Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak refuses to step down. And so the Egyptian people now need to remove him from power.

As you've probably heard by now, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has refused to step down. Though all signs seemed to be pointing to his imminent departure, he used a 17-minute speech yesterday to prove that he is completely out of touch with the Egyptian people, desperately clinging to his tyranny while making vague promises of reform that, under his watch, will surely never come to be.

The Egyptian people, other than pro-regime thugs and others who benefit from Mubarak's tyranny, are understandably enraged, and it's not clear what will happen now. It's possible that what have been generally peaceful demonstrations will turn if not violent at least significantly more agitated. And the question remains how the international community, and particularly Obama, will respond to Mubarak's snub. Will it now rush to support the pro-democracy movement? Or will it allow Mubarak and Suleiman to continue to block Egypt's transition to freedom?

Whatever the case, Mubarak's position is now completely untenable. He may be able to hold onto power until his "term" is up later this year (there are elections scheduled for September), but he has lost whatever shred of legitimacy he had left. There's the NYT's Nicholas Kristof with some excellent observations:

He offered cosmetic changes and promises of reform down the road. For example, he said that he would lift the state of emergency... down the road... sometime when the time is right. He seems to have delegated some powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, while remaining in office himself.

This is of course manifestly unacceptable to the Egyptian people. Mubarak's speech was a striking reminder of the capacity of dictators to fool themselves and see themselves as indispensable. If he thinks that his softer tone will win any support, he's delusional. As he was speaking, the crowd in Tahrir was shouting "Irhal!" or "Go!" And the Egyptian state media — from television to Al Ahram, the dominant newspaper — have been turning against Mubarak, so he's losing control even of his own state apparatus.


It was interesting that Mubarak tried to push the nationalism button and blame outside forces (meaning the United States) for trying to push him out. That won't succeed, but it's actually beneficial to America, giving us credit for siding with people power that I don't think we actually deserve.

My guess is that we'll see massive demonstrations in many cities — not just Cairo — on Friday, a traditional day for demonstrations. In effect, Mubarak and Suleiman have just insulted the intelligence of the Egyptian people — and they will respond.

And I hope they do, though with restraint, for what would not be helpful would be for the demonstrations to turn violent and for the demonstrators to lose credibility and international support, which would only benefit Mubarak and Suleiman. Still, the time has come for the Egyptian people to remove Mubarak themselves. It may fall to the military at first, which would seem to be in a position to do just that, but ultimately Egyptians need to rid themselves of this monster. There is no time to wait. 

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