In the past two weeks, Egyptian protesters have jumped through a number of social barriers. At first it was simply a matter of apprehension. Could civilians really take the streets? Certainly past attempts have been met with harsh force and numerous arrests. But this time something was different. Instead of protests slowly losing momentum, this one only seemed to be gaining it.
Somewhere around day four, after standing in front of water hoses, shouldering police beatings and numbers only swelling, an inexplicable point of no return took place. It became clear as protesters ripped down Mubarak posters and chanted slogans to a dwindling police force that they had gone and changed history. The January 25th Movement (also referred to as the Day of Rage) left almost the entire globe safe within the knowledge that Egypt would never be the same.
Yet it wasn’t until the 28th that President Hosni Mubarak finally decided to address the crowd. As his national headquarters smoldered in the distance, he assured the skeptical public that he had heard their concerns. He promised to dismiss the entire government and appoint new roles within the system. There was a pause. Oh but of course he’d be staying on as President. It was just the parliament, often accused of being tucked firmly into his back pocket anyway, that was going. This only succeeded in enraging the people further as they repeated their one and only demand: Get out, Mubarak.
Hosni Mubarak had come into power nearly thirty nears prior. A respected air force commander, he had at first won the appreciation and adoration of the country. He helped build roads where there were none, finance schools where once entire villages were illiterate and brought a level of prosperity to the country.
Yet, as these situations so often play out, while Mubarak was unendingly elected with unbelievable majorities more and more people began “˜disappearing’ and coming back bearing the scars of torture. Opposition groups, no matter how non-violent, were prohibited and arrested at record rates. Censorship and social stagnation continued to worsen as the unemployment and poverty lines brought the country further down. There have been a number of mass protests in Egypt’s past but they were mainly concentrated and put down quite easily. None had been quite this large nor any spurred on by a pan-Arab democracy movement. In Tahrir Square, the base camp of the pro-democracy protesters, the crowds held their ground.
On February 1st Mubarak, after days of silence amidst his countries continued chaos, finally took to the airwaves again. When it was first announced Mubarak would make a statement yells of excitement tore through the crowd at Tahrir Square. Would he finally announce his resignation?
No. Instead he announced that next September he would not run again for President. Egyptians can read between those lines to the fact that this would give him six solid months so seek revenge on those who revolted against him, those who had embarrassed him on an international level. His speech continued on a long self-serving diatribe about how he had spent a good sixty years in service of the homeland. How hard he worked to keep such long-lasting stability that extremist opposition groups were now trying to destroy. He insisted that these violent riots were not for the good of the country, but that he alone had its best intentions of the nation at heart. Then, in what can only be considered a reference to Tunisia’s former leader, he announced that he would “die upon Egyptian soil.”
Shouts of discontent roared through the crowd as the protesters resolve seemed to only increase. Demonstrators planned to continue onward but a new development was on its way. Out of nowhere pro-Mubarak “˜protesters’ started showing up around Cairo. First in just the hundreds but soon those ranks began to swell. After almost eight days of mostly peaceful protest, Molotov cocktails were now raining down on the people in Tahrir Square These pro-Mubarak “˜protesters’, somehow armed with guns, an endless supply of bullets, camels and horses, rode into crowds shooting and beating the pro-democracy groups. Later, it came to almost nobodies shock when State Security ID’s and State Police weapons were found on a number of pro-Mubarak “˜demonstrators’. Proving the fears of pro-democracy groups correct, it seems Mubarak has set out to slaughter them into submission.
A number of news agencies covering Egypt also found themselves in a precarious situation. Reports flooded in as Western and regional correspondents were arrested, beaten, had their equipment stolen, and hotel rooms ransacked. One group was actually chased down the street by Pro-Mubarak thugs and you could hear their voices shaking as they took cover in a nearby hotel.
On February 3rd, Christine Amanpour, well regarded worldwide for her amazing journalistic abilities, somehow managed to score the very first sit down interview with Mubarak. A President, who couldn’t be bothered to address his own country more than twice during two weeks of protests and violence, was willing to chat with ABC.
First the man spared no time in pointing to long-banned opposition groups as the main culprits. Instead of listening to the chants of the millions who had taken to the street, he simply pointed towards the Muslim Brotherhood–a group that hardly has consistent support throughout Egypt–as the nefarious force trying to destabilize (there’s that word again) Egypt. He went on to complain about how very tiered he was at working so hard for the country, pointing to his years of sacrifice and success. Yet, he insisted he still cared too much to leave. That’s right, if he were to step down at this point, chaos would befall his beloved country. A somewhat outlandish statement given the fact that Cairo’s chaos is a direct result of his governance.
It is, almost a little tragic to see a man so far removed from his countries realities. No doubt thirty years of being surrounded by a team of yes men will do that to a person. Still, all one has to do is look to the live feeds of Tahrir to see what is really going on. Armies are jockeying for peaceful resolutions, police keep waxing and waning, rain falls; the nights get cold and it still the protesters stay on demanding that Mubarak leave.
While still clinging to office Mubarak has been making one insignificant concession after another. The leadership of his party (The NDP) was dissolved and he’s appointed a Vice President named Omar Suleiman who has, in Mubarak’s words, “started a dialogue with the opposition.” But one cannot help but be skeptical of all of these micro-dispensations. After all, if the government is providing bullets to pro-Mubarak thugs, it’s hard to imagine what kind of conversations the opposition could possibly want to have.
In the coming weeks it is likely we’ll see Mubarak try and dodge the bullet that is snaking its way towards the Presidential Palace. He is still trying to save face and pretend as though he still holds some semblance of authority in the country. There is no doubt that the final labor pains of change are far from over. There will be a brand new set of hurdles to overcome if Mubarak leaves. Yet it’s hard to imagine the cities of Egypt getting back to normal while he refuses to budge.
Mubarak could have gone down in history as the man who helped Egypt climb up from poverty. He could have been referred to as the leader who, decorated and distinguished, fought for a good two terms to bring education and liberation to the people of such an ancient land. Instead he will go down in history as most deposed leaders do, with a pitiful mix of contempt and resentment. Meanwhile, Arab dictators to the left and the right of him shudder ominously.