquish power easily,” he said. In politics, you must hear everyone’s opinions.” Another member of the Brotherhood, former lawmaker Mohasen Rady, said the organization had not abandoned its demand for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. “He can leave in any way the regime would accept him to leave, but it has to be that he is out,” he said.
The move in Egypt seemed to reflect a wider regional acknowledgement of the Brotherhood’s influence. On Thursday, King Abdullah II of Jordan, struggling to stave off growing public discontent, also met with his own country’s representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood for the first time in nearly a decade.
The development came a day after American officials said Mr. Suleiman had promised them an “orderly transition” that would include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups.
“That takes some time,” Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said, speaking at a Munich security conference. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”
But the formal endorsement came as Mr. Suleiman appeared to reject the protesters’ main demands, including the immediate resignation of Mr. Mubarak and the dismantling of a political system built around one-party rule, according to leaders of a small, officially authorized opposition party who spoke with Mr. Suleiman on Saturday. Instead of loosening its grip, moreover, the authorities appeared to be consolidating their power: The prime minister said police forces were returning to the streets, and an army general urged protesters to scale back their occupation of Tahrir Square.
Protesters interpreted the simultaneous moves by the Western leaders and Mr. Suleiman as a rebuff to their demands for an end to the dictatorship led for almost three decades by Mr. Mubarak, a pivotal American ally and pillar of the existing order in the Middle East.
“What the are saying behind closed doors, they are backing Mubarak,” said Noha el-Shakawy, 52, a pharmacist with dual Egyptian and American citizenship. “We are nothing to them. The United States wants to sacrifice all of our lives, 85 million people.”
On Sunday — the first day of the working week — Cairo seemed to be re-assuming some of the trappings of normalcy.
Some banks reopened for several hours after a week of closures, with limits on withdrawals by customers who stood in line to access their accounts. The city’s notoriously rambunctious traffic began to rebuild across bridges over the Nile that had been access routes to Tahrir Square for pro-democracy protesters and their adversaries.
But tanks remained in position on the square itself and an overnight curfew was still technically in force. Reporters in the city said foreigners risked being stopped at night-time road-blocks and some had been threatened with arrest as spies.
On Sunday — the Christian holy day — Muslim and Coptic prayers resounded over Tahrir Square in what seemed a show of interfaith harmony just weeks after a suicide bomber killed at least 21 people as a New Year’s Eve Mass was ending in Alexandria. In the past, some members of the Coptic minority have accused their leaders of reluctance to confront the state.
Tens of thousands of protesters milled again in the square, which seemed to be taking on an air of semi-permanency with tents, food stalls, worship and music. Vendors offered dates. On the perimeters, a Bahrain airline office had reopened, as had a store called “Hana Eastern Gifts.”
The numbers seemed initially to be slightly fewer than on Saturday. But as the day wore on thousands of people headed to the square, so that the city offered rival visions — one promoted by footage on state television of a capital returning to its normal ways; and another, in Tahrir Square, of continued defiance.
Just days after President Obama demanded publicly that change in Egypt must begin right away, many in the streets accused the Obama administration on Saturday of sacrificing concrete steps toward genuine change in favor of a familiar stability.
America doesn’t understand,” said Ibrahim Mustafa, 42, who was waiting to enter Tahrir Square. “The people know it is supporting an illegitimate regime.”
Leaders of the Egyptian opposition and rank-and-file protesters had earlier rejected any negotiations with Mr. Suleiman until after the ouster of Mr. Mubarak, arguing that moving toward democracy will require ridding the country of not only its dictator but also his rubber-stamp Parliament and a Constitution designed for one-party rule.
On Saturday, Mr. Mubarak’s party announced a shake-up that removed its old guard, including his son Gamal, from the party’s leadership while installing younger, more reform-minded figures. But such gestures were quickly dismissed as cosmetic by analysts and opposition figures.
Mrs. Clinton’s message, echoed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and reinforced in a flurry of calls by President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to Egyptian and regional leaders, appears to reflect an attempt at balancing calls for systemic change with some semblance of legal order and stability.
Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Mubarak, having taken himself and Gamal out of the September elections, was already effectively sidelined. She emphasized the need for Egypt to reform its Constitution to make a vote credible. “That is what the government has said it is trying to do,” she said.
She also stressed the dangers of holding elections without adequate preparation and highlighted fears about deteriorating security inside Egypt, noting an explosion at a gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula, and uncorroborated news reports of an earlier assassination attempt on Mr. Suleiman.
In a statement, the Egyptian government said there had been no assassination attempt, but added that on Jan. 28 a car in Mr. Suleiman’s motorcade was struck by a bullet fired by “criminal elements.”
At the same Munich meeting on Saturday, Frank G. Wisner, the former ambassador President Obama sent to Cairo to negotiate with Mr. Mubarak, appeared to take an even softer line on the existing government, saying that the United States should not rush to push Mr. Mubarak out the door. He said Mr. Mubarak had a critical role to play through the end of his presidential term in September.
The administration later said Mr. Wisner’s comments did not reflect official policy.
White House officials said Friday that they were privately pushing Mr. Suleiman to sideline Mr. Mubarak and eliminate his executive role well before the September elections.
But the mixed signals fueled concerns in Egypt that the administration, which has tried to juggle endorsement of change and continued order, had effectively turned its back on the core demands of those involved in the protest movement.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who has been chosen to negotiate on behalf of the protesters and other opposition groups, said the American-backed plan for a gradual transition with Mr. Mubarak remaining in power was a nonstarter.
“Mubarak needs to go,” he said.
Protesters also said that Western worries about security and orderly transitions sounded remarkably like Mr. Mubarak’s age-old excuses for postponing change. And they said they had waited long enough.
“We don’t want Omar Suleiman to take Mubarak’s place. We are not O.K. with this regime at all,” said Omar el-Shawy, a young online activist. “We want a president who is a civilian.”
In Tahrir Square on Saturday, an army officer, Brig. Gen. Hassan al-Rawaini, negotiated with protesters outside a barricade near the Egyptian Museum, urging them to bring down the fortifications, allow traffic to return and move their protest to the heart of Tahrir Square.
“We’re trying to remove the barricades and return the streets to normal,” General Rawaini said. “If you want to protest, you can go back to the square.”
A protester shouted back, “General, we’re not going to walk away from here until Hosni Mubarak leaves!”
Kareem Fahim and Anthony Shadid reported from Cairo, and Mark Landler from Munich. Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger from Munich, David D. Kirkpatrick, Mona El-Naggar and Robert F. Worth from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris.


