Night Watch

Egypt: Protests continued for a sixth day in Port Said. Sporadic clashes were reported in Cairo.

Egypt's army chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, speaking to an assembly of cadets, warned that the current political crisis "could lead to a collapse of the state". He also warned that failure to address the country's political and economic challenges could threaten future generations. Unknown persons posted General Sisi's remarks on Facebook.

Comment: General Sisi did not state that Egypt is on the brink of collapse, as many mainstream media reported. In context and after a fuller reading, it is clear his comments were part of cadet indoctrination. They also appear to be non-partisan, applying equally to the government and protestors.

However, in stating the warning, General Sisi distanced himself and the Army from the political turmoil, which was limited today to Port Said and Cairo. He positioned the Army so it cannot be blamed if the government falls and so that it can intervene as a neutral party whose only interest is preventing state collapse, should that become necessary.

What is noteworthy is that he did not give strong support to the Mursi government. The Army is behaving very much as it did during the overthrow of Mubarak. It is protecting buildings and infrastructure, but avoiding the protestors.

Libya: Comment: On the 26th, Milan's Corriere della Sera published an article by an Italian journalist describing conditions in Libya, with special focus on eastern Libya, the region around Benghazi. Excerpts follow.

He wrote that Westerners are leaving eastern Libya. Businessmen, diplomats, and representatives of humanitarian organizations are leaving, along with the technicians who work in the oil industry.

"Rome considers that the Libyan authorities are currently 'incapable of ensuring effective control over the territory' against the Islamic fundamentalist threat. Thus 'travel in eastern, central, and southern Libya is absolutely discouraged unless motivated by stringent professional requirements which cannot opportunely be postponed.'"

Benghazi "is riven by feuding. The security forces are nowhere to be seen. The central government does not exist. The secessionist movement is growing. Garbage is rotting in the streets, and crime and the kidnapping industry are spreading...."

"Darnah, the coastal city nestling at the foot of the 'green mountains' …is now seen as an independent al-Qa'ida republic...."

" 'Al-Qa'ida's road blocks now control the roads in Darnah. They may comprise over 1,000 armed men. Their militia groups are spreading to the villages and they are occupying other cities such as Bayda in an attempt to reach Benghazi,' Libyan intelligence sources told us. The next deadline is the celebrations planned to the mark the second anniversary of the revolution. Violence is expected and terrorist attacks are feared also in Tripoli."

Comment: Darnah and Bayda are east of Benghazi on the coast road to Egypt. In Benghazi 17 February is the anniversary of the first anti-Qadhafi demonstration in 2011. The Italians have closed their consulate.

The Italian journalist suggests that al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is position to take over eastern Libya, including secession from the rest of Libya. That raises a hypothesis that the Mali adventure might partly have been intended to divert attention from developments in Cyrenaica - eastern Libya.

Eastern Libya is lost, if the Italian journalist's report is close to accurate. Expect increased violence.

Mali: Update. Residents of Gao, in eastern Mali, hunted down and beat suspected Islamist extremists who had not fled the town. Malian troops bundled the men into an army truck Tuesday, their hands bound behind their backs.

Comment:  As yet Malian and French authorities have provided almost no details about casualties on either side. The French refuse to embed journalists with their forces.

End of NightWatch ###

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