There seem to be three reliable themes in western coverage of the Egyptian protests. One is to portray it all as chaos – even anarchy, which is more or less what we got from the Australian media over the weekend and today, despite evidence that it is government agents and plainclothes carrying out much of the looting and property destruction, while ordinary Egyptians put in place their own security patrols to protect their communities.

A second is a version of the “Great Man” school of history, that focuses on the role of prominent figures like Mohamed Elbaradei , an altogether easier narrative to describe than to try to understand the causes of a series of protests that have been genuinely popular in nature.

The third is that reliable stalwart of the last 30 years, fear of “Islamism”, the conviction that without western-aligned dictators, Islamic fundamentalists stand ready to turn the Middle East into a giant version of Iran. This has persisted in Egypt in spite of the reluctance of the Muslim Brotherhood to initially support the protests.

While such errors might be forgivable in the media, tragically they seemed to have formed the basis of the attitude of Western governments to the Middle East for generations.

Belatedly, on Friday and the weekend, the Obama Administration finally worked out that its position of implicit support for the regime of Hosni Mubarak – “not a dictator”, according to Vice-President Biden, and leader of a “stable” government according to Secretary of State Clinton – had been painfully exposed. Secretary Clinton’s call for an “orderly transition” to a more open Egypt recognizes, although does not admit openly, that Mubarak’s time is up.

Strangely, Julia Gillard didn’t seem to get the memo. Yesterday she was still maintaining an absurd line of equivalence between the brutal forces of the Mubarak Government and the protestors, “calling on everybody to exercise calm and restraint.”

As he did with Wikileaks, Kevin Rudd had already carved out a more intelligent position, demanding that the Egyptian Government exercise restraint. Rudd noted that Mubarak’s departure was a matter for Egyptians, but “plainly changes must occur. That is transparent to anybody who is observing events in Egypt at present.”

If nothing else, events in Tunisia and Egypt, and most likely other countries in the region in coming days, will at long last make Western governments pay attention to what the people of the Middle East actually want.