Hundreds of thousands of protesters in the port city of Alexandria and Cairo’s Tahrir Square stood in disbelief as Hosni Mubarak, their defiant president, refused to resign during a speech he made late last night. Many protesters, news outlets, and analysts alike expected Mubarak to relinquish his post Thursday evening, which would have represented an important first step in establishing a democratic Egypt. However, despite a three-week-long uprising that has brought millions of people together under one revolutionary banner, Mubarak refuses to heed the people’s call and leave the presidency.
Now, reports indicate that a massive protest is planned for today (Friday), which will undoubtedly unleash the anger, pain, and frustration Egyptians feel as a result of Mubarak’s unapologetic ambivalence. Mubarak’s tone during yesterday’s speech was intentionally dismissive of protesters’ demands and the legitimacy of the revolution; he clearly sought to provoke a strong, negative reaction from the people. His provocative language – several times during his speech, Mubarak alluded to the idea that calls demanding his resignation were a result of foreign influence – can only mean one of two things. On the one hand, it’s possible that Mubarak is totally delusional, and believes strongly that resigning from the presidency before his term “ends” in September would be a reckless abdication of his responsibilities.
On the other hand, it is far more likely that Mubarak and the ruling military elite are trying to bait the protesters into changing the tone of the uprising. Until now, protesters’ demands for Mubarak to resign have been just as vociferous as their demands for widespread economic and political reform. By remaining in power, however, Mubarak stands to further enrage protesters and make the revolution more about him than about true democratization. Isn’t it possible that Mubarak is trying as hard as he can to make the uprising turn violent so that the military elite has a “legitimate” pretext for crushing the revolution? Despite the fact that the army has a longstanding tradition of having never turned its weapons against Egyptians, there is evidence that the army has already antagonized protesterst since the largely peaceful, cooperative, and popular uprising began three weeks ago.
According to the Guardian, the Egyptian military has been arresting thousands of protesters across Egypt and subjecting some of them to brutal forms of torture. Although torture has been a favorite tool of current Vice President Omar Suleiman and the notorious State Security Intelligence (SSI) agency, nobody previously associated such practices with the army. However, some detained protesters have alleged that army officers subjected them to electric shocks, extensive beatings, and other cruel measures.
Ashraf, an Egyptian that was arrested by soldiers while bringing medical supplies to a makeshift clinic established to treat those that had been attacked by pro-Mubarak thugs, claims that while he was detained:
“[The army] put me in a room. An officer came and asked me who was paying me to be against the government. When I said I wanted a better government he hit me across the head and I fell to the floor. Then soldiers started kicking me. One of them kept kicking me between my legs. They got a bayonet and threatened to rape me with it. Then they waved it between my legs. They said I could die there or I could disappear into prison and no one would ever know. The torture was painful but the idea of disappearing in a military prison was really frightening.”
Ashraf was released after spending 18 hours in a cramped cell with other protesters, and was told not to return to Tahrir Square. It appears that the army is targeting activists, some of whom were political prisoners before the revolution, and organizers of the uprising. Such repression will only intensify – and make less headlines – if the protests become violent and destructive, a totally reasonable scenario considering the fury people feel over Mubarak’s refusal to leave. The only recourse is for more people from across Egypt’s socioeconomic, professional, religious, and geographical spectrums to join the revolution. The voices of Egypt’s masses cannot be drowned out by the military elite’s intransigence. The sooner Mubarak, Suleiman, and Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces realize this, the better.Filed Under Egypt, guest post, hosni mubarak