As I write this, military jets are buzzing the tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Cairo, and helicopters are hovering above. There is an expectation among the crowd, which is growing in numbers and defiance, that something is about to happen.
All the signs are that this will not end well.
Al Jazeera, which has brought the on-going events in the Egyptian capital to the world, has been ordered out of the country, its licences cancelled, although it is managing to maintain its live feed—for how long, we don’t know.
Murderers and gangsters don’t want witnesses to their crimes.
The signals from the US are not encouraging. Superficially pro-democracy, they are lukewarm about the people in the streets. Hillary Clinton is calling for an “orderly transition,” whatever that means. The messages out of Washington are deliberately ambiguous, equivocal, weak. In effect, a licence to the Egyptians has been issued.
The Egyptian government is proving devilishly creative. Criminals are being released from high security prisons; police in plain clothes are looting Cairo neighbourhoods, fended off by hastily-assembled vigilante groups. Uniformed police have vanished. It seems clear that the way is being paved for the restoration of “order.”
A bloodbath seems inevitable. I hope I am wrong.
Perhaps the military will refuse to fire on their own brothers and sisters. But history is not reassuring on this point.
We can expect the usual regrets about loss of life to be issued by a relieved Washington. The replacement of the superannuated Hosni Mubarak by his reptilian security chief Omar Suleiman will be greeted as serious regime change.
We are watching power politics in action—until, that is, the cameras are stilled, reporters are silenced, and a hard night descends.