When the pro-Mubarak protestors appeared on the streets yesterday they were a comical sight. The small crowd near the Egyptian TV building (so obviously a propaganda set-up) were surrounded and outnumbered by police. It was as if they were trying to remind Egyptians what a traditional demonstration should look like. It was a vision from a previous age, but not quite authentic because the police didn’t break any heads.
Last night Mubarak announced he would step down at the next election. In his last months in power he would arrange an orderly transition of power. This is the ‘managed’ change that Tony Blair, Obama and Netanyahu want. In other words, the survival of the regime, under the torturer and sadist Omar Suleiman if not under Mubarak, co-existing with an impotent parliament which would emerge from slightly-less-rigged elections.
The enormous crowds in Maydan Tahreer, Alexandria, Suez, Mahalla al-Kubra and elsewhere met Mubarak’s speech with howls of derision. But by this morning it seems that the regime has succeeeded in splitting the democracy movement. The hardcore are entirely aware of the threat to the revolution, and will not retreat. Those who are less politically conscious, however, feel that they’ve won a victory and should now go home, lest chaos ensues.
This has been Mubarak’s argument: without me, chaos. It’s certainly true that Egypt needs a resolution soon. The already precarious economy has been on hold for over a week and basic food supplies are running low. Until this morning it seemed regime strategy was to exhaust the revolution.
But now the regime is speeding things up, by engineering chaos. Interior ministy goons masquerading as ‘pro-Mubarak protestors’ have poured into Maydan Tahreer, many on horse and camel back, armed with whips, machetes and sticks. Gunfire has been heard. The army is doing absolutely nothing to protect the people. Earlier today an army spokesman on state TV told the revolutionaries to go home. Old men, women and children are amongst the crowd in Maydan Tahreer. This is going to be very bloody indeed.
The Egyptians know that their peaceful democratic revolution, their remarkably responsible and intelligent mass movement, is being crushed by America and Israel as much as by Mubarak’s dictatorship. I will make a prediction: if this revolution fails, America will face an unprecedented wave of Arab anger, and Egypt will be plagued by violence from now on. The Muslim Brothers who have escaped from prison, for instance, know that their fate in the coming weeks is to be rearrested and tortured to death. They will fight.
Today there is still everything to hope for. Today is the day we in the West should be doing everything we can – calling our MPs and Congressmen, demonstrating outside US embassies – to support the revolutionaries. If Obama cut money transfers to the regime and ordered Mubarak and his whole regime to go, this could stop soon.
Meanwhile the heroes and heroines stand in Cairo. On the one hand, the people; on the other Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, the heads of the army, the business interests, Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel. Bloodbath.
Here’s a prayer from Nazim Hikmet: “The people, who are plentiful as ants on the ground as fish in the sea as birds in the sky, who are cowardly, courageous, ignorant, supreme and childlike, it is they who crush and create, it is but their exploits sung in songs.”