Thousands upon thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square yesterday, many demonstrating for the first time. These women, men, children, bakers, bricklayers, teachers, bus drivers, students, shopkeepers, newspaper sellers, fruit-mongers, lawyers, executives, factory workers, mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and sons all demand an end to the repressive regime that has routinely enforced “stability” by kidnapping, jailing, torturing, and killing its citizens. They insist on greater civil liberties, better education, and greater job opportunities. They demand and end to a regime that has pressured the media to represent its own interests, as opposed to the broader interests of the people. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are protesting across the nation.
Two days ago Mona Shazly, the host of Egypt’s most popular tv- talk-show, rejected the government’s directive to minimize the importance of the protests. She interviewed the young activist and Google executive, Wael Ghonim, who had just been released by the Egyptian authorities, who kidnapped him off the street and held him, blindfolded,in captivity for 12 days.
Mr. Ghonim, humble, passionate, humane, moved thousands of viewers with his sincerity and commitment. ”Please do not make me a hero,” Mr Ghonim said with a trembling voice. ”I want to express my condolences for all the Egyptians who died. We were all down there for peaceful demonstrations. The heroes were the ones on the street.” His voice breaking, he stated, “We love Egypt,” and said, “the hero is everyone of us.” He is a true patriot. “They only motive we had was love for our country.” Mr. Ghonim wept when shown the faces of young protesters killed by Mubarak’s thugs.
Ms. Shazly’s show appeared just after Hosni Mubarak’s government had announced that life was returning to “normal,” and the US government indicated that it would support a “transition” to a new government led by Mubarak’s right-hand man, Vice President Omar Suleiman, and a bunch of ministers who have participated and benefitted from the corrupt establishment that was supposedly on its way out. Mr. Ghonim’s honesty and emotion galvanized the movement and inspired thousands more Egyptians to stand in the streets, calling for the reform of their country.
Do you want to know why US President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have declared their support for Suleiman, who recently stated that the Egyptian people do not “understand the culture of democracy”? A man who cooperated with the Bush administration’s program of torture and illegal rendition of political prisoners? Why has the US backed a man whom the majority of Egyptians despise and revile? Why would the US, which claims to stand for democracy, freedom of expression, and human rights, put its money on a man who has no intention of fostering democracy, freedom, or civil rights?
There are a number of reasons. One is offered by the well-respected Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy:
The Mubarak/Suleiman regime has scared the U.S. administration into buying its story that they are the guarantors of “stability” — for which the freedom and dignity of Egyptians has long been sacrificed. Meanwhile, that same regime foments anti-Americanism via state TV propaganda which portrays pro-democracy demonstrators as agent of the U.S. In other words, it’s back to business as usual between Washington and its strongest ally in the Arab world.
Another reason the US has so far sided with the bad guys in Egypt is because it has crumbled under pressure from other bad guys in the region: the autocratic governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries have reportedly pressed the US to keep Mubarak in power. Each of them worries that the toppling of the Mubarak/Suleiman regime would lead to an outbreak of democracy in their own nations.
Israel has also pressed the US to keep Suleiman in power. In a cable (dated 29 Aug, 2008) released by Wikileaks, the Eyptian Vice President indicated support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Another cable suggests his hostility to Hamas. It could be that the US believes that Suleiman will continue to work towards peace. It is hard to believe that a man notorious for overseeing the interrogation and torture of men kidnapped by the CIA and delivered to Egypt is inclined to adopt peaceful, civilized methods for promoting world harmony.
“We are not activists, and we are not funded by anyone. We just want to say we love this country,” said Mona Shazly as Wael Ghonim cried for the young people who had died while peacefully protesting against the injustice of the Mubarak/Suleiman regime.
The US has seriously miscalculated the situation. So far, it has tolerated Mr. Mubarak’s plan to have sole power to appoint members of a committee to recommend constitutional changes. It appears to be going along with Mr. Suleiman’s decision to keep the 30-year state of emergency law in place, a law that has permitted government bullies and secret police to harrass, detain, and torment people it accuses of opposing its policies.