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Showdown in Egypt: may the people prevail!

Egypt went from festive jubilation to anger last night as Mubarak refused to step down. It was a disappointment felt around the world.

It has become clear that the army is backing the Mubarak-Suleiman regime. The military's statement today, "communique #2", said the army will ensure that the reforms will be enacted, including the removal of the emergency law and elections in September. Like Suleiman, the military called on protesters to go home.

All along, there has been much talk in Egypt and in the West that the army was the best hope for implementing change in Egypt. We've seen references to the army as the conscience or honor of the nation. But as events have unfolded, it is evident that this is naive thinking. The army's main concern is stability, not democracy. Obviously, the situation in Egypt is fluid. But even if it did happen, an army coup is the antithesis of democracy, and once power is in the military's hands, there is no guarantee of any transition.

And, not for the first time since January 25th, the Obama administration looks flat-footed and confused. CIA director Leon Panetta said yesterday morning that Mubarak was going to stand down. In an act of collosal bad timing, Obama stood before microphones shortly before Mubarak's speech, and optimistically spoke of "witnessing history unfold" in Egypt.

How could the US get it so wrong? Were they misreading signs? Or did the regime change its mind during the day? We may never know, but we do know that the US came out of it looking bad. But then, to make matters worse, Obama fired off a petulant statement. Throughout, the statement refers to the Mubarak regime not making itself "clear": "it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient"; "it is the responsibility of the government to speak clearly to the Egyptian people and the world". But the regime has spoken, loud and clear - they are dead-set against the protests and are clinging to power. Mubarak doesn't need better PR, a better speech-writer. Furthermore, the statement continues to refer to "the government" - as in the current regime - needing to be responsive to the people, when the Egyptian people are not looking for anything from Mubarak and Suleiman - they just want them out. Obama is still endowing the regime with a legitimacy that it lost a long time ago.

Clearly, the stakes have been raised. Even before Mubarak's speech last night, there were signs that the unrest was becoming more threatening to the regime, with labor strikes and business owners joining the protests. Today angry protests are spreading across Cairo and the rest of Egypt, and including around the state TV station and the presidential palace. Having been warned by Sulieman and now the army to disperse, there is a sense of foreboding hanging over Egypt, as a showdown looms.

The hopes of the world are with Egypt - may the people prevail!

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