Not a single U.S. government official or member of Congress condemned the Egyptian government for killing and attacking its own citizens. When Neda Agha-Sultan was killed in Tehran in June 2009, many Western governments immediately issued world-wide condemnations blaming the Iranian government. But not so for the hundreds of Egyptians gunned down by their own government in broad daylight. Regretting the loss of life without denouncing the culprits is a disguised attempt to cover for the crimes and protect the perpetrators.
As the Egyptian people showed determination and resilience while the embattled regime intensified its brutality, the administration tried to backtrack. President Obama offered a stark warning to Mubarak when he said on Friday evening, "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away." Without condemning the regime he then urged Egyptian authorities to refrain from violence against their citizens," Obama stressed that governments "must maintain power through consent, not coercion," and that "Ultimately the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people." Human rights advocates were encouraged and relieved by these statements.
Take a stand: Either with the people or with the regime
The following day the President convened his National Security Council and spoke to several world leaders. He gave a statement imploring Mubarak to open the political process and engage the opposition. Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union also called for political openness as well as restraint against the demonstrators.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday January 30, Secretary Clinton, sensing the weakness of the Egyptian regime, gave implicit support to the guarded approach in handling the popular revolution when she said "What we're trying to do is to help clear the air so that those who remain in power, starting with President Mubarak, with his new vice president, with the new prime minister, will begin a process of reaching out, of creating a dialogue that will bring in peaceful activists and representatives of civil society to, you know, plan a way forward that will meet the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people."
Yet all these mixed statements were not lost on the millions of protesters. In denouncing these ambivalent stands they chanted "No to Mubarak, No to Suleiman, No to the agents of al-Amrikan (the Americans)." Dr. Elbaradei declared that the moment of truth has arrived, "The U.S. has to side either with the people or the regime. They could not be with both." But on Monday January 31, Press Secretary Gibbs said that the administration would not take sides in the confrontation between the regime and the people.
This hypocritical stand was in a stark contrast to the position Obama took two days earlier, or that of successive U.S. administrations with regard to the color revolutions in the past 20 years as in the Ukraine and Georgia in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, or the demonstrations by the opposition groups in Iran in the aftermath of its elections in June 2009.
So what happened over the weekend for the administration's turnabout?
The answer to this double standard seems to be the influence of Israel and its supporters in Congress, where the new Republican Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders supported the administration's ambivalent policy of not abandoning the Egyptian dictator.
In Israel, a real hysteria has engulfed the political establishment. On January 31, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference in Jerusalem that he was concerned about the fate of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt should President Mubarak be forced out of power and replaced by someone more hostile toward Israel. He asked for support of the Egyptian regime lest an antagonistic regime emerges in its place.
The same day Haaretz reported that Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.
It was reported on the Cairo streets that when a speech writer of President Mubarak rushed into his office and said "Mr. President; this is your farewell speech to the nation." Mubarak remarked, "Why? Are the people leaving the country?"
This Egyptian joke captures the essence of the stalemate in the streets. Mubarak insists on staying in power regardless of any consequence, counting on his security apparatus, the army, and the implicit backing of the West. Meanwhile, the popular committee headed by Dr. Elbaradaei is not recognized by the regime, let alone to engage with it in meaningful negotiations.
Meanwhile, the decisive moment seems to have arrived. The protesters called for a million-man march in Liberation Square in Cairo and for a similar one in Alexandria on Tuesday February 1. Upon hearing this move, the military sent an important signal to the people. Gen. Ismail Othman, the military spokesman declared on national TV that the army recognizes the legitimate demands of the people and would not shoot at them. With this declaration the army gave an unmistakable sign for the president to yield. The government immediately went overdrive blocking all entrances to Liberation Square and stopped all public transportations to Cairo and Alexandria including trains coming from the delta and upper Egypt.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Liberation Square. Politicians and party leaders, Imams and priests, judges and lawyers, former military officers and veterans, labor and farmers, professionals and the unemployed, taxi drivers and garbage collectors, young and old, women and men, families with their children, as well as prominent actors, artists, poets, movie directors, journalists, and authors have declared their support and participation in this massive march. Egypt had never seen such unanimity in its modern history.
Trickery and treachery are the practices of fools