When Robert Gibbs says “fluid situation”, you say “heavy armor rolling through Cairo”

Tanks and APCs moving near Tahrir square in downtown Cairo.

If you were worried that the Obama administration wasn’t “monitoring” the “fluid situation” going on in Egypt, then Robert Gibbs’ press conference should have freed you from such worries. Otherwise you were probably quite disappointed in the confused and disoriented responses Gibbs gave to the barrage of (surprisingly decent) questions posed by the White House press corps.

It can get confusing some times.

Meanwhile, heavy armor in the form of tanks and APCs have been moving through downtown Cairo towards numerous strategic locations. I don’t want to spam lots of updates on here but I thought I’d share some great places on the internet to follow these historical events in Egypt.

If you are sitting at your computer, then really the only TV you should be watching is Al-Jazeera English’s (AJE) live stream. Don’t waste your time on CNN/FOX/MSNBC, and don’t be off-put by any negative emotions you may attach to the Al-Jazeera name. AJE broadcasts high-quality, in-depth, grown-up programming that demands your respect.

The UK’s Guardian has been live-blogging the events and has been on the ball all morning and afternoon providing a steady stream of news reports, tweets, and blog posts.

Mother Jones has a nice post up that they’ve been updating since the original protests started on Tuesday. The first part of the post has some interesting background and context for these events. Scroll down to the bottom for the most recent updates.

If you just love to read tweets, the #Egypt and #Jan25 tags are flooded with updates from all over. For a more controlled diet of twitter updates, stick with some of the people like @bencnn, @abuaardvark, @SultanAlQassemi, and @PomedWire.

Nothing says freedom of expression like getting hit with some good old ‘Merican tear gas.

Egyptian protester shows an al-Arabiyah reporter a tear-gas canister marked "Made in USA".

At the same time Hillary Clinton was calling for the Egyptian government to allow its people to protest peacefully, Mubarak’s regime was out tear-gassing the protestors with American-manufactured tear gas courtesy of US Government-facilitated arms sales. It is quite possibly the best symbol of why the Egyptian and wider Arab population have such a love-hate relationship with America. You can’t make up for 30 years of providing substantial military and financial support to an autocratic regime and expect to make up for it with a few pithy press conferences. Whose side do you think the Egyptian protester in the street is going to think we are on when, in the middle of a protest, he leans down and picks up a tear gas canister stamped “Made in the USA”? When it comes to our support for the yearnings of an Egyptian population calling out for change, actions speak louder than words … and in the past our silence has been deafening. Maybe that will start to change?

Speaks for itself.

Brief Summary on American Arms Sales to Egypt

Al Jazeera: Muhammad al-Barad’i: “Husni Mubarak’s Regime is Teetering”

Note: As the protests in Egypt continue into their second day, I decided to post these remarks from the leading Egyptian opposition figure, Muhammad al-Barad’i. Egypt has had many opposition leaders over the years, but none have had such a highly respected and global presence as al-Barad’i, who was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997-2009. He is most well-known for his work with Hans Blix on the WMD inspection teams that were in Iraq until the American invasion in 2003, as well as the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. He also won the Nobel Peace prize in 2005. After leaving the IAEA in 2009, there has been much speculation as to whether or not he might run for President in 2011 as he is an Egyptian citizen by birth.

Historically Husni Mubarak has been able to squash any opponents using physical intimidation and wide-spread corruption at polling centers but al-Barad’i’s international visibility would make it much harder for Mubarak to pull off such a campaign and harder for Western governments to ignore. (Of course we did pretty good job of ignoring Afghanistan President Karzai’s ballsy act of rigging the 2010 elections in his favor, so who knows?) It remains to be seen whether or not the events of the past few days will lead to a full-scale revolution like the one in Tunisia last week, or if it will just be a short-lived outburst like the massive protests in Iran after the 2009 elections.

