Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak survived six assassination attempts but surviving the people’s protests now seems impossible.
But will Mubarak quietly go? Perhaps not if his interview to ABC’s Christine Amanpour yesterday is anything to go by; Amanpour says Mubarak told her that if he steps down now, there would be ‘chaos’. So what exactly is happening on Egypt’s streets that do not qualify as chaos? Mubarak chose Amanpour as a vehicle to convey, once again, that he has no intention to leave in a hurry.
But with the protesters not backing down, he may well have to be arm twisted by the Obama administration into leaving his post immediately and handling over power to a transitional government headed by his deputy Omar Suleiman, who has also told reporters he would not seek re-elections.
While both the deputy and the president himself have maintained that Mubarak will not flee Egypt like Tunisia’s President Ben Ali, it would be interesting to see if a sudden ‘medical’ condition arises that require the 82 year old Mubarak to ‘leave Egypt for treatment’, perhaps to Israel. He could return eventually and like in recent years spend much of his time away from Cairo, at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
This would probably be the best and the least violent way to calm the situation in Egypt and save face. With the opposition refusing to engage in talks while Mubarak sits in office, it would be difficult for the government to justify an ‘orderly transition’ to political reform. Their excuse that dethroning Mubarak could lead to chaos is no longer working. The only way the protests would subside is with Mubarak resigning if not today, then at a defined date in the next few days.
However if no assurances are given today and another round of pro Mubarak hooligans infiltrate Tahrir Square, what we might see is large scale violence and a bloodbath. And the pro Mubarak supporters with the backing of the armed forces could turn Tahrir square into another Tiananmen Square.
Eventually the world leaders will have to accept that the violence received state sanction and this might force US to suspend its annual military aid to Egypt (over £800m), a huge blow to Egypt’s military might. The fear of which could affect their loyalty to Mubarak. Without the might of the armed forces behind him Mubarak would be a frail shadow of himself.
If the protests today are largely peaceful, both Mubarak and the world leaders can catch a quick breath before the next round begins.
Mubarak, one of the world’s top 20 worst dictators, has been the longest serving president of Egypt- now in its 30th year. But the clock is fast ticking and Mubarak knows his time is up.