And Now, The Thugs

Pro-Mubarak "supporters" in Tahrir Square have been the source of flashpoints in Egypt.

It's such a heady proposition: an end to dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, a newly empowered citizenry, the prospect of real democracy. As Nick Kristof tweeted early on, Innaharda, ehna kullina Misriyeen - "today, we are all Egyptians."

El-Baradei says Mubarak has until Friday to get on the plane and leave Egypt. But it seems he's not going to fade gently into the good night. "I wish it could be done so gently," wrote one commenter on my previous post, rightly sceptical of my optimism.

And now, the thugs. And the specter, after ten days of exhilarating hope, of heartbreak.

The thugs are in Cairo's Tahrir Square as I write, described absurdly by the New York Times and other news organizations as "Mubarak supporters." The NYT should read its own The Lede blog, which reports that they are plain-clothes police and paid provocateurs, and that ten bucks a day is the going rate.

Nick Kristof details the menace of them:

I've been spending hours on Tahrir today, and it is absurd to think of this as simply "clashes" between two rival groups. The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed - and they're using their weapons.

In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side - that is preposterous. It's difficult to know what is happening, and I'm only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.

Now Al-Jazeera's live feed shows them throwing Molotov cocktails at the anti-Mubarak protestors, and heavy rocks from the rooftops. They're beating up journalists, and on the hunt in particular for Al-Jazeera reporters. There have been several more deaths, and many serious injuries.

Mubarak's speech last night gave the option of chaos without him (the old apres-moi-le-deluge) or stability with him. But the only chaos is with him.

I still hope against hope, but the memories I've been struggling against rise up threateningly: Iran's "green revolution" of 2009 brutally put down; Tianenmen Square in 1989, brutally put down; the ousting of the Shah in 1979, taken over by a theocracy and turned into yet another dictatorial regime.

As the call goes out for even larger demonstrations in Egypt on Friday, with a march on the presidential palace, it comes down, it seems, to the military. Which way will they go? If the march on the palace does take place, what will they do?

Will they fire on the marchers? Or will there be a military coup, with the army taking over? (And if so, would the generals assume power themselves, or hand over to a civilian interim government?) Or will Mubarak - I'm sorry, I can't help it, I insist on hoping - finally get on the damn plane?

I watch with tears in my eyes, battling the despair creeping up in my heart, wishing, hoping against hope...

Source: The Accidental Theologist - Lesley Hazleton

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