Many expected to experience a night of fundamental change in Egypt. Even the state media, staunchly behind the current regime, indicated earlier today that a political reorganisation may be close at hand. For the first time in years the army council conducted a meeting without its supreme leader - Mohammed Hosni Mubarak. Secretary General of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossan Badrawi spoke to the BBC saying it was time for Mr Mubarak to 'step aside. And so the crowds on the Tahrir Square were overtaken by an ecstatic mode of jubilation. Everyone anticipated to spend this Thursday night on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities and towns celebrating a new era of democracy.
Only to later, around 2230 local time, to hear that Mubarak and his regime hasn't given up their arms yet. Same old totalitarian rhetoric was yet again persistent in both the president's and vice-president's speeches tonight. But there was a slight shift, or at least that's what they want the people to see as a shift. Suleiman being handed over significant executive powers? Suleiman being a de fact acting president? Some Egyptians, including my friend's father, understood these speeches as such. Egyptian ambassador to the USA confirms precisely so. Yet, is that actually what has really taken place?
It rather seems it's quite the contrary! The state has, perhaps partially successfully (that still remains to be seen), employed a yet another cheesy state propaganda measure - spreading confusion. Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman actually delineated the extent of powers that are to be transformed to the office of the vice-president. It appears that what Mubarak wants is for the simple, uneducated people with no access to satellite television to believe he's taking a step back, whereas the actual truth is - he's not going anywhere and the position has not changed in the slightest. Suleiman's speech has in fact proven this particular point. There has been no change on the political arena tonight, so let us not be fooled. The regime has employed this ambiguity to impose a feeling of confusion. This state of affairs may now prove disastrous as it may indeed turn Egyptians against each other, thus leading to further insecurity.
It is a typical strategy on the part of Mubarak and Suleiman. The actual lesson we get from tonight is that there is no transition, no change of heart, and no movement forward. The regime fights its way to remain in power. It was clear in their speeches that they want to play on people's emotions and people's fear of further economic decline and instability. However, it appears to me that most people have already taken this for granted as a necessary price to pay for the actual process of change and it's only highly surprising that the regime does not get the message yet.
A final lesson one might take from tonight's observations is that the regime cares more about their own interests than the actual interests of Egypt or the Egyptian democracy. Mubarak reiterated tonight: "Egypt will continue to be in my heart until I die and Egypt's people will