[His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal's ostentatious home at 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family's appetite for western trophy assets.]

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his family have amassed a fortune estimated at $70 billion according to analysis by Middle East experts poll by the London Guardian. And very little of that stash is kept in his own country, they say. Much of his wealth is in British and Swiss banks or tied up in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and along expensive tracts of the Red Sea coast.

How does a dictator get so rich? Over 30 years as president, and before that a senior military officer, allowed Mubarak has access to the oligarchs who control much of the investment capital in
Egypt’s very closed, highly bureaucratic system. Investment deals have generated hundreds of millions of pounds in profits for Mubarak. Most of those gains have been taken offshore and deposited in secret bank accounts or invested in up-market homes and hotels.

According to a report last year in the Arabic newspaper Al Khabar, Mubarak has properties in
Manhattan and exclusive Beverly Hills addresses on Rodeo Drive.

His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal's ostentatious home at
28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family's appetite for western trophy assets.

Amaney Jamal, a political science professor at
Princeton University
, told the Guardian that the estimate of $40 billion to $70 billion was comparable with the vast wealth of leaders in other Gulf countries.

"The business ventures from his military and government service accumulated to his personal wealth," she told ABC news. "There was a lot of corruption in this regime and stifling of public resources for personal gain.

"This is the pattern of other Middle Eastern dictators so their wealth will not be taken during a transition. These leaders plan on this."