I also included the following links with more updates on the situation in Egypt:

The New York Times – Protesters in Egypt Defy Ban as Government Cracks Down

Foreign Policy – Will the Arab Revolutions Spread?, Day of Rage (Pictures), You’re So Vain, You Probably Think These Protests are About You

al-Jazeera (عربية) – Egyptians Break Through the Barrier of Fear, Protests Continue in Egypt as the Death Toll Rises, Internet is Blocked in Egypt and Websites are Taken Down



al-Barad'i: "The Muslim Brotherhood has distanced themselves from violence for half a century and have focused on reforms and changes instead of focusing on gaining power."
The Egyptian opposition leader and former General Secretary for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad al-Barad’i stated that, “The time for change by way of the ballot box has to come an end in Egypt as Husni Mubarak has closed all the doors to reform and a peaceful transfer of authority. As such, taking to the street is the only way now to realize the aspirations of the people.”

al-Barad’i told the German weekly, Der Spiegel, that Egyptians have been protesting in greater numbers for the first time, “As a result of the collapse of the “culture of fear” that President Husni Mubarak’s regime has kept alive his entire time in power.” He expressed that the increasing protests in Egypt are an indication of a historic turning point, “As Egyptians come to realize that their fate is in their own hands and not in anyone else’s.”

He added, “The Egyptian regime has refused in the past and continues to refuse all calls for reform, they are completely disconnected from the reality their people are living in and can’t even look [around them] or hear [the pleas for reform]. I have warned Mubarak of the consequences of waiting for these issues to come to a head … the time has come for him to pay the price.”

Conditions for Success

al-Barad’i likened the recent Egyptian protests to an unstoppable snowball rolling down and gaining momentum. He added, “Husni Mubarak’s regime is teetering and is extremely fearful and tense in light of the recent events in Tunisia, while it simultaneously tries to portray indifference to the Egyptians that have recently committed self-immolation protesting their living conditions in all areas of life.

al-Barad’i indicated that, “The only way for the Egyptian regime to stay alive and rescue itself from a fate like the one that befell its counterpart in Tunis is for Mubarak to remove himself from nomination for a new term as President, to issue a new constitution, to call for new free elections, and to cancel the “State of Emergency” that has been imposed on the country for the past 29 years.
He holds the view that the revolution in Tunis represented a precursor to the possibility of a “spring of change” in the Arab world in which Egypt plays a leading role. In al-Barad’i’s opinion, Egyptians’ requests for bread and more individual rights is only natural in a country where 40% of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

He pointed out that, “The main difference between the conditions in Tunis and the conditions in Egypt is the presence of a broad middle class in Tunis which Egypt doesn’t have. Poverty and anger will play a main role in any possibly popular uprising.”

Defending the Muslim Brotherhood

al-Barad’i stated that it is possible that Egypt now stands on the precipice of a coming phase of instability, and he called on Mubarak and his security apparatus to respect the people’s universal right to protest, saying that, “Change is coming and no one will be able to stop it.”

He also responded to a question about his opinion on Israel’s fear of a collapse of the situation in Egypt and many Israeli’s concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood would gain power and launch a war on the Jewish state. [al-Barad’i] called for, “An end to the demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood and the [false] idea of a choice between either the oppression of Husni Mubarak’s regime or the chaos of a narrow-minded religious government.

He went on to clarify that the Muslim Brotherhood has distanced themselves from violence for half a century and have focused on reforms and changes instead of focusing on gaining power. He added, “If we want to establish a free, democratic system, in Egypt, then we must include the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process instead of distancing them from it.”

Al Jazeera: Demonstrations break out in Egypt on a “day of anger”


Demonstrators were out in dozens of places in Cairo and Egypt's biggest cities
Responding to calls by activists on the social networking site “Facebook”, demonstrations and marches broke out in the capital city of Cairo and a number of [Egyptian] provinces in what is being called “a day of anger” coinciding with the celebration of Police Day, a [national] holiday.

