For many years I believed that Israel’s leaders have no equals in the business of saying one thing and doing another. But Mubarak has proved me wrong. He went on television to tell Egyptians that he would be staying on for some months because only he could restore stability and set the stage for it to continue after he stepped down. Hours later his thugs were leading a violent attack on the peaceful, pro-democracy protesters in Cairo’s Tahir square.
To his credit Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron was the first Western leader prepared to indicate that he was not fooled. With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at his side, he stepped out of Number 10 Downing Street to say that if the “regime” in Cairo was “sponsoring or tolerating” the violence, it was “despicable” and that such action was completely unacceptable.
To their credit the BBC’s World Service rolling television news presenters and reporters were asking the right questions about who was behind the violence from almost the moment it started. With a little time for reflection, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen delivered an excellent report in which he said the following. “The pro-Mubarak demonstrations were well organised, not spontaneous. Numbered buses unloaded supporters. Many placards looked as if they had been made by professional sign writers.” This report also had a pro-democracy campaigner saying, “Mubarak will destroy the whole nation before he goes.” The report concluded with Jeremy, close up to camera, commenting, “He won’t go quietly.”
Eventually U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on the same page as Britain’s Cameron. She telephoned Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s new vice-president (the Egyptian police state’s intelligence chief for two decades and who was/is regarded by Israel’s Mossad as a colleague in common cause). Clinton condemned the violence and said people had to be called to account for what was “a clear attempt to intimidate the protesters.” She also told Suleiman the transition to a more democratic society had to start “now”. (When reporters subsequently asked what “now” meant, a spokesman replied, “Yesterday”).
Off-the-record, Western diplomats seemed to be in no doubt that the violence was led by some of Mubarak’s state security agents including policemen with their uniforms off. Unfortunately for the regime, some forgot to discard their ID cards and they were found on the thugs when they were grabbed and searched by pro-democracy campaigners.
The Mubarak regime’s strategy was (and at the time of writing still is) to discredit the pro-democracy campaigners by causing Egyptians to have an overwhelming fear of insecurity, and thus an inclination to side with the regime on the grounds that ending the anti-Mubarak protests is essential if stability is to return and be maintained.
What of Mubarak himself? I imagine he believes that if he can see off the protestors, he can use the time he thinks he has left in power to create a new order that will carry on when he is gone from where his old one left off. That is most certainly the outcome Netanyahu & Co want. So they must have been delighted when Mubarak or somebody in his inner circle (government or party) gave the system’s thugs the greenlight for what Mohamed ElBaradie rightly called a “criminal act”.
In theory it’s now Egypt’s generals who will decide when Mubarak goes. The problem is that many of them are deeply corrupt, and few if any will relish the idea of being the one who tells him that his time is up.
It might take a telephone call from Obama to one of them to make it happen.
If it doesn’t happen, Egypt might be heading on what remains of Mubarak’s long watch for economic collapse and complete chaos, even something approaching civil war. (I don’t think the lady who told the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen that Mubarak will destroy everything before he goes would necessarily be proved right by events. But she could be).
A short while ago an anti-Zionist Jewish friend called to ask what I think the Mossad is up to at the moment. I said I thought it was not impossible that some of its best are in Cairo advising the Mubarak regime on what has to be done if its life is to be extended. I also said I thought it was highly probable that Mossad agents and assets deep inside the intelligence, military and political institutions of other key Arab states were assisting their rulers to formulate counter-democracy strategies.