It’s clear now that Hosni Mubarak’s promises for reform yesterday was about as authentic as that awful hair dye job the 82-year-old dictator insists on maintaining. He has now declared war on the protesters calling for him to leave, sending in waves of thugs and uniform-less security forces to rain Molotov cocktails on them, charge them and beat them.
And while there have been more deaths and hundreds of casualties, it’s been a decidedly shoddy operation from Mubarak, whose handling of these protests has, from all perspectives, been astonishingly clumsy. His thugs this morning were unable to drive protesters from Tahrir Square, with the latter quickly adapting, forming barricades and sourcing their own petrol for Molotov cocktails. Some pro-Mubarak thugs have been caught and their police ID held up for all to see. Some of those charging on camels have been pulled off and beaten. And the targeting of journalists seems perfectly designed to increase Western attention on Egypt. You can kill dozens of locals without attracting too much attention, but beat a Western journalist, and look out.
The Egyptian military remains standing by, doing virtually nothing to intervene on either side, merely urging protesters to go home.
By unleashing this new wave of violence on demonstrations that have until now been remarkably peaceful, Mubarak is tempting a bloody fate for his regime. The Egyptian military may not let a Ceauşescu scenario unfold, but the millions who have participated in these protests will lose any rationale for restraint if Mubarak continues to wage war on them.
Right from the start of these protests, in Tunisia back in December, the Obama Administration — allegedly supportive of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, and ostensibly au fait with the social media tools that have facilitated the protests — has had the look of a confused old gent watching a riot. It has continually had to play catch-up with events on the ground, starting by issuing inane calls for restraint, then standing by helplessly as their client regimes were submerged beneath a wave of popular anger, before belatedly moving to recognise what was going on.
Astonishingly, they have even been left behind by the Right in the US. It’s not merely John McCain — with whom the President has apparently recently had a rapprochement — who has called on Mubarak to step down. What’s left of American neoconservativism, seeing an opportunity to belatedly vindicate (anti-refudiate?) George W. Bush’s Middle East democracy agenda have begun backing regime change, despite of the hysteria from Tel Aviv. ABC Newsradio listeners would have heard the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin yesterday strongly backing regime change and calling on the Obama Administration to demand Mubarak leave immediately.
Admittedly, the Obama Administration doesn’t look quite as absurd as the discredited and disgraced Tony Blair, who overnight emerged unbidden to declare Mubarak “immensely courageous and a force for good”.
But its failure to think ahead, its unwillingness to accept that its client regime is about to go under, its inability to make the basic connection that even its conservative opponents are making, have all undoubtedly helped the Mubarak regime believe it can tough out the demonstrations by use of force.
If Mubarak’s war on his own people widens, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will have to consider what role they played, however indirectly, in encouraging it with their inept and slow-witted response.
If they want to really catch up, they need to personally and publicly call for Mubarak and his torturing, murdering vice-president Omar Suleiman to go immediately, or watch the massive flow of military aid to Egypt stop dead. And while they’re at it, an apology to the people of Egypt for propping up this regime for so long might start to ameliorate the clear and justified sense of grievance of Egyptians towards Washington.