Dictator on the brink as Egypt protest grows
Protesters in Egypt have pushed their tyrannical government to the brink of collapse. Will the dictator go or will bombs and bullets keep him in power? And, if he falls, what next?
Sunday 5pm – Egypt is in flames. Huge crowds of protesters are facing tanks and soldiers in the streets, demanding a new government and an end to the dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak.
Over a hundred have died so far and many more have been arrested to face torture and beatings. Government snipers are reported to be shooting civilians from rooftops.
At the time of writing, around 150,000 protesters are gathering in Cairo's main square, surrounded by armed troops, while fighter jets fly low overhead. So far, soldiers have been passive, sometimes even friendly.
But pictures broadcast on Egyptian state TV have shown Mubarak meeting with army generals. Rumours are flying that troops may soon be given new orders: shoot-to-kill.
This show of military strength shows the fear within the regime. Egyptian police were largely defeated by protesters in a series of clashes last week. Repressive measures like curfews and internet blackouts could not stem mounting anger.
On Friday, President Mubarak tried to appease demonstrators by dismissing his government and promising reform. But he is faced with a vast popular uprising, which will not be satisfied until the hated leader finally leaves power. He has been Egypt's ruler since 1981.
The protesters come from all sections of society. Judges and lawyers are marching beside poor workers and unemployed students.
Minority Christians have guarded mosques from police while Muslims were at prayer. Sufi mystics have protested with Sunni hardliners.
All are united in anger at the corruption and mismanagement that has seen the proceeds of economic growth diverted into the pockets of the wealthy elite.
Some think the government will soon fall, perhaps pushed by opposition supporters within the army. Others say Mubarak will use violence against his people to regain control.
A loyal tyrant
If Mubarak falls, there will be widespread celebration. His regime is well known for repression and abuse of human rights. It has also, however, been a long-standing US ally, and one of the largest recipients of American military aid.
Why? Because Mubarak is a loyal supporter of US policy in the Middle East, cooperating extensively with Israel and other American-backed governments.
The US government has recently declared its support for free elections. But a new democratic Egypt would be much more influenced by Islamic fundamentalists, and potentially hostile to Western interests.
And, if things do turn violent, protesters won't forget that the guns used against them will have been supplied by the West.
- Should we support democracy abroad even if it's against our own national interest?
- Observers around the world have urged Egyptian protesters to remain peaceful. But is violence justified to end tyranny?
- Protesters and reporters in Egypt are communicating with the outside world through Twitter – which allows users to post 'tweets' of up to 140 characters. Imagine you were taking part in the protests and 'tweet' your experiences.
- Research other governments in the Middle East and design a map showing which countries are democracies and which are US allies or enemies.
Some People Say...
“Stability is more important than democracy.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why would America support a dictatorship?
- The Middle East is a volatile region, and America has a strong interest in preserving stability there. This is partly to protect Israel and partly to protect US access to the region's oil reserves.
- So that means they encourage dictators?
- No, not really. US officials do put pressure on dictators to reform. But many popular movements in the Middle East are very anti-American and anti-Israeli. The US has reason to fear the emergence of unstable new governments.
- Will that happen in Egypt?
- No one knows. But if Mubarak falls, the strongest opposition party will be the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that has been accused of terrorism and has links with Hamas.