Regime mounts counter-assault
Amazing scenes were witnessed on Wednesday at Tehrir Square when hundreds of ‘supporters’ of President Hosni Mubarak streamed in – some on foot, some in cars and others riding horses and camels. They clashed with the anti-Mubarak protesters camping at Midan-e-Tahrir, and what followed were frightening, scary sequence of violence unleashed by Hosni’s men.
The counter-offensive came less than 12 hours after the beleaguered President of Egypt who has been in power for 30 years and whose immediate ouster is being demanded by thousands of protesting Egyptians since January 25, went on state television, declaring he would not contest the September presidential poll but neither would he exit office immediately.
In brief, he let it be known that he was no Ben Ali; he would not leave Egypt; he would oversee political reforms, including amendments to the Constitution limiting the terms of future Presidents. Pro-changers rejected his offer. “He must go now,” they chanted.
On Wednesday late afternoon as bloodied anti-regime protesters were carried off the ‘battlefield’, others ran helter-skelter. Hosni’s ‘supporters’ moved with military precision, in a phalanx. They took over rooftops and rained a variety of missiles including Molotov cocktails on the protesters demanding Hosni Mubarak’s immediate ouster.
Army soldiers stood by, their tanks parked on the periphery of Tehrir Square, and did not intervene – as they haven’t this past week.
By late evening, Tahrir Square looked less crowded than earlier in the day. Obviously, most had fled the violence unleashed by Hosni’s supporters.
Is the protest going to peter out this point onward? Or will the anti-regime protesters regroup and rally afresh again? Friday could see an upsurge. Last Friday their numbers swelled enormously and they ran riot, burning down the ruling NDP’s headquarters in downtown Cairo.
Three points to consider:
. The problems of a mass protest without a clearly defined leadership are now coming to the fore. It is increasingly obvious that Facebook and Twitter – social media tools that were used to mobilize protesters – are no substitute for organized politics and opposition movements.Where does the Muslim Brotherhood fit into the emerging scenario? Did the Ikhwan plan for a situation where there would be a political vacuum – Hosni Mubarak leaves Egypt like Ben Ali fled Tunisia, there’s no interim arrangement, there’s chaos and anarchy – for it to step in and assume power? And use the appeal of Islam to a) legitimize its rule; b) mute dissent; c) discredit the ‘secular’ opposition? If it did, its game has been, it would appear, checkmated by Hosni Mubarak and the Army.
. The Army remains firmly with Mubarak. But it is playing a clever game. Were the thousands of Hosni supporters who descended on Tahrir Square today soldiers in mufti?
. The regime may have calculated that a counter-push and counter-violence would be effective in containing and rolling back the anti-Hosni protests. But it could backfire horribly.
As for the US, it labours under the delusion that it can still influence events to its advantage. In my opinion, the Obama Administration erred grievously in publicizing, through CNN, that it had persuaded Hosni Mubarak to make his offer of not contesting the September presidential election and not fielding his son Gamal as a candidate either.
By blaring to the world that President Barack Hussein Obama’s special envoy Frank Wisner spoke to Mubarak and brokered the deal robbed it of all credibility: America is no longer viewed favourably in Egypt’s streets.
Nor will America’s veiled threat to cut aid to Egypt -- $1.5 billion a year – work: Not with the Hosni regime nor with the opposition, especially the Ikhwan. Similar threats by the US issued to other countries, asking them to behave or else, have miserably failed. Most notably with Pakistan.
Obama had threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan if it did not put down jihadi terrorism and help exterminate the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In the event, Obama has hugely increased aid to Pakistan and cravenly conceded to its every demand, including Islamabad will not be asked to submit accounts.
Jimmy Carter lost Iran for America; Obama will lose Egypt. America should reconcile itself to the fact that it’s fast getting pushed to the margins in Arabia and has ceased to matter in the Arab street.