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The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

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Because of social networks, many more people knew of these developments. This was the cadre of young, mostly college-educated Egyptians who were initially catalyzed by the "miracle of Tunisia." The almost unbelievable ouster of the long-time president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had the effect of catalyzing the young Egyptians who began their country's latest street demonstrations.

The social networks were also key to the media coverage. Twitter Tweets used by journalists to gather information, as well as by demonstrators to coordinate with their colleagues.

As this riveting Middle East Melodrama plays out -" and it is impossible to forecast how it will all end -" we all wonder if we will be sitting here ten years from now bemoaning what might have been -" and wasn't? Or looking proudly at what ordinary people were able to accomplish against odds so long they would drive as Las Vegas bookie into rehab.

Mubarak had an extraordinary opportunity to govern fairly and effectively. In the opinion of most observers, he has done neither. In 1979, he agreed to a peace treaty with Israel -" an idea originated with Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who traveled to Jerusalem to speak to the Knesset and whowas later assassinated by an Islamist extremist. He has enjoyed a high degree of acceptance by the international community and, thanks to America's largesse, he has been able to fund a first class military machine.

Since that historic treaty-signing, Mubarak has sold himself in Washington and elsewhere as critical to the success of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Signing the treaty with the Israelis got him billions each year in military aid and economic assistance. It is known that he has a close relationship with Iasrael's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He saw himself as the indispensable player in the Arab-Israeli arena, and he persuaded many others -" inside and outside Egypt -" of the credibility of that mantra.

And it is also true that, more recently, the Mubarak Government has served Israel's interest by cutting off some of the smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

These actions may give Mubarak a better reputation abroad than he enjoys at home, where he has been incredibly unpopular among most of his people for many years. He has kept the country under emergency law for 30 years, despite strong suggestions from the US, the EU and the UN to repeal them. These laws give the security services virtually unbridled authority to arrest and detain and, according to our own State Department's annual report on Human Rights, Mubarak's goons have used their authority to torture, to disappear prisoners, and to treat deaths in detention with impunity.

But the shortcomings of the Mubarak presidency are not limited to human rights. The economy is a basket case. Unemployment is virtually impossible to calculate with any degree of certainly, but the World Bank currently put it at 9.1 percent in March 2010, down from 9.2 percent a year ago).

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But numbers don't begin to tell the story. More to the point, the Constitution offers every Egyptian the opportunity to qualify for a university education. As a result, the country has a large population of men and women with degrees who have never had a job. Those who can afford to travel go overseas to seek employment. Those without resources take any job they can get. Many drive taxies. Others work as office cleaners. One suspects that their feelings of frustration would have led many of them to participate in the current demonstrations.

Those without resources include the 40 per cent of Egyptians who live below the poverty line, many in the most grinding poverty to be seen anywhere.

The Mubarak Government has made periodic noises about how much it's done to improve Education, but today Egypt is ranked 123 in the Human Development Index (HDI), and seventh in the lowest 10 HDI countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, in 2009.

By most measures of development, modern Egypt fails. Washington is no doubt today questioning the cost-benefit implications of its massive investments in the Mubarak regime.

And wondering, with the rest of the world, who will emerge as a natural leader if Mubarak goes -" and whether that leader will be able to maintain stability, while responding to the legitimate and long-delayed yearnings of the Egyptian people.

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William Fisher, a regular contributor to The Public Record, has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt's agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He reports on a wide-range of issues for numerous domestic and international newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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