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|Subject: Egypt protests: Mubarak shows his dark side Wed Feb 02, 2011 10:15 pm|| |
Hosni Mubarak supporters ride horses during a clash between pro- and
Egypt protests: Mubarak shows his dark side
The counter-revolutionary message to the people from an unvanquished, still vicious regime is: it's over – go home, or else
Hosni Mubarak launched his counter-revolution today, sending waves of
armed thugs to do battle with pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo and
other cities. The attacks, reportedly involving plainclothes police and
vigilantes as well as pro-regime citizens, appeared to be carefully
co-ordinated and timed. And the army, which only days earlier had sworn
to protect "legitimate" rights of protesters, stood back and watched as
the blood flowed.
This ugly turn of events should come as no surprise. What is unusual is
that the regime tolerated such levels of unrest for nearly a week.
Mubarak was never quite a dictator in the Saddam Hussein or Robert
Mugabe mould. His rule was more akin to the semi-enlightened despotism
of an 18th-century European monarch. But at bottom, it always depended
on coercion and force. Today, the pretence of reasonableness was torn
away. His dark side showed for all to see.
Mubarak's speech to the nation on Tuesday night was widely
misinterpreted. The president was, by turns, angry, defiant and
unrepentant. He offered no apologies, proposed no new initiatives, gave
no promise that his son Gamal would not succeed him, and instead
lectured Egyptians on the importance of order and stability (which he
alone could assure).
He appeared not to have learned anything from the past week. And his one
"concession" – that he would not seek re-election – was no concession
at all. After all, he had never said he would.
This was not the performance of a defeated man. Mubarak may be down but
he's not out. And judging by today's events in Tahrir Square, he and the
military-dominated clique around him clearly feel they have done
enough, for now, to get the Americans off their backs, flex their still
considerable muscle, and reclaim the streets for the regime. All the
talk about reform and elections and negotiations can wait, whatever
Barack Obama says.
Today's immediate message to the people from an unvanquished, still vicious regime: it's over – go home, or else.
There's a good to middling chance the counter-revolution strategy will
work, given time. "Imagine yourself as Hosni Mubarak, master of Egypt
for nearly 30 years. You're old, unwell, detested and addicted to
power," wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens.
"You could have orchestrated a graceful exit by promising to preside
over free and fair presidential elections later this year – elections in
which the Mubarak name would not be on the ballot. Instead you gambled
that you could ride out the protests and hold on. It's a pretty good
Reasons for believing Mubarak can not only survive the next eight months
but also exert decisive, possibly fatally obstructive influence over
Egypt's new direction are plentiful. As matters stand now, the regime is
unreconstructed, the opposition is split, and the Americans are
undecided. Despite his insistence on a swift, orderly transition, Obama
has not withdrawn his personal support. In Brussels today, the EU also
declined to demand Mubarak's immediate resignation. David Cameron said
reforms must be implemented faster.
All of them got a dusty brush-off. In an official statement, the
Egyptian foreign ministry, still led by an old Mubarak crony, Ahmed
Aboul Gheit, rejected US and European calls for the transition to start
now. Calls from "foreign parties" were "aimed to incite the internal
situation," it said. In other words: get lost.
Mubarak and his close confidant and deputy, Omar Suleiman, have more
cards to play as they foment a backlash and seek to regain control. As
in the past, they can play on Israeli and American fears of an Islamist
takeover. They can point out just how disastrous it might be if a new
government tore up Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
The opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei can easily be portrayed as
untrustworthy. In fact, such a campaign is already under way. The
Americans, for example, suspected him of pro-Iranian bias when he headed
the UN's nuclear watchdog – and believe, too, that he is far too cosy
with Turkey's neo-Islamist leaders.
As he tries to reassert his primacy, Mubarak can rely on the
conservative Arab states of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria,
and on any number of African governments that have no wish to encourage
popular revolution. Even old enemy Iran is privately ambivalent on this
He can offer negotiations to the opposition and hope to gain advantage
from their refusal, so far, to participate. And if all this fails, the
regime can always let loose its thugs and hooligans, just to emphasise
that without state-imposed order, only chaos, not democracy, reigns.
Mubarak's counter-revolution is still a long shot. Too much has changed
in Egypt for it ever to go back the way things were. But today saw the
beginning of a new stage in a complex internal struggle whose ultimate
outcome remains deeply uncertain.