*Originally posted at WLCentral.org
At 2:30 PM Egypt time, there are well over a million Egyptians in and around Tahrir Square. The atmosphere is being described by Al Jazeera as a festival atmosphere. CNN has Anderson Cooper reporting from the protests. And, reports are circulating on Twitter indicating Egyptian State TV is running images of Cairo looking serene, void of protesters, and flashing a “Protect Egypt” banner on screen during music videos.
The millions are deliberating over whether to march to the presidential palace or not. Having a foothold in Tahrir Square gives Egyptians control over Cairo, the power to keep the city’s business halted, and that gives them tremendous leverage as the opposition continues to push for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
The U.S. government, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs representing the government’s delicate stance on the unfolding revolution, has repeatedly spoke of how Mubarak must begin to establish a “transitional process” for “free elections.” The U.S. government has been sticking to calls for the Mubarak regime to uphold “freedom of speech, association, communications, and assembly” as well as suggestions to lift “decades-old emergency laws, the release of political prisoners and changes in the Egyptian Constitution.”
What is the likelihood that Mubarak would reform his regime? As the uprising continues to grow, a power shift is certainly making it harder for Mubarak to cling to authoritarian policies of government that have pushed Egyptians to revolt.
Typically, Mubarak has been averse to calls from the U.S. (and presumably other governments) to reform. A WikiLeaks cable, 09CAIRO874, provides insight into Mubarak’s attitude toward reforming his regime:
4. (S/NF)No issue demonstrates Mubarak,s worldview more than his reaction to demands that he open Egypt to genuine political competition and loosen the pervasive control of the security services. Certainly the public “name and shame” approach in recent years strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views. However, even though he will be more willing to consider ideas and steps he might take pursuant to a less public dialogue, his basic understanding of his country and the region predisposes him toward extreme caution. We have heard him lament the results of earlier U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world. He can harken back to the Shah of Iran: the U.S. encouraged him to accept reforms, only to watch the country fall into the hands of revolutionary religious extremists. Wherever he has seen these U.S. efforts, he can point to the chaos and loss of stability that ensued. In addition to Iraq, he also reminds us that he warned against Palestinian elections in 2006 that brought Hamas (Iran) to his doorstep. Now, we understand he fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf. While he knows that Bashir in Sudan has made multiple major mistakes, he cannot work to support his removal from power.
The above mentioned cable highlights Mubarak’s disdain for all these “freedoms” the US (and other countries) think he should grant Egyptians: “As with regional issues, Mubarak, seeks to avoid conflict and spare his people from the violence he predicts would emerge from unleashed personal and civil liberties. In Mubarak’s mind, it is far better to let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole.” (In addition to Mubarak’s attitude toward “reform,” the cable also indicates Mubarak was not open to talking about the Egypt economy, specifically Egyptian poverty, which has fueled the revolution.)
On elections, cables released prior to January 31, indicate that Egyptians might not be so confident that organizing free and fair elections with Mubarak still heading the regime would in the end be free and fair. A cable, 10CAIRO213, shows fear of police has led Egyptians to be afraid of “procuring voter registration cards” for elections. Another cable, 10CAIRO197, highlights a round of Muslim Brotherhood arrests that took place just before parliamentary elections in 2010. The arrests were regarded by observers as “part of a continuing GOE campaign to suppress the NDP’s only significant political challenge ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.
It is tough to analyze the past few years of governance in Egypt by Mubarak’s regime and not understand why the opposition does not want to compromise or form an agreement for moving forward with Mubarak.
The opposition will continue to make demands and call for Mubarak to step down from power. The Egyptian people do not want reform. They want Mubarak gone. They do not want Mubarak in power when elections are held this year.
Wall Street Journal reports, “Participants in a private meeting Monday morning at the White House’s Roosevelt Room said a long discussion of Mr. Mubarak’s future left them with the understanding that the White House sees no scenario in which Mr. Mubarak remains in power for long. White House officials said they made no explicit predictions about Mr. Mubarak’s future.”
For the latest, tune in to Al Jazeera’s live stream.