I have announced I will
stay with this post and that I will continue
to shoulder my responsibilities. -
President Hosni Mubarak
We'll go to the palace and tear
him out. - Chant in Tahrir
What's a revolution to do
when it expected a decrepit dictator to pack up
and go, live on al-Jazeera? Especially when a few
hours earlier the expectation was of a military
"Go back home"? Forget it.
Eerie Pharaoh Mubarak is indeed an
immovable ancient statue
buried in the desert
sands. "I have laid down a clear vision"? Reforms
will be "implemented by our armed forces"? Article
179 - the basis for emergency law - will be
amended, maybe one day? Vague powers granted to
Vice President Omar "Sheikh al-Torture" Suleiman?
(Octogenarian President Hosni Mubarak's
deliberate vague language meant anything from
"delegating power" - not all power - to
"delegating the authorities" of the president, to
the point that the Egyptian ambassador to the
United States had to call CNN to explain that he
is now a "de jure" president, Suleiman being "de
facto". Translation: he's become an official
ghost. A figurehead. Or maybe not.)
Compared to what the military dictatorship
(Suleiman, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed
Hussein Tantawi and army chief Lieutenant General
Sami Annan) had been spinning all along this
Thursday, none of that made sense.
came "Sheikh al-Torture", as sinister as a B-actor
playing Nosferatu. It's as if Sheikh al-Torture
was announcing that from now on all the
excruciating practices under his supervision would
be orderly transitioned towards a more democratic
approach. We have "opened the door to dialogue"?
"Don't listen" to the "sedition" of "satellite
television stations"? "Go back home"? The same
it's-us-or-chaos rant? Sheikh al-Torture at least
remained in character. After all he had already
threatened to unleash "dark bats of the night ...
to terrorize the people". The street knows he's
itching to go Medieval.
The regime as a
whole had threatened the army could crack down big
time by imposing martial law. Foreign Minister
Ahmed Aboul Gheit had told al-Arabiyya if "we want
the armed forces to assume the responsibility of
stabilizing the nation through imposing martial
law, and army in the streets".
Brotherhood's Essam al-Erian feared the army was
about to stage a coup. The New York Times, in
another characteristic amnesia attack, stressed,
"The military intends to take a leading role"
(modern Egypt has always been a military
For all the Nile of
expectations, the street was not exactly sure
whether they should prepare for a big party or a
bloodbath. In the end, none happened.
Egyptian High Command - crucially without Mubarak
and Suleiman - had issued a bayan raqm
wahad ("statement number one", in Arabic),
which in the Arab world is standard code language
for a military coup. The statement took pains to
advertise its "support of the legitimate demands
of the people". That's their idea for a new bright
future for Egypt (median age: 24 years old); a
Yet part of the street
even considered an "interim coup" better than
having an interim Sheikh-al-Torture. They had
already made it plain they will not tolerate a
Sheikh al-Torture-led interim government - aka
In the end Mubarak
himself announced that Sheikh al-Torture was
taking over - or maybe not. So for the street
there's no turning back. The stage is set for a
regime-directed framework of "negotiations". The
street knows Suleiman will manipulate this as the
perfect cover to force his facelift and perpetuate
the regime. Bye bye democracy. After all, Sheikh
al-Torture himself has said Egypt is not ready for
Is the army cracking up?
Before the Mubarak/Suleiman state TV
double bill, the hottest rumor in Cairo was that
Washington was pulling no punches to have Mubarak
transfer his powers - all of them - to Suleiman.
Annan and a majority of senior officers were
against it, but air force commanders and the top
of the Republican Guard were in favor. Tantawi was
sitting on the fence. The inside dope was that
Annan would win.
He didn't. Will the army
secede? Immediately after Mubarak's speech, people
in Cairo started receiving text messages from the
Egyptian High Command, saying that it is
"monitoring" everything and will "decide how to
act" - that's as ambiguous as it gets. Takes time
to come up with communique number two.
evidence seems to point to a serious palace civil
war going on in Cairo. Perhaps a double split;
inside the military dictatorship (the army against
military intelligence), plus the army against
Mubarak. That may turn bloody at any moment. The
army simply cannot go on playing a double game and
sitting on the fence. The street is left with the
strategy of applying overwhelming pressure on army
commanders and conscripts alike to force them to
align with democracy.
Meanwhile, the top
narrative in Washington is that the White House
was once more horribly humiliated by a satrap;
precedents, as we have already pointed out, exist,
from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to
the Pakistani leadership. But considering the
ultra high stakes, Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh
more or less are getting what they want, as in
their horse in charge of an "orderly transition".
They get Sheikh al-Torture as the new de
facto rais; Mubarak as a ghost, or
figurehead, or invisible master-puppeteer; and the
army theoretically backing the new strongman. The
only thing missing is the people. It's interesting
that al-Arabiyya - which is essentially a House of
Saud mouthpiece - was absolutely spot on about
Mubarak's speech, at least one hour before the
broadcast, while everyone else, White House and
the US Central Intelligence Agency included, was
sure he would step down.
On a parallel
level, the closest US President Barack Obama has
gone so far to unequivocally endorse people power,
sort of, is this meek line in his statement
post-Mubarak/Suleiman fiasco, which reads, "those
who have exercised their right to peaceful
assembly ... are broadly representative of
Egyptian society". Mr President, the Egyptian
street is watching you.
larger-than-life ball is now in the Egyptian
street's court. The fight now is to force the
complete dismantling of the Egyptian police state.
In the words of many a Tahrir Square protester;
"Give me liberty or give me death." Egypt may burn
because the regime is betting on it. So what's a
revolution to do? Storm the Bastille or go on with
endless passive resistance? Either way, the time
for freedom or death is now.