The weekend’s events in Egypt showed a tension between the establishment, including leadership in the West, trying to firmly manage the situation, and the expectations of the protesters in the street. Siun sums that up well. But I’ll just note the spate of stories that either show legitimate differences of opinion among the protesters or merely represent a “divide and conquer” approach among the establishment.
Omar Suleiman released a statement about a series of meetings he held with protesters, and concessions made at those meetings. At the same time, the Washington Post starts reporting that the opposition groups have begun to “fracture.” This is based on the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed ElBaradei did not join the talks. But the Muslim Brotherhood did join the talks later. And the talks clearly did not satisfy the protesters. The Washington Post seemed to be straining to make a split in the protest movement where there wasn’t any.
Then there’s the fallback on the rules. Hillary Clinton all of a sudden started quoting from the Egyptian Constitution, saying that the Speaker of Parliament and not the Vice President ascends to the top spot in the event of the resignation of the President, and elections must then be held within 60 days. Again, this has not satisfied the people in Tahrir Square. But it’s being used to blunt pressure on Mubarak and Suleiman.
Finally, there’s a concerted effort on the part of Western media to show that Cairo is normal again, with slices of life that sidestep Tahrir Square. Businesses and banks opened their doors. People returned to their jobs and to drinking tea. Everything has returned to balance.
Just a half-mile away, the army attempted to forcibly retake parts of the square and the protesters blocked them, just as they’ve blocked the entrance to the Mugamma, the large administrative building at the center of the Egyptian bureaucracy.
The slice-of-life stories have this amusing conceit, where they say “everybody interviewed” wants things to return to normal, which is a self-selection just based on who’s being interviewed, namely people sitting in a tea house in a suburb.
All of this shows that the Mubarak gambit of warning against a hasty exit, lest chaos reign, has penetrated the thinking of Western leaders and the media covering Egypt. The threat of giving in to the demands of the masses is unspecified but seen as dire; formal rules are offered as a roadblock; enough anti-protest natives are interviewed to sow discord among the common dreams of the protesters. It’s all very skilled.