Thursday, February 10, 2011

Either Mubarak goes or there will be a massacre,

I was going to be writing an article about why Mubarak had resigned. But Mubarak is not resigning. Social media has been a-buzz with indications and rumours all afternoon and evening, and his resignation seemed to have been confirmed by army chiefs and by the head of the NDP. We were told he would make a speech confirming that he was stepping down - that is, if he hadn't already blown his brains out, or hopped a plane to Saudi Arabia. There were also rumours that today's meeting by military commanders which apparently decided Mubarak's future was missing one Omar Suleiman, suggesting that he may not be kept on by the regime. An army general reportedly told protesters in Tahrir Square that all their demands would be met. NBC journalist Richard Engel was suggesting that the strike wave was the tipping point forcing Mubarak's resignation.

But no. We've had one terrible, infuriating moment after the next. Mubarak addressing the people as his 'children', positioning himself as the concerned yet proud patriarch of the Egyptian family; Suleiman urging protesters and striking workers to go back home and back to work, and "let's hold hands". The crowd in Tahrir Square, which was ready to explode with ecstasy and joy, instead exploded in rage and fury. As Mubarak's pre-recorded speech was broadcast, the noise from Tahrir Square was extraordinary. Witnesses report that there's been nothing like the atmosphere before, not throughout all the killings, the crackdowns, the evasions, and the disappointments. Protesters in Alexandria have now marched down to the military base and surrounded it to demand action against Mubarak. People in Cairo are marching toward the presidential palace and the state television building.

On Al Jazeera, Hossam el-Hamalawy says that Mubarak's speech has put things out of control. The workers on strike were already going to lead a mass march into Tahrir Square tomorrow. Now, tomorrow will see the biggest gathering yet, and it may march on the presidential palace. And then no one knows what will happen. The army may well be expected to crack down hard, to turn Tahrir into Tiananmen. But the mixed signals of the military leadership suggests nervousness and prevarication on their part. How confident can they be in the rank and file following orders if they're instructed to commit a massacre? How confident can they be that the guns won't be turned on them? That they won't end up hanging from a lamp post next to Mubarak? Throughout all this, the army leadership has tried to protect the regime while pretending to be a neutral party in the struggle. Why, if not that they're terrified?

So, why has Mubarak clung on? Is he following Washington's orders, or defying them? Did Saudi Arabia's offer to sub the regime make a difference? Does the regime fear that any concessions will just fuel the revolt? Do they really think they can ride this out? Or are they actually readying the most appalling crackdown?