It’s 2am and I am finally back in my hotel. It’s been an extraordinary day. Tens of thousands of Egyptians—perhaps more—took to the streets across the country to demand change. Even the “Red Sea Riviera” was not spared the anger of Egyptians who are fed up with the brutality and lies of the regime.
I have been helping to shepherd a group of CFR members around Cairo the last few days. At each and every meeting with an Egyptian official or NDP member, we were told that the possibility of large demonstrations was minimal, it was all “the media,” maybe 50 people will show up. Why? Because Egypt is a democracy, of course, and while there are “some problems,” people are free. Although it is true that the Egyptian people did not rise up en masse today, many of them did. If they are so free and the economy is growing so fast that Egypt can be “another BRIC” (seriously!), why are so many people mad? Why do they want the Mubarak family to leave?
It’s not clear at all whether they believe them or not, but the Egyptian elite have been telling themselves lies and half truths for years. Today may have been the day when those lies and half truths caught up with them. Clearly, the many thousands of people in Tahrir Square today/tonight don’t take the regime’s claims about reform seriously. The press has focused on economic grievances—perhaps taking their cues from government spokesmen—but the only demands I heard tonight were political. The young men and (some) women in Tahrir want freedom and liberation from Hosni Mubarak, his family, and the National Democratic Party. As an aside, no matter how this thing turns out, it seems far less likely that Gamal Mubarak will succeed his father.
So far, this is an event of mostly 30 and under with the exception of a number of notables including Dr. Alaa al Aswany, the author of The Yacoubian Building. The police cracked down heavily tonight, but there is a sense this is not over. Cairo was not the only place that experienced big demonstrations. Something is deeply wrong in Egypt. If the protests continue and ordinary Egyptians decide to join the students and other young people in the streets today, something very big is going to happen—perhaps even the end of the Free Officers regime.