I just hung up the phone with an Egyptian friend and university colleague who is living in Cairo. Today, the situation in Egypt took a violent turn, as the thousands who have gathered in Tahrir Square to protest Mubarak were met with pro-Mubarak "thugs" and policemen on horses and camels. It is generally understood, in Egypt and abroad, that these "thugs" are in fact highly organized, plainclothes policemen who "held Mubarak's regime together in the dank corridors of the Interior Ministry," as Cameron Abadi writes in Foreign Policy. Andrea Groves, a graduate student at AUC who is currently in Jordan, has written about food, cash, and mobile phone top-up shortages, and that the areas surrounding Tahrir (Mohamed Mahmoud, Bab el-Louq) are desperately in need of medical supplies.
But the question on my friend's mind (who will be called SR at her request) -- the question she, a citizen of Egypt, asked me, an American -- is: Why is the US not taking a firm stand against Mubarak, calling for him to resign immediately, as the people have demanded? We discussed the political ramifications of such an act; it is obvious that the United States' main interest is in keeping Egypt's government stable, especially when the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood looms as Mubarak's primary opposition party.
"Yes," she said, "But no one in Egypt wants the Muslim Brotherhood. They're being used as a scapegoat to stir up fear -- and everyone knows this in Egypt. The 'threat of the Muslim Brotherhood' is like the 'threat of the boogeyman' today. We want peace, the people want rights, that is all, and most people know the Muslim Brotherhood is not good for the Egyptian people."
On the telephone, SR continued:
The only reason why Mubarak was able to organize, was able to send in these policemen to use violence, is because he has some tentative support from the United States -- or at least, he knows the United States will not call for his immediate resignation. He's holding on because he knows he can. Why won't they help us? Why won't they put more pressure on Mubarak to resign?
The truth is, nobody knows exactly what kind of exchange took place between Obama and Mubarak when they met briefly last week. We don't know what's being passed around behind closed doors, or what kinds of orders are being carried out. Conspiracy theories aside, however, SR was insistent that the anti-American sentiments in the streets are growing, mainly because the Egyptian people cannot understand why America, which stands for freedom and democracy in the eyes of many, would not support a people who want basic rights and freedom from a corrupt, totalitarian government.
"If the international community doesn't do something to support these 10,000 Egyptians now," SR said, "they will eventually have to deal with 80 million angry Egyptians, who, when Mubarak's regime does end, will see the United States and its allies as agents of Mubarak's corruption."
To put it simply, as violence and corruption begin to dominate the scene in Tahrir, more and more Egyptians are beginning to see the United States as not a political bystander, but rather as a nation that has supported Mubarak and is more than willing to turn a blind eye when his government uses violence towards peaceful protesters. Just as Mubarak's promise to "not run again" is not enough, it is also not enough for the United States merely to "condemn" the violence that is taking place as these words are being written.
"People are dying in the streets. I just don't understand. We continue to demand peace, basic human rights, a free government that we elect, and freedom from fear. Why is that so hard for the governments of the rest of the world to understand?"
Mubarak needs to step down and the United States and other countries need to call for his immediate resignation.