Two things appear to be clear as we round out two weeks of pro-democracy protests since the initial Egyptian ‘Day of Rage’ was launched on January 25th. First, that to the degree that protestors might have benefited in their hopes of realizing regime change in either the immediate or short-term from the support of Western democracies, including the United States and members of the European Union, any such benefits are not likely to accrue. The Western democracies uniformly appear happy to carve out a position marked by inconsistent messaging, tepid criticism, calls for change and, ultimately, acceptance of a slow process that formally leaves power in Mubarak’s hands as the best means of securing ‘stability’ and ‘orderly transition’. And by the way, I am not suggesting protestors wanted Western support. They likely did not. The point here is just that the West is willing to accept and support Mubarak rule for at least the next half-year at this point, and, as such, has made clear that its support for democracy around the world is conditional.
The latest example is aptly provided by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who described ‘new’ Vice-President Omar Suleiman’s remarks that ‘Egypt is not ready for democracy’ as “very unhelpful”. Very unhelpful? Is Gibbs sure that won’t set off a diplomatic crisis?
Second, the protestors are not showing any signs of going away quickly. Many reports from news agencies and those on the ground today suggest that there were more protestors today than any day so far. This is truly remarkable. In the face of thinly veiled threats, violence and kidnappings by the state security apparatus, people have made clear they are rejecting the empty ‘concessions’ on offer from the Mubarak regime (and it is getting hard to keep up with the empty promises on offer). It appears, as per the message of protestors from the start, anything short of Mubarak’s actual departure will not satisfy the revolutionaries occupying Tahrir Square and spread throughout much of the rest of the country.
One of the most recent rallying points drawing more people to participate is the story of Wael Ghonim. Ghonim is a Cairo native who is married to an American and lives and works in Dubai as Head of Marketing for Google Middle East and North Africa. He is being credited with being an early, albeit, at the time anonymous catalyst of the movement. Ghonim, under a false identity started the “We are all Khaled Said“ Facebook page commemorating the torture and killing of a 28-year old Egyptian blogger at the hands of the police for exposing police wrongdoing, agitating against police intimidation and brutality as well as calling for the January 25th protest.
Ghonim ’disappeared’ on January 27th during the protests by the Egyptian regime, which under the leadership of Suleiman allegedly participated in the United States’ extraordinary rendition programme that used foreign countries to torture detainees as part of the so-called War on Terror. Considerable attention was called to his disappearance by journalists and internal human rights organizations such Amnesty International before his eventual release yesterday.
Shortly after his release Ghonim granted a highly emotional interview to Egyptian channel DreamTV which has since been posted on the web complete with English subtitles. I consider this essential viewing.
The sincere compassion shown to everyone involved in the protests including his interrogators and the even-handedness with which Ghonim assesses what is happening and what should happen is remarkable, especially for a man who is just hours removed from being held captive for 12 days by a regime that his own past writing makes clear is to be feared. Among the highlights of the interview are when Ghonim makes clear that this is not the time to settle scores, to divide up the cake or to impose ideologies.
It is not the place of anyone to set a barometer for which countries ought to be a democracy and which ought not, besides the citizens of those countries. But even if it was, what more could we ask for than what Wael Ghonim and his compatriots have put on offer? Personally, the interview lays bare just how hypocritical Western governments are being in choosing a brutal authoritarian regime that has no claim whatsoever to democratic legitimacy over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who day after day have peacefully taken to the streets breaking down traditional gender, religious and socio-economic divides to demand justice and democracy. I could not imagine a more cynical and, frankly, disgusting stance.