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Wael Ghonim and the Saga of Democracy in Egypt

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I recommend to Americans the saga of Wael Ghonim -- the young Egyptian Google executive whose kidnapping by Egypt's dreaded secret police and subsequent emotional public testimonial ushered in a new dawn in Tahrir Square this week.

His honor and honesty stands in stark contrast to the callow smear campaign escalated this week by the Mubarak regime against Tahrir Square's democracy protesters.

Indeed, despite his regime's assurances to the contrary, Tuesday's unprecedented massive outpouring of pro-democracy Egyptians triggered a more ominous phase in Mubarak's war of attrition against his foes.

Inspired by the saga of his brutal two week imprisonment by Egypt's secret police, Wael Ghonim's televised account of his detention and subsequent appearance in Tahrir Square electrified Egyptians and helped transform the largely leaderless protest movement into a more focused, more resilient citizen army newly empowered in its contest of wills with the Mubarak regime.

Since Vice President Suleiman (no democrat by any sense) announced he was negotiating with Egypt's opposition movement the young Tahrir demonstrators became justifiably alarmed that backroom deals were being cut by self-anointed Mubarak loyalists. A veritable army of cronies purporting to represent the protesters have descended on Suleiman's doorstep, thereafter being rewarded with appointments to a "transitional committee" to rewrite the constitution. It's like having Tories in charge of writing America's Declaration of Independence.

Indeed, as the names became public of those streaming into Suleiman's lair, they represented a who's who of Egypt's stratified status quo. The so-called "peaceful transition" to democracy Suleiman promised to commence is beginning to resemble an ill-advised charade, rather than an expedited fulfillment of basic human rights on a promised road to permanent, peaceful change.

As Suleiman packs the constitution reform committee with regime loyalists, he also is falling back on shopworn alibis to dole out reform at a snail's pace. Suleiman asserted today, for example, that: "Egypt would descend into chaos and the situation does not justify the emergency law's repeal..." Nothing could be further from the truth. As long as the dreaded emergency law is in place it is hard to impute any good will toward Suleiman's assurances.

To further undermine the regime's good intentions, Suleiman continues to order roundups of democracy activists outside the prying eyes of the foreign media in Egypt's other cities. This despite assurances that arbitrary detentions would no longer be tolerated by the regime.

And the Mubarak propaganda machine has reached into its mummified bag of tricks deploying state media to escalate verbal assaults on protesters and create that ol' Mubarak conspiracy theory that foreign interventionists; namely, Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, foreign journalists and other foreign devils are pushing Egypt into a state of chaotic revolution. How Bolshevik can they get?

Mr. Suleiman is skating on thin ice. He cannot credibly claim he is serving as an honest broker (and earn the world's trust), yet concurrently defile the bona fides of those in Tahrir Square -- he claims the regime is prepared to tangibly acknowledge by deed, not just word.

The more Suleiman embraces this cynical posture, the more it should become evident to Washington that its initial investment in this so-called "orderly transition" requires a reappraisal.

Whatever little credibility remains between Washington and pro-democracy demonstrators, Suleiman's mischief accords the White House ample justification to ratchet up its demands that the Mubarak regime cease smearing the democracy movement, establish a timetable for lifting emergency rule, and insist on absolute verifiable assurances that the regime will not arrest or harass anyone peacefully protesting whether or not emergency rule is lifted right away.

The legacy of Wael Ghonim's leadership and courage deserves no less.