The regime’s dirty tricks will be its own destruction

No one saw it coming; when protesters took to the streets on January 25th no one expected that less than two weeks later the demonstrations would bring the 30-year autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak almost to its knees.

And yet its brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters and the lengths it was willing to go to in order to decimate the will of the Egyptian people who had taken to the streets indicates that the continued presence of this regime is unsustainable.

Not that it was ever the most benign of regimes at the best of times, with a brutal human rights record and a curtailing of personal and civil liberties the norm. However, the scandalously dirty tricks put into play since Jan 25th would spell the end of any government in any country in the world. The fact that it hasn’t so far in Egypt is an indictment of the spineless attitude of the international community towards their strongman Mubarak.

It began with the attacks on protesters throughout Cairo on Jan 25th who finally converged on Tahrir Square, after which security forces blasted almost 500 tear gas canisters into the square to break up the protests. They must have thought that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

As the protests continued, and the people refused to be cowed into submission, greater steps were taken to suppress what must have been at that point no more than an annoyance to the regime. It culminated by Friday Jan 28th into a complete shutdown of the Internet and mobile phone communications.

Consider for a second a government that is willing to do that to an entire population. An act of sabotage by a country’s own government, over the gathering of an amount of people not out of place at a Rock festival. All that was left was for the government to shut down landlines, television, water and electricity to put Egyptians into the Stone Age. One suspects the only reason they didn’t was so that more people didn’t take to the streets. Had they felt it would have worked, they’d have done so.

Here the resilience and kindness of the Egyptian people came to the fore, with people in the area opening their homes to protesters to use the landlines to call their families, supplying them with water, onions and vinegar to counter the effects of the tear gas.

This is a government that in recent years had prided itself on its modernity; its cheap rhetoric about the advancement of Egypt into the age of the Internet, foreign investment and prosperity a bombastic calling card for the puffed-out suited chests.

And that wasn’t the end of it. By Friday evening – after having failed to end the demonstrations with (American made) tear gas, water cannons and bullets – security forces disappeared en masse to leave the country in a chaotic void.

A video that surfaced later showed prisoners breaking out of a prison in Fayoum with security forces standing around and not intervening. Numerous reports of the looting that followed seemed to indicate that it was the work of government-affiliated baltagiya – or thugs. These thugs would also surface later in an even more outrageous maneuver.

The army took to the streets to restore order and a curfew was enforced. After the million-man march on Tuesday Feb 1 Mubarak gave a speech later that night in which he stated that he would not run again for President. Some Egyptians felt that now was the time to stop the protests, and for normal service to be resumed.

Less than 15 hours later government-sponsored armed thugs descended on Tahrir Square in another brutal attempt to crackdown on the protests. The army did next to nothing to stem the attacks, which led to an overnight battle where the protesters heroically and miraculously managed to keep control of Tahrir Square. By Thursday the death toll since Jan 25th was conservatively placed at 300 with another 5000 injured and thousands others detained. All violence was instigated by the regime, whether through the Interior Ministry’s security forces or the thugs that always rear their heads come election time.

Meanwhile, Egyptian State television continued to broadcast what can only be described as the news service from the Twilight Zone, a world where things that happening on the ground weren’t happening at all, or if they were, were the work of a surreptitious, foreign, sabotaging hand.

State television accused the Tahrir protesters of being foreign agents, seduced by foreign currency and KFC meals, oblivious to the fact that in the parliamentary elections last November an NDP candidate from Zamalek, Hisham Khalil, was buying votes with – you guessed it – KFC meals.

Accusing the protesters of being agents of Israel, America, Hamas and Hezbollah (figure out how that would make sense yourself) State TV also neglected to mention that Mubarak’s regime is a tremendously close ally of the US and that Israel was one of the few governments to staunchly support him, along with Silvio Berlusconi and Dick Cheney. A group of supporters to be proud of.

What arose from that State TV propaganda – masterminded by Information Minister Anas El-Fiqi – can only be described as a disgusting witch-hunt of journalists and foreigners in Egypt that led to the stabbing of Greek and Swedish photographers, and neighborhood watches suspecting even Egyptians of being foreigners and therefore in need of detainment. Not only was this a gross incitement of violence against innocent people on the part of El-Fiqi, the effects it will have on Egypt’s main source of income – tourism – remains to be seen but surely cannot augur well.

A girl who claimed that she was an activist who was trained by Israelis and Americans in Qatar to create chaos in Egypt aired on Mehwar TV in pixilated glory turned out to be a reporter for the newspaper “24 Hours” who had fabricated the story and has now been suspended.

State TV presenter Hala Fahmy resigned her post and headed to Tahrir Square, not before telling Al-Jazeera that El-Fiqi was personally involved with the thugs who attacked Tahrir Square on Wednesday Feb 2.

The treasonous behavior of the regime since Jan 25th makes it very difficult to stomach that it should remain in power for the next six months. It couldn’t be trusted prior to Jan 25th and its actions since have shown an utter callous disregard for the future of Egypt and its people; merely a stubborn resolve to cling to power at the expense of the country.

What also galls has been the reaction of Mubarak’s Western allies, whose pathetic role will not be forgotten in the annals of history nor by the Egyptian people. It is grossly insulting that a major reason for the reticence of Western governments to tell Mubarak to stand down for the benefit of Egypt is concern for Israel’s security. Again the Egyptian people come last. The support of citizens – and not governments – in the international community has been its one saving grace.

There is also a fear of an Islamist takeover in case Mubarak stands down. A cursory trip to Tahrir Square will show this to be an absurd notion. The protesters are a wide cross-section of Egyptians: young and old, religious and secular. And even if Egyptians do pick an Islamic government – which I personally believe will not happen – is that not democracy? One hopes that we hear the last of the lip service by American officials about democracy and human rights. When it comes down to it that is not what the US government will support in Egypt and the Middle East.

There is no great foreign-led conspiracy, it is the regime that has been behind the murder, terror and sabotage that has gripped Egypt since Jan 25th and it is that which makes their position untenable, irrespective of how successful they have been in pitting Egyptian against Egyptian as has been the case in some instances.

They are now paying lip service to reforms they forcibly withheld for three decades and are only seemingly giving in because of the efforts of the protesters and the ones who gave their lives for a better Egypt. They are not the ones who should be leading reforms, they should be held accountable for their actions since all this begun, not to mention before that.

The one source of optimism and hope is the people continuing to hold fast inside Tahrir Square, who have managed to overturn every negative perception of the Egyptian people as a passive, disheveled and unorganized populace. Standing side by side in solidarity, cleaning up the square it is in Tahrir where Egypt’s future should lie and it will be a gross miscalculation to think otherwise.

By Abdel-Rahman Hussein

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