100 Kenyans due from Egypt Saturday

February 4, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 4 – Nearly 100 Kenyans fleeing violent protests in Egypt are expected to arrive in Nairobi on Saturday.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka said some of them arrived earlier in the week when the government started evacuating its nationals from the crisis-hit country where citizens are demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak\’s 30-year rule.

"KQ is already in Cairo, we asked KQ to just pick any Kenyan who may so wish and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be paying the tickets for them to come back," he said.

"The officers who have been working at the Kenyan embassy are also going to be included in this group, they are about 15 who include their families," he added.

A statement from the Ministry said those expected in the country on Saturday include 84 university students who have been studying in Egypt.

"The mission in Cairo is in contact with the students who are expected to arrive in Nairobi tomorrow (Saturday). Arrangements have been done with Kenya Airways to bring the students home," part of the statement said.

The ministry also urged Kenyans with relatives in Egypt who have not been able to contact them to urgently get in touch the ministry\’s headquarters and consular affairs department headquarters at Harambee Avenue Second Floor, Room 212, Tel 31888 Ext.296 or through email: [email protected]

Mr Onyonka said the government had facilitated the evacuation of all Kenyans living in Egypt to ensure they are not harmed in the on-going violence that started last week.

He said only 14 Kenyans would remain at the embassy with the Kenyan ambassador and his deputy to monitor the situation.

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protestors were still gathered at the Tahrir main square in Cairo waving placards and chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.

AFP reported Friday that the wait-and-see stance of the Egyptian military is raising many questions, but underlining one fact: its role will be decisive regardless of how the ongoing turmoil will end.

Political analysts are scrambling to decipher its sphinx-like conduct. Is it complicit in police brutality? Prudent in the face of a fluid situation? Split at the top of its command structure? Just biding its time?

No lack of questions means "plenty of things are moving within the system and the army," said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defence minister who is also deputy prime minister, personally waded into the unrest at Tahrir square on Friday, saying he wanted to "inspect the situation" first-hand.

He did so a day after US Admiral Mike Mullen, chief of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said he had been "reassured" by the Egyptian army\’s top brass that troops would not open fire on demonstrators.

"The army – meaning its headquarters staff, not the intelligence services – does not want to give the impression of intervening, because it wants to take power," said Imad Gad of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"It is waiting to be asked to do so, in order to be cast as the saviour."

Since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952, all the Egypt\’s presidents – Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat and Mubarak, a former air force commander – have come from the military.

The backbone of a regime to which it remains loyal, the army holds the respect of Egyptians on account of its traditional neutrality during moments of popular unrest and the legacy of the Arab-Israeli wars.

For Tewfik Aclimandos, an egyptologist at the College de France in Paris, saw a number of potential scenarios.

"It could be a splitting of roles following the \’bad cop, good cop\’ model, with the police and the henchmen of the regime attacking demonstrators while the army gives a false image of neutrality," he said.

"The army does not know how to go about policing," having neither the training nor the will to do so, he said, adding that it could prove hard to ask conscripts to open fire on civilians.

The ambivalence of the military could be a reflection of indecision in its own leadership as well as in the government, Aclimandos added.

"They are not getting instructions from the top because the top itself does not know what to do … and although the top does not want to confront the population, it does not want to show the president the door either," he said.

Then again, the army could be simply trying to "gain time" to negotiate an honourable exit for the 82-year-old president and set the conditions for a transition, he added.

General Omar Suleiman, named by Mubarak last week as his first-ever vice president, is well-liked by Americans and Israelis, but as former head of intelligence, he is very much a man of the Mubarak era.

Young officers might prefer to play a larger role in a political transition, rather than stay in the shadows of an old guard so closely linked to a regime that has endured three decades.

The chief of staff, Sami Annan, in regular contact with his US counterparts in recent days, could emerge unscathed. Then again, it could be the besuited prime minister, general Ahmed Shafiq, a former aviation minister, who reassures both the military and business establishment.

The key to which way the army will turn could well be in the hands of the United States and the $1.3 billion in military aid that it extends to Egypt every year.

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