CAIRO – Egypt’s January 25th movement has been a global media darling since it
broke out over a week ago, riding the waves of the Tunisian uprising and
inspiring millions around the globe, particularly in the Middle East.
spotlight didn’t seem lost on the throngs in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, ground zero
of the uprising, where there were enough foreign journalists, bloggers, tourists
and Western observers on the scene to field an army.
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President Hosni Mubarak gave his speech Tuesday night vowing to step down in six
months, the mood in the square was both electric and defiant. The bone the
regime was throwing the protest movement was taken as a half-victory at best,
and even though on paper it was by all measures a major accomplishment for an
unarmed, peaceful uprising, the square was emboldened. Again and again,
protesters vowed to stay as long as it took for Mubarak to leave office, if not
It’s hard to say why Mubarak’s concession didn’t placate
the crowd. While it’s easy to understand how a people used to living under a
regime run by intimidation, corruption and nepotism wouldn’t be quick to take
the leader at his word, something else seemed to be at play.
protesters, aware that they were the toast of the press and had the backing of
untold millions watching on TV, live feeds and blogs, seemed to believe the
hype: that people power could trump actual power, and that if they held out long
enough, Mubarak would leave immediately. They seemed convinced that what
happened in Tunisia would happen in Egypt, almost as if once they felt safe
enough to open their mouths and face down riot police, they could face
It seems they were wrong.
Things may change on Friday,
if the protesters somehow acquire tanks and automatic weapons, helicopter
gunships and maybe a few mechanized infantry units, but at the moment, it seems
that sticks and stones and “having history on your side” will earn them nothing
in the face of the well-armed suppression that will probably only get worse and
more bloody and decisive until it succeeds.
That’s not to say that the
army will necessarily fall in with the regime and begin using overwhelming force
against the protesters, but so far, they have at least been guilty of turning a
blind eye to the violence in the square. Maybe a sin of omission rather
than commission, but decisive in its own way, nonetheless.
So far, the
brunt of the bloodshed has been suffered by the anti-government protesters, but
the violence and brutality cuts both ways. While it is true that they were set
upon while trapped in the square, the anti- Mubarak crowds were quick to use
violence when the time came, beating and lynching men suspected of being
undercover police or paid provocateurs. These men were carried off on
several occasions by the mobs, to God-knows-where.
While the protesters
were acting largely in self-defense as the square came under siege, and the
evidence against some of the men they dragged away was sound, in some cases, the
breaking of their bones was audible even over the din of the crowds.
will any of us in the press ask ourselves what our responsibility is when the
inevitable purges begin? Will we ask what role we played in adding fuel to the
protest, encouraging those courageous souls to stay in the square no matter the
cost that they, not we, will pay? We all had a responsibility to cover the
story, one of the biggest in decades, but sober analysis of the stakes at hand
seemed few and far between. We talked about how it would affect Israel, America,
even Iran, but few seemed to ask what would happen to the Egyptian Army officer
paraded on the shoulders of protesters in images sent around the world, or the
countless demonstrators who, in their incredible bravery, spoke to the cameras,
to the world, and in the end, to the very people who will now be coming to find
Will we follow their interrogation and detention on Twitter? Will
Facebook find a way to ensure they get proper legal representation? While social
networking sites did galvanize the protest movement, as the world saw in Iran’s
“Green Revolution,” when the hammer finally does drop, it doesn’t seem to matter
if the world is watching, tweeting, blogging or hash-tagging.
Teheran, we are seeing in Cairo that while it’s great to have history and the
media on your side, it’s better to have bullets.