merip.org, January 29, 2011
With one US-backed Arab despot dislodged and dodging Interpol, and another facing an intifada of historic proportions, many eyes looked to Washington, hopeful that President Barack Obama might reprise his ballyhooed Cairo speech of June 2009, showing the restive Arab masses that he felt and, perhaps, really understood their pain. Instead, Arab populations have heard a variation on Washington’s long-standing theme: “The Obama administration seeks to encourage political reforms without destabilizing the region.” That sentence, taken from the National Security Network’s January 27 press release, says it all: Democracy is great in theory, but if it will cause any disruption to business as usual, Washington prefers dictatorship.
And so it was no surprise, though a deep and indelible blot upon Obama and his “progressive” entourage, when the president took a White House lectern on the evening of January 28 — Egypt’s “Friday of Rage” — and announced his continued backing for the indefensible regime of President Husni Mubarak. In so doing, he ensured that the Arab fury of the winter of 2011 would be directed increasingly toward the United States as well as its regional vassals.
January 28 in Egypt was a rollercoaster of a day. The mass demonstrations following up on the January 25 Police Day uprising turned out to be larger and more vehement than even optimistic observers expected. Police stations and ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) headquarters burned to the ground in the middle-class Cairo neighborhoods of al-Azbakiyya and Sayyida Zaynab, as well as in poorer quarters, in Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Damietta and Damanhour as well as in Upper Egypt and the Sinai. The NDP’s home base in Cairo’s main Tahrir Square itself went up in flames. Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, was overrun by protesters who had overwhelmed the riot police. Tanks rolled in to the cities; a curfew was declared; but the crowds ignored it and the army (for the most part) did not shoot at them.