In an event that hasn’t happened for more that three decades, hundreds of protestors from various areas in Cairo began to [march] and were joined by thousands of people in protests that have rocked dozens of different cities across Egypt.

In downtown Cairo, a crowd of thousands of protestors broke through the security barriers and marched in past the Supreme Court building as they headed towards the main Tahrir square. Amongst the protestors were tens of former members of parliament who echoed chants against the Egyptian regime.

Other demonstrations broke out in Ruksi square in the neighborhood of New Cairo, as well as in front of the headquarters of the Doctors’ and Lawyers’ professional unions. At the same time, other demonstrations from other areas were moving towards Tahrir square in the heart of Cairo where it was [estimated] that more than 20,000 people were protesting by the afternoon.

The Reuters news agency said that protestors in front of the Supreme Court building in Cairo were calling for the fall of President Husni Mubarak. They echoed chants aimed at [Mubarak’s] son, Gamal, saying: “Hey Gamal, tell your dad, ‘All of the people hate you’.”

[Reuters] added that the protests today represented a test of how effective activists can be in transforming their messages on the internet into a reality in the street.

The youth of the “April 6th” [group], who played a large role in calling for the demonstration, said that security forces arrested a number of activists and journalists who were covering the demonstrations that have extended to a number of areas outside of Cairo, especially in Alexandria, Asyut, al-Mansurah, and al-Mahallah al-Kubra.

Security Presence

One of the organizers of the demonstrations stated that security forces arrested 15 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were waiting for a signal to go and demonstrate.

Various areas [within Cairo] have been under a thick security presence while other cities such as al-Muhallah al-Kubra, an industrial city that has been the scene of a number of the most prominent protests over the past years, have seen beefed up checkpoints at the entrances and exits to the city. [These measures] seek to prevent the arrival of activists who intended to lead the protests there.

The National Assembly for Change has already issued a report for this occasion in which it says that today the Egyptian populace is knocking on the door of freedom, dignity, and justice. It [also] expressed that it was sorry that Police Day had come and that the [security] apparatus had been transformed into, “A private police force whose mission is limited to using oppression and torture to protect those in the government as well as their families and attendants.”

The report noted that the Tunisian populace rose up under similar circumstances and proved that any governing regime that uses violence, oppression, and intimidation [to maintain control], as well as one that places severe restrictions on the freedom of expression, will collapse the moment that there is an outburst of public anger.

Rescuing Egypt

The National Assembly for Change emphasized that, “The only way to rescue Egypt from a future fraught with great danger is to meet the desires of the people and respond immediately to their requests which are: Rescind emergency law, dissolve the rigged parliamentary councils, and hold free and fair elections according to international standards to form a transitional government until the time that the constitution can be amended.”

Likewise, [another] Egyptian movement for change, “Kafayah”, issued a report saying that it, “Senses the seriousness of what may result from Egypt’s conditions … from political gridlock, social congestion, corruption that destroys the country’s wealth, to forgery of the [legitimacy?] of the authorities, tyranny that crushes basic freedoms and brutalizes the poor, unemployed, and sick.” It went on to call for all efforts to be directed at continuing the public’s struggle and advancing towards a peaceful civil disobedience and revolution.
Kafayah enumerated its demand to shut down the current government and get rid of resident Husni Mubarak and his regime, as well as to dissolve the rigged parliamentary councils and clear the way for a transitional government with a new president and national unity coalition.

They also called for an end to the state of emergency, the dissolution of the National Security apparatus called the “Mubahath”, the immediate release of all political prisoners and detainees, the liberation of journalists and political entities as well as the unions and assemblies, the guarantee to allow society the freedom of demonstrate and protest peacefully, the guarantee of independence for all judges, the [1m] of all phases and types of elections and general referendums, and prosecution of those responsible for crimes of forgery and torture.

In that regard, Kafayah called for a halt to the privatization program, and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, as well as for a stop to exports of oil to Israel and a cancellation of Egypt’s peace agreement with [Israel].

Note: Here are some Arabic links to the two Egyptian reform movements listed in the article as well as the Facebook page mentioned in the article. I also included a link to a a few English articles with more information regarding the events in Egypt.

National Assembly for Change (Arabic) – http://www.taghyeer.net/

Kafayah (Arabic) – http://www.harakamasria.org/

Facebook (Arabic) – Day of Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption, and Unemployment

New York Times – Broad Protests Across Egypt Focus Fury on Mubarak

Boing Boing – Protests inspired by Tunisia and fanned by social media break out all over

Andrew Sullivan – Social Networking Strikes Again, An Arab Tipping Point?, Egypt Erupting


Days 6 & 7: Joshua Tree National Park, California (Happy New Year!)

Self-portrait courtesy of our Honda's tilted hood.

We woke up Saturday morning and headed over to listen to a chat about coyotes after I whipped up some gourmet instant oatmeal for breakfast. The park ranger chatted for an hour or so and then we left for a moderate hike up to Mastadon Peak, with an optional rock scramble up to the summit. It was a fun trail that wandered through all sorts of funky rock formations, dry creek beds, and even an old gold ore mine. We then meandered down to an oasis called Cottonwood Springs that was full of these massive towering palm trees crowding around a small spring. Wandering around in the desert, even on a relatively safe blazed trail, the lack of water is disconcerting. Asides from the one spring and some water fountains at the welcome center, there is absolutely no water, anywhere. You crave water just staring at the unending waves of brown brush and sand.
Holly trekking through a desert wash.

There she is again, I think she is following me.

Minecraft, lulz. (This will make sense to very few people.)

Mastadon Peak. The scramble to the summit follows the broken rock up to the right.

Looking out over the high desert.

Cottonwood Springs Oasis.

Yet another dry creek bed.

Campsite 13B, Cottonwood Campgrounds. Our home away from home!

Zoom Zoom. Most of Los Angelas' eastbound flights pass over Joshua Tree, the sky is constantly crisscrossed with jet contrails.

Later that day we headed over to the northwest corner of the park where most of the rock-climbing the park is famous for is located, along with the park’s namesake tree, the Joshua Tree.
The ever-present Joshua Tree.

It's hard to make out, but there are some rock climbers rappelling off the small rock spire to the center-right.

After stargazing last night, we got up this morning and packed up our camp to move closer to the rock-climbing area to do some easy bouldering tomorrow, weather permitting. We spent today doing laundry and getting showers in town and hanging out at some of the local quirky joints, like the Crossroads Cafe.

Mileage: ~2300 miles driven.

Day 5: Arizona, California!

Gooooooood morning Arizona.

One detail we missed on our late-night drive into Arizona was how beautiful the Arizona mountains are. They would be a constant companion with us as we drove up through Tuscon and Pheonix over to California, and they were quite stunning. On a random sidenote, Willcox, AZ has the most quirky, eclectic, and hip radio station we’ve listened to our whole trip. It was literally the only radio station we could get, so it’s good that it was worth listening to.

I’ll be honest, we didn’t pay much attention to Arizona as we were looking forward to crossing into California too much. It passed by as we listened to quite a few This American Life episodes on NPR, and before we could believe it we were crossing into the Pacific Time Zone and California!
California doesn't have a welcome center, just a place to inspect your fruit and veggies. There is a joke in there somewhere.

Eastern California is pretty barren.

We pulled off to chillax for a bit and tighten down webbing that had started to flap noisily on the bike rack.

From there it was off to Joshua Tree National Park, where we would spend the next few days in the high desert doing some camping and hiking.
Setting up the tent.

Holly decorated our tent in preparation for the evening festivities.

We were pretty zonked, so we ended up celebrating the east coast’s new years at 9pm PST and then promptly went to sleep. The temperatures dropped into freezing during the night so there wasn’t much incentive to get out of our toasty sleeping bags at midnight.

Mileage: ~2250 miles driven.