Inspired by Tunisia’s recent revolution, tens of thousands of Egyptians surged into the streets this week to call for democracy and an end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, and other cities chanted, “Mubarak, your plane awaits you!” and “Tunisia, Tunisia!” Riot police initially allowed the crowds to march peacefully, but then clashes broke out, and police unleashed tear gas and truncheons. Three protesters in Suez and one police officer in Cairo were killed. The government seemed to reassert control, arresting hundreds and banning further protests. “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Don’t believe it, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Clinton’s “foolishly” disingenuous comment shows the Obama administration is “dangerously behind the pace of events.” Mubarak, 82, doesn’t care about the people. He just wants to cling to power so he can install his son in sham elections later this year. Egypt is a “vital ally” of the U.S. and the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid, so regime change there is “frightening to many in Washington.” But blindly backing Mubarak as his people revolt “makes a political disaster in Egypt more rather than less likely.”
Egypt poses an especially “thorny” dilemma for the U.S., said Shadi Hamid in TheAtlantic.com. Its regime is “distasteful,” but the alternative could be worse. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt harbors “some of the most anti-American opposition groups in the region,” such as the Muslim Brotherhood. “The Egyptian regime will not fall tomorrow,” so Obama has some time. He should use it to distance himself from Mubarak and get the U.S. out of “the unenviable position of being a status quo power in a region where so many detest the status quo.”
The outcome is still uncertain, said Mike Giglio in TheDailyBeast.com. Egypt has long been a “crushingly effective police state” that has cracked down ruthlessly on even small demonstrations. But that such a large protest could be organized by grassroots activists independent of the Islamists and the opposition parties should give Mubarak—and Washington—“plenty of cause for concern.”