Holed up in Sharm el-Sheikh, Hosni Mubarak is not the only one to be taken by surprise at the strength, anger, and speed of the January 25 uprising. The US alliance and its tame punditocracy -- that rag-tag bunch of neo-cons, Western civ suprematists and desperate ex-leftists -- have also had trouble coming to terms with the destabilisation of one of the US's major allies and clients.

Having spent the past decade talking incessantly about the democratisation of the Middle East, throwing off old structures, etc, etc, the spectacle of a genuine mass uprising, unaided and unsupported by external powers, left them speechless. Only after the Egyptian populace had been defying curfews, beatings and worse for two days, did they come out with a determined and concerted statement of ... "um".