As millions of Egyptians make Tahrir Square the epicentre oftheir revolution, their detested old dictator hangs on to power, but the clock is ticking fast and as the tech-savy would tweet to him, "game over".
Watching close to two million Egyptians crowd in to Tahrir (Liberation) Square and spill out to its side streets is truly mesmerizing, and given the speed of events over the last week of demonstrations, their commitment looks set to signal the true beginning of the end for the brutal, dictatorial Mubarak regime.
A critical point for the momentum of the call for democracy came when the army publicly declared the ‘Tiananmen option’ to be off the table. The people were already showing sure signs of having lost their fear. Knowing their army would not shoot them down breathed a new life into their cause, and so they throng the streets around the country in numbers unimaginable just a few days ago.
Once a people loses its collective fear of a hated dictatorship, that fear can not be easily re-injected. They have produced the critical mass and with that a reality that so far runs ahead of Mubarak.
As the 82-year-old whom Wikileaks revealed as having no time for idealistic goals is shredded of his legitimacy which his own army has bequeathed to the people’s cries. Legitimacy, that crucial element in the right of a regime to rule, can not now be reestablished in an administration that has ruled by fear, corruption and oppression for longer than many of the demonstrators have been alive.
The tipping point has arrived.
The protesters on Egypt’s streets are an extraordinary mix of young and old, religions and none, doctors and street vendors, women in full niqab next to those in tight jeans and children raised high on the shoulders of their fathers. They are draped in their national flag not the flags of Islamists, and increasingly their banners are written in English, German and French as they appeal to the outside world to heed their plight.
Mubarak may have shut down the Internet and stopped public transport in an effort to minimize the ability of people to group together and get their message out, but so far he has failed -miserably.
Google and Twitter have produced a new link for the tech savvy masses to get their message out – Google seemingly having found courage to confront Egypt as opposed to China. As an aside, China has blocked the word ‘Egypt’ from all internet searches. What does that tell you!
As for the reactions of other governments, the semantics have been teetering on the abyss of ridiculous as each tries to make sure they will end up on the right side of history when Tahrir Square is eventually emptied.
The Obama administration is in possibly the hottest vat of oil as it tries to champion the audacity of hope while wearing no clothes due to the US ongoing practice of supporting brutal old autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa when it suits domestic policy.
Watching breathless interviews with Americans as they returned home having been rescued from Egypt adds colour to the dilemma. Distraught at holidays ruined or cut short they told interviewers of the horror of the demonstrations and the tanks on the streets. They are American which appeared to be code for 'they don’t see that sort of thing at home so it was frightening'. Had they paused for a nano-second and reflected they may have remembered the tanks at Kent State University, or that the machinery of Egypt's huge army is heavily funded by the US, and the reason they possibly don’t see tanks on their home soil so much now is because they are all deployed overseas occupying other people’s countries. Just a thought.
So now Obama has to support the people without directly telling the ‘big man’ to naff off so Egypt can get on with “reform”.
Reform is quite an interesting notion and one that history has treated with regular disdain.
William Safire’s wonderful Political Dictionary includes a definition pertinent to Egypt’s plight – “the creation of a temporarily organized opposition to an administration or party hierarchy based upon its corruption, assumption of privilege, or, in some cases, its refusal to share power with those espousing reform’.
You could be forgiven for thinking this definition is actually that filed under the word ‘Mubarak’.
Safire also includes pretty pessimistic outcomes for reformers and revolutionaries whom history declares do not good governments make, that reformers eventually come down like rockets, that those who are not trained in the art of politics inevitably fail as anyone in any other sort of business, and that the world has witnessed a thousand reforms yet it is still corrupt and abusive.
Can’t say they are valid reasons for maintaining the status quo, although those who benefit from a ‘stable’ Egyptian government, regardless of how it grinds down, batons and imprisons its own people would plead to differ.
Israel is literally trembling in its boots about the unrest on its large shared border.
Together with Rebpulicans in the US, it has invoked the convenient Bogey-man in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood is lying poised to take over Egypt and turn it into an Islamist state a la Iran II. It is worth noting the Brotherhood has about 145,000 members in an Egyptian population of about 84 million. They were encouraged by Sadat in his struggle with hard core leftists and former Nasserites, and then Mubarak worked hard to split them up for his own gains – encouraging some into mainstream politics although not as any ‘official’ opposition – which inevitably pushed others to pursue more militant roles.
Say the Brotherhood, which has been around since 1928, was to take part in any post-Mubarak elections it would be certain to win some seats. That’s how democracy works. Some Egyptians will want the Brotherhood in power, some won’t. Those who do are able to vote for them, those who don’t will vote for others.
Some wanted Obama, others McCain, Key vs Goff, Gillard vs Abbott etc.
A Pew Global Attitudes poll from December 2010 show strongly negative views from Egyptians towards Al Qaeda (72%), but overwhelming support for Islam playing a strong role in politics (95%). Egypt is a religious country but that does not make it an anti-Western country.
But for America and Israel there is the dreadful danger of the democracy that legitimizes their administrations delivering an outcome THEY don’t want in Egypt (and elsewhere). Think Hamas. Hamas was encouraged by the Israelis as a bulwark against Fatah, but it backfired on them big time. In George W. Bush-backed elections in Gaza, Hamas won, and support from the West and its allies like Israel immediately turned feral. Democracy is fine if ‘we’ get the result ‘we’ want, and to hell with the millions in Tahrir Square.
Israel fears the undoing of Mubarak will be the undoing of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. It has always been a cold peace but a treaty nevertheless, and one which caused fellow Arab countries to turn their backs on Egypt at the time of signing. Egypt had for so long under Nasser aimed to be the leader of the Arab world and jeopardised that role significantly by dealing with Israel. Mubarak has arguably played both his Arab neighbours and Israel rather pragmatically, which of course has made him valuable to America...but his time is done.
Israel is now lamenting that other nations are throwing Mubarak to the dogs and that the US in particular has turned its back on one of its most important allies in the Middle East. If Obama can do that to Egypt they cry, what’s to stop him selling Israel overnight too! Never mind that Obama has done no such thing – in fact his deafening silence in the first few days of the demonstrations proves the opposite.
As for Mubarak, he’d be wise to go down the Ben-Ali’s route rather than risk the humiliation of a Ceausescu or Saddam Hussein toppling.
And just to add to the international diplomatic headache, Egyptians have turned out in such force to present such reasonable grievances, they can not be left high and dry. All they want is an end to rampant corruption, an end to the police state and to the 30years of emergency rule (carte blanche for a dictator), and in their place the dignity of work, food and freedom to decide who rules them.
Not much to argue with there.