Rulers, Ragers, and Reformers: Why It’s Game Over for Egypt’s Mubarak

In Arabic, the word mubarak means “blessed one.” Etymologically, it derives from the root brk, meaning “knee,” and verbally “to prostrate oneself for blessing.” Today in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak must feel anything but blessed.

Protesters have stormed the streets of Cairo for the fourth day in a row, demanding the ouster of the ailing octogenarian autocrat. Hurling stones at a wall of security forces, the activists were temporarily dispersed by plummets of tear gas that poured out from cannons lining the streets of the capital city. But they were not beaten.

If anything, the strict crackdown on the dissenters gave further legitimacy to their cause. Their message was clear: the longer you rule, the longer we’ll rage. “We won’t stop,” one demonstrator said, suggesting that the protestors would continue until Mubarak was removed from office. Emboldened by the success of the Tunisian revolution, protesters in Egypt believe that they can win.

Further protests were expected Friday following the afternoon prayer — a traditional time for mass demonstrations.

Despite suggestions that it is too early to predict the outcome of the Egyptian uprising, the writing on the wall tells another story: the game might be over for Hosni Mubarak. Thirty years of tyranny and corruption are not likely to be erased by an apology or a concession. At the end of the day, the warden is still the warden and the prisoners are still the prisoners.

The response from the Egyptian government thus far is not surprising; it’s a continuation of the suppressive tactics that have long aggravated its citizens. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube — all of which were used by the activists to propel their cause — were blocked as state officials attempted to fend off social media-based organizing. Telephone and television networks were cut as well.

Yasmine El Rashidi, a Cairo-based reporter, described the police brutality in a recent piece for the New York Review of Books. “I saw the attack,” she wrote. “300 shielded riot police stormed the crowd. Onlookers screamed. Police grabbed people by their necks, beat them, dragged some off, many of them kicking, some visibly bloody.”

Suffocating the grievances of those who comprise this movement will likely create stronger anti-government opposition as many Egyptians see the police as an extension of Mubarak. “Of course, demonstrating against police brutality means demonstrating against Mubarak himself and his whole regime, because they are the ones who created this system,” said Salma Said, an activist from Cairo.

Additionally, the United States’ initial support for Mubarak will only bolster the unity and persistence of the Egyptian objectors. “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,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. According to some, Clinton’s response was a politically calculative move to spare a fracture in the relationship between the U.S. and its key Arab ally.

The United States has a long history of propping up authoritarian regimes for its own political gain and if not careful, it could backfire in this case. Surely, the Egyptian demonstrators do not want to feel that the U.S. is aiding a government that deprives its own citizens of the basic freedoms that America stands for. Such hypocrisy would likely inspire this native, grassroots movement to push forward in its quest to oust what is already perceived as a puppet government.

“This is the Egyptian people’s one chance to finally show the world that what we are calling for is real, and for Washington and Clinton to squirm away from real support, is unjust and frustrating,” one protestor reported. “Our leaders are horrible, just as bad as Iran, but they are liked by Washington, so it is us who suffers twice, when we go to the streets and when then when we try to have a voice internationally,” she continued.

Reports late Wednesday indicated that Mubarak’s youngest son and likely predecessor to the presidency, Gamal, fled Egypt on a private airplane bound for London. An omen of sorts, the exit may well be a prelude to the main event: a knockout blow to the Mubarak regime by a population that is ready to take their government back.

Photo CreditRon Rothbart