BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
« Previous | Main | Next »

Mubarak gets a crackdown which he can deny

Mark Urban | 18:16 UK time, Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Have we witnessed an effective authoritarian response to people power today in Cairo's Tahrir Square?

Sending club wielding gangs of "supporters" into action has denied the pro-democracy protestors the kind of iconic image of oppression that come out of China when a man stood in front of a column of tanks in 1989.

Earlier this week, I wrote about why we should not under-estimate the forces of conservatism in Egypt.

But like many of a Western mindset, I supposed that uniformed servants of the state, like the black-clad Interior Ministry forces who we saw in action last week, might form the visible face of a crackdown.

It is clearer now why protestors in Tahrir Square had recently been searching those joining the protest, looking for weapons or police ID cards.

They were not being paranoid, they understood that President Hosni Mubarak and his newly installed vice-president, former intelligence boss Omar Suleiman, had some other options at their disposal.

The use of agents provocateurs to discredit political opponents by sparking acts of violence goes back centuries.

What would be new though is using entire crowds to clear the streets of demonstrators, when the fact that the world is watching makes it impossible to do that with tanks or riot police.

With these "supporters" Mr Mubarak can deny that he has ordered a crackdown.

He can also claim to Western governments who urge him to rein them in, that they are not under his personal control and that his critics are exhibiting double standards about street protest - it is fine when they are anti-Mubarak, but not when they support him.

Of course the arrival of this new force on the streets has infuriated pro-democracy protestors. Many are predicting that it could lead to an ugly escalation in violence.

As night fell in Cairo, the air was crackling with gunfire as the army fired "warning shots".

The fact that the army today issued a statement urging the anti-Mubarak crowds to go home begins to look like part of a joined up strategy.

The anti-Mubarak campaign may well be tempted to use more force in response to today's developments - and there are some signs that this is happening spontaneously in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

But if street violence is met with counter violence, then Egypt's security bosses would have their excuse for a more conventional type of crackdown - and will be able to cite "growing anarchy" as their excuse for doing so.


  • Comment number 1.

    Remember the Shelley poem Ozymandias about the statue of the dictator found after numerous centuries his power succumbing and left in the dust. Shelley was right. Mubarek must be removed by financial pressure. His economic assets and aid can be frozen. Those tear gas canister that say made in U.S.A. do not represent me. I am pro-democracy and the Whole World is Watching the courage of the Egyptian people. These orchestrated police thugs are a joke. We are not stupid.

  • Comment number 2.

    We( the U.S. government ) propped him up all these years. We can kick out the props if we want to. Freeze his monetary assets.

  • Comment number 3.

    I hope the Local Defence Volunteer groups are on guard now, because the dis-bersing provocation forces will undoubtedly repeat their actions of last week and there could be clashes in residential areas.
    If there is mass violence, Mubarak will then send in his security forces, held in reserve since they were driven off the streets.
    But all the while the world is watching, and the footage alone reveals the siege of Tahrir Square to be planned and determined and viscous. It must be remembered that today's events were not some cynic's dream of rabble fighting like rats. They were a deliberate attack on peaceful demonstration and an unprovoked act of mass violence. A perfect symbol of the true nature of the Mubarak regime.

  • Comment number 4.

    Of course someone could offer Mubarak`s cronies a better deal than the shallow grave they fear is going to claim them very shortly?

    Problem is for the west that those cronies know how complicit we westerners were in their brutal doings...where were people rendered to for torture again....and why does the name SAYYID QUTB come to mind?

    Did you ever hear Milosevic`s and Sadam Hussein`s defence statements? How strange that we were in court recording it all and nothing reached our ears!
    No wonder they are desperate!

  • Comment number 5.

    the monarchy dictatorship in the uk only accepted 'political reform' when they were looking down the barrel of cromwell's canon?

    mubarak staying means he's got the backing of usa and israel and that he has his plans in place. it now looks like he was buying time to prepare the ground and secure the strategic initiative?

  • Comment number 6.

    Depressingly predictable is it not.


    Yes you can...but will you?

    Better the devil you know the hawks in Washington will be saying.

    What price 'relative' stability in the middle east v something rather unpredictable which may not be in the USA global interest... egypt, then, jordan, then saudi. Who will hold the power if that happened, what will be thier attitude to Israel, what will be thier attitude to Oil, does the USA and the rest of the world with interests in the area want to find out for the sake of 'democracy' for the Arab world.

    Well do we?

    Be honest now.

    Conrad wrote about this stuff a long time ago.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's an absolute they are Murbarak's paid thugs and as was predicted there will be much more blood. Freedom does not come cheap. Mubarak will never leave till the people force him out . Unfortunately there will have to be more blood to shed.

  • Comment number 8.

    After Mubarak's statement last night today's initial events were hardly surprising, if not unacceptable.
    However, this evenings comments by Suleiman's are hardly acceptable/ if credible "No dialogue unless protests stop". It is his/Mubarak's men that have been creating the chaos and violence all day, surely a leader of a clan can call his dogs to heel!!

  • Comment number 9.


    That was the exact same argument that the US used to justify its involvement in Vietnam against the Communists. First Vietnam, then Cambodia, then East Asia, then India, then Asia, then Africa - where would it end? As it turned out, they spent countless US and Vietnamese lives, divided a country, and it went nowhere.

    Western democracies - and the UK is not exempt from this either - have a habit of talking big about democracy, freedom of expression, and the power of the people, yet turning a blind eye towards repression of just that when it threatens 'their man.' The hypocrisy is not lost on Western critics. The Cold War is long over. We need to abandon this line of thinking and embrace the call of democratic change.

    Heaven forbid that I find myself agreeing with Condelezza Rice, but the US tried for 50 years to bring stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East. Is it too much to ask that we gave democracy a chance, for the price of a little stability?

    All western governments need to step up the pressure. Whatever my disagreements with Mister Cameron on domestic issues, I'm pleased to see him doing just that today.

    Mubarak needs to go, and sooner rather than later. Before Tahir Square becomes another Tianamen.

  • Comment number 10.

    which states are stable? Just or unjust ones? if one wants stability one should promote justice.

  • Comment number 11.

    I hate guns and deslike people who have them, but seeing what is happening in Cairo I'm starting to think that the right to bear arms like they have in the US is a good thing.

  • Comment number 12.

    I know its morally wrong to be bothered about such things when people are dying , but what was happening to that poor dog the man put on the car roof ? I hope they werent beating it to death .

  • Comment number 13.

    Mark wrote:

    "With these "supporters" Mr Mubarak can deny that he has ordered a crackdown."

    "He can also claim to Western governments who urge him to rein them in, that they are not under his personal control ... "

    He can deny all he likes, and maybe if the people he is speaking to also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, and the Great Pumpkin, it'll do him some good.

    It seems to me, though, that he is dealing with a US President, and maybe some others, who can find Selma, Alabama and Little Rock, Arkansas on a map.

  • Comment number 14.

    6. At 9:34pm on 02 Feb 2011, Jericoa wrote:

    "... does the USA and the rest of the world with interests in the area want to find out for the sake of 'democracy' for the Arab world."

    "Well do we?"

    If you have to ask that question, you don't deserve to live in a democracy.

  • Comment number 15.


    I dont live in a democracy, i live in the illusion of a democracy, just like you.

    Anyway, it was directed at #2 to apply a dash of realism, I would prefer to live in a better world.

  • Comment number 16.

    call it a democracy when two million people marched in London in February 2003 against an illegal war in Iraq and nobody gave a monkeys???

  • Comment number 17.

    16...stevie... How many would march if they thought we could get ourselves a rational debate about the EU and immigration? You start giving a monkeys and so will we!

  • Comment number 18.

    American, European and Israeli apologists for Hosni Mubarak's 30 years dictatorship talk about stability.
    What stability?
    Where are unequivocal denunciations, the outright condemnations?
    Why do our western politicians vascillate?
    Hosni Mubarak has never been a reformer. Allowing Mubarak to stay until September 2011 is simply not acceptable, no more acceptable than allowing Omar Sulieman to replace him as the head of a Transitional Government.
    Now we have Hosni Mubarak and his friends using thugs to pretend there is a real counter demonstration. There is this proposition that Mubarak kept the peace, that Egypt is the cornerstone of Middle East peace.
    There are these pundit fears
    - a new government will comprise extremists (esp. The Muslim Brotherhood)
    - a new government may break the long-standing peace with Israel
    - a new government may reopen blockades by Egypt and Israel against Palestinians...
    Apparently some countries are petrified that the Muslim Brotherhood should become a meaningful part of the Eyptian political process.
    The Muslim Brotherhood has been presented as a terrorist group, despite evidence to the contrary. The Muslim Brotherhood has little record of violence, though Hosni Mubarak has used the Brotherhood to justify his own repressions.
    People are dying in Egypt. People are sufffering. but the United States of America is muted in calling out for democracy. It's typical statement: The Eyptian People must decide for themselves.
    The United States, some European nations and of course Israel are implicated in Egypt's dictatorship in Egypt - diplomatically, fiscally, and militarily. I call the old double standard; I call it hypocracy. I call it blatant: when self-proclaimed democrats support dictatorships.
    Israel have been making very condescending comments on Egyptian crises, Israel says that it is in the interests of America, Israel and western nations to keep Mubarak. Well, these countries must be shaking in their boots now that the entire Middle East is catching fire. A successful revolution in Egypt, will shake the Middle East as well as northern Africa, is shaking it already.
    President Barack Obama of the United States once said that Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men - I guess he meant strong American puppets.
    Hosni Mubarak is president for life, the symbol for one-sided peace for Israel, at the expense of Palestinians, Arabs, Persians...Americans and other westerners have stated preferences for a stable, STABLE Egypt - I guess this means continued economic and political stagnation & a supressed people.
    There is little talk (no talk) about what Egyptians want; instead, all the talk is about the loss of stability will mean for the United States, Israel and other western countries.
    Hosni Mubarak has pretended, without proof, that Muslim Brotherhood is violent and it is a terrorist group, even though there are Muslim Brotherhood members in the Egyptian parliament. Hosni Mubarak and his supporters have pretended that every Muslim Brotherhood is a violent Ayatollah with extreme theocratic worldview...and oh my God, a Muslim Brotherhood Government will become another Iran!
    Egypt has been an enforcer for the US and Israel.
    General Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief and now VP is known to be a pro-American & pro-Israel. He supervised American outsourcing of torture also known as Extraordinary Rendition. A successor to Mubarak? I think not.
    What type of nation(s) would support Hosni Mubarak for peace & stability after 30 years of brutalities, extreme political repressions.
    Mubarak has sponsored and paid thugs to attack peaceful protesters. Mubarak has used his political party members, and his armed forces against peaceful demonstrators, including journalists like Anderson Cooper.
    Mubarak is 82 years old and after 30 years of absolute power and 30 years of a forced state of emergency in which civil liberties have been curtailed, he remains unwilling to yield to democratic demands by millions of Egyptians. It is a fact, that Egypt is recipient of the second largest foreign aid from the The United States after Israel!
    It is also a fact, that Egyptian military is heavily reliant on America and Israel for money, hardware and other resources. Even the teargas being used against protesters are MADE IN USA by an American company in Tennessee. America is largest arms supplier to Egypt. But where is the United States when it comes to agriculture, food production?
    When Israel is discussed, it is treated every so lightly. There is never a mention that Israel, a nation of less than ten million people, receives the highest foreign aid from America - more than all the African nations combined.
    As for the pro-Mubarek forces. These "thugs" who have been identified as members of the police and the military, acting at the behest of the dictator - allowed to attack, murder and wound peaceful protesters.
    These are the same Americans who have led the UN cry for military intervention into the Ivory Coast to unseat President Laurent Gbagbo, in order to install another western puppet - Alsance Gbagbo.
    Supporting dictatorship is bad business, very bad for all those nations who pretend democracy is so precious.
    The fear of Islam as represented by Muslim Brotherhood is at the bottom of most western fears. All sane persons should have thought the US have learned some lessons from
    - supporting Shah Palavi of Iran against a democratically and constitutionally elected government of Iran (The CIA usurped the Iranian democracy in 1953).
    - supporting dictatorship in Iraq, then invading Iraq to dislodge Saddam, when he ceased to follow orders.
    - supporting the dictatorships of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the list goes on...
    The United States uses dictatorships for control, for imperialism. Where America is concerned distators do not dictate; they are dictated to (by the west).

  • Comment number 19.

    118..Where are coming from BB?`s the Yanks and their media who are pushing this ...and they had thirty years to discover their concern for Egyptian democracy and human rights.

    Mubarak has said he will go and he`s only staying a few months while EGYPTIANS sort themselves out a replacement government.In the meantime any dirty tricks will only sabotage the perpetrator`s chance of being part of the government.

    And if the USA is so concerned then what about Libyan or Pakistani "democracy"?

  • Comment number 20.


    Or Saudi or Jordanian. They seem to be quite vocal and concerned about Venezualan or chinese democracy though.

    Funny that.

  • Comment number 21.

    oh for World in Action right now. Radio 4 did an excellent piece on the history of WIA this morning and how well served we were in the sixties, seventies and eighties and we have had nothing since with it's cutting edge and we are all the poorer....

  • Comment number 22.

    21 It all started to change when Keith Joseph took a newly installed PM called Margaret over to see Fiedman in 79/80 and global capitalisms neoliberal empire and feudal state has never looked back.

    Once everything of value and our industry was sabotaged or sold off or exported ..we depended on financial services entirely...and then the Glass Steagal Acts were repealed and the Wall Street sharks did a rerun of 1929.....and we are history!

  • Comment number 23.

    Earlier this week, you wrote about why we should not under-estimate the forces of conservatism in Egypt. You should have writen about why we should not under-estimate the desperation of the United States of America & Israel.
    The people understand that President Hosni Mubarak and his newly installed VP Omar Suleiman, had some other options waiting in the wings.
    With these "options", Mr Mubarak can deny that he has ordered a crackdown.
    What are these options waiting in the wings?
    Today Connecticut National Guard Detachment 2, 185th Aviation Regiment of Groton (having been training since January 5, 2011) mobilized and will deploy to the Sinai Peninsula to support the "Multinational Force and Observers".
    The unit operates C-23C Sherpa aircraft and has deployed three times in the last seven years in support of the conflicts in Iraq & Afghanistan.
    The unit will provide an on-demand aviation assistance to the Multinational Force and Observers commander to support its mission of "supervising" the security provisions of the Egypt/Israel Peace Treaty.
    The Pentagon is moving US warships and other military assets allegedly to to make sure it is prepared in case evacuation of US citizens from Egypt becomes necessary.
    The Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship carrying 700 to 800 troops from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has arrived in the Red Sea, putting them off Egypt’s shores "in case the situation worsens".
    Through all of this the Pentagon maintains that military intervention in Egypt is NOT being contemplated.
    Pentagon: In addition to the Marines, the Kearsarge normally carries around four dozen helicopters and jets that would permit evacuations and other "humanitarian operations". The Kearsarge is an attack vessel.
    In carrying out her mission, Kearsarge not only transports and lands ashore troops, but also tanks, trucks, artillery, and the complete support that is needed for assault.
    In addition, the aircraft carrier Enterprise is in the eastern Mediterranean. The Pentagon originally announced that the carrier was heading through the Suez Canal for the Arabian Gulf, but the crisis in Egypt has kept the ship in the Mediterranean.
    Egypt borders the Mediterranean Sea as well as the Red Sea.
    The Enterprise is the longest naval vessel in the world, and is powered by eight nuclear reactors.
    Therefore, it becomes evident that the United States is at least preparing for military action.
    Also noted have been multiple platoons.There is a system within the US Marines that alerts the immediate families of high-ranking marines when their marine will soon be deployed to an emergency situation where they will not be able to talk to their spouses or families. That alert just went out...
    If Mubarek gets this American military intervention, I feel that all Hell will break loose because these actions will no longer be covert.

  • Comment number 24.

    Must the west be at loggerheads with Islam? We are fighting a war yards from the Indian and Chinese borders and they are now capitalist why don`t they sort out Afghanistan and Pakistan?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.