29 Jan 2011

Egypt uprising: ‘the stakes could hardly be higher’

If Egypt’s President Mubarak is toppled, America and Israel stand to lose a key ally in the Middle East. The stakes could hardly be higher, writes Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson.

Egypt protests: is President Mubarak's time up? (Getty)

The grating of vast power plates across Egypt is astonishing to watch. Extraordinary tectonics here been reverberating around the globe far more than anything Tunisia could provide. Because this is Egypt. Because this is Mubarak.

Egyptians may be about to rid themselves of their domestic tyrant – but if they do then America and Israel lose at a strike their Great Stooge. Their most stalwart and powerful supporter in the region will be gone.

An Arab president who hated and feared Hamas every bit as much as Tel Aviv and Washington will be no more. And what does Israel do then? All this with a weak president in the White House whose early-offfice overtures to the Arab-Israeli “peace process” ended in the dust-clouds of Israeli settlement-building.

You can scarcely over-estimate what is in play here.

Egypt protests: live blog

Egypt protests: soldiers in Cairo look down from a tank. (Reuters)

Throughout Israel‘s invasion of Gaza, there was Mubarak, ready to shore up the other frontier against Hamas, readier still to help Israel with the extraordinary blockade of the strip – only lifting it very briefly around the time Israel stormed the aid flotilla en route for the area.

All of this surprised nobody in the region nor around the world. Should George Bush senior have decided to declare war upon Iraq as he did in Operation Desert Storm back in 1991 – there was Mubarak offering up Egyptian troops for the desert by the thousand. And very glad we correspondents were at the time – for the friendly Egyptian soldiers had no time for British or American notions of strict war censorship – you just found your Egyptians in the desert, set up camera and away you went.

The elections won by Mubarak’s party with implausibly lavish landslide ‘majorities’.

Sadly for the country’s eighty-odd million citizens, things were not quite so happy back home during almost 30 years of what amounted to dictatorship. The elections won by Mubarak’s party with implausibly lavish landslide “majorities”.

Then the hundreds, thousands, arrested and whisked off the streets by plainclothed secret police across Egypt on whatever pretext of political opposition. Some were never seen again. Some were beaten to a pulp or even death right out there in the streets, brazen as you like. For this was a no come-back regime. A no-questions-asked strongman president – if not for life, then for term upon term upon interminable term.

Which is why so many have finally had enough, why so many have the courage.

And the middle-classes and the educated could do little or say little about it. The poor in the heaving slums of Cairo and beyond saw nothing much change – except the price of bread, rice, fuel and other staples.

There was an assassination attempt – widely belived to have been sponsored by Sudan. But Mubarak escaped without injury and it all led to yet another round of disappearances, arrests, show-trials and all the rest of the predictable clampdown response.

Which is why so many have finally had enough, why so many have the courage. But it is also why so many have been killed on the streets thus far. Why the old man – 82 and in poor health -has still not released his grip on power. And why he tried the absurd stunt of firing one cabinet only, it seems, to try and appoint another batch of placemen and women.

It hasn’t yet happened. It cannot work. The old man is having his grip released as we speak. He calls for a curfew but the people won’t have it. The troops are on the streets but they have no training in crowd control. At the moment they seem more interested in siding with the protesters who want Mubarak gone, than doing anything else. Mercifully so, since the only “anything else” which the Egyptian army has, is lethal force.

So that is why they are watching so carefully in Tel Aviv and in Washington. And that is why Washington – even now – has remained so uncritical of a virtual dictator attacking his own people on the streets, as they come out to protest.

Truly it appears to be revolution. And the tyrant of the people who could be toppled, is a very good friend indeed of Israel and her armourer-in-chief, the USA.

The stakes and the repercussions, could hardly be higher.