Hold the Square: the incredible courage of the Egyptian people

In Egypt, two million people marched for an end to the regime of Hosni Mubarak yesterday. Meanwhile, in the United States, Glen Beck railed against the “coordinated plot” that began in Tunisia (which he compared to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand) and will end in the violent Islamo-Marxist takeover of the U.S.

According to Beck the “coming insurrection” will spread from the Middle East to England before jumping the pond.   Oh, and the Russians are coming (no, seriously, he said that too). All hail the universal caliphate! Well now that we’re even, and you’ve been as enervated by that lunatic as I was after I made the mistake of watching a facebook video of his sputum, we can get down to brass tacks. Wither Egypt? And perhaps more importantly, wither the protest movement that has brought an aging dictator to his knees?

Yesterday was a day like no other in Egypt and around the world as news of the people’s success spread. A call for a “million man march” against Mubarak had been circulated since the weekend, but many in the outside world saw it in the same light as similar calls in western countries. If the protesters could assemble a quarter of that number it would be near enough. And they did, and then some.

Rather than a fraction of a million, more than double that number poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square alone. Two million people is a rather inconceivable number for protest organizers in the west, sort of like talking to an autoworker about the number of zeros attached to their CEO’s bonus. But in Egypt it became a reality today. And in the moment of the protesters greatest triumph also came the possibility of their greatest division. Mubarak is a canny bastard, and no one has ever accused him of being stupid, but he has seemed a little dense between the ears when it came to figuring out the glaringly self-evident truth that his time was up.

Yesterday he came on state TV again to make a pitch for what is likely his last, and best, hope to save what remains of his presidency. He promised not to run again in Presidential elections scheduled for the fall, and made the rather laughable assertion that that had been his plan all along. He also used the words “security” “safeguard” and “peaceful” so many times that I’m pretty sure he cleaned out the word store. Finally, he spoke of his great pride in his years of service to Egypt and it’s people, and declared that he would die on its soil, and be judged by history. As the people in Tahrir square chanted “Leave, Leave” in response to his statement, elsewhere in the country Al-Jazeera reported many citizens questioning whether this promise shouldn’t be enough to quell the protest movement. After all they had gained something, and perhaps they should quit while they’re ahead? Avoid any further deaths or injuries? In the coming days this will be the greatest threat to the true self-determination of the Egyptian people. Not the fighter planes buzzing overhead, or the police who have returned from their sojourn as looters and pillagers, but the uncertainty of the population itself. Popular movements have a tendency of undermining themselves, and I truly hope that the Egyptian people will not be baited by the promise of stability and security dangled by the man behind their curtain. I trust and I hope that they will hold to the goals that brought them to the streets in the first place, but it will certainly be the thing to watch as events unfold this week.

Update 10:30 AM: This morning the crowds in Tahrir Square who continue to cry out for Mubarak’s departure have been attacked by roving gangs of plainclothes policemen and Baltagiya, the thugs in the employ of the police. Claiming to be pro-Mubarak demonstrators, these thugs have converged on Tahrir Square in a coordinated manner and are throwing rocks and fighting pitched street battles with the people for control of the square. Hundreds have been injured and the pro-Mubarak forces continue to try to storm the square. “Every time they try to come in we push them back, but at the cost of tens and tens of our people” according to Mona, a woman interviewed on Al-Jazeera who spoke through tears and fear to promise that the people would continue to hold the square. She reported dozens of injuries in her vicinity with the victims blocked off from help and no ambulances in sight. An Al-Jazeera journalist was beaten, and many protestors have been dragged off by these thugs, who are also throwing cement blocks and other debris from roofs surrounding the square. Meanwhile the army stands by and refuses to intervene. The dictatorship is in its death throes, but as with all cornered bullies, it will lash out as it topples. Now is the moment of greatest hope and promise for the people, but also one of great danger. If you pray, pray for these people, if you don’t, then think of them. Their courage will live on, no matter what happens.

For live coverage of developments check Al-Jazeera English: http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/

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