Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mubarak Lets Go of the Leash

If you're watching anything other than Egyptian state run television, you already know this. And if you listened to Mubarak's speech yesterday with a critical ear, you're not a bit surprised. Pro-Mubarak "demonstrators" in Cairo have lashed out violently against the pro-reform protesters. Mubarak is trying to take back the streets of Egypt, and he's turning to the darker elements in society to do it.

Or he's turning to the police. Or the police and the darker elements in society are the same thing. CNN's Ben Wedeman reported Sunday night that a source in his neighborhood in Cairo, a member of the Egyptian military, claims that several captured looters had forgotten to take their police identification cards out of their pockets before they started smashing up shops. Al Jazeera has made similar reports. No wonder Mubarak's thugs have been trying to intimidate foreign reporters; their work is making it impossible for the regime to claim that the violence started with the anti-government protesters.

Mubarak's cops might have wised up and and stopped carrying their badges, but it's too late. The transparent attempt to fool people into believing that some Egyptian citizens love their corrupt dictator enough to fight for him spontaneously won't be believed. The agents provocateurs are unmasked. While it's unlikely ever to be conclusively proven that those police officers were acting under orders, the circumstantial evidence is clear. Desperate to hold onto power, Mubarak is hoping to turn this narrative into a story about order battling to overcome chaos--and hoping that nobody will notice that the forces supposedly responsible for order are the ones creating the chaos.

It's not. It's a story about freedom crying out to be released from oppression. It's a story about justice trying to overcome corruption. It's a story about the weak finally discovering that, when they stand together, they are powerful.

Or at least it can be. There are still too many ways that this story could end for anyone to state conclusively what it's going to be about. The important thing right now is to deny Mubarak the privilege of writing the next chapter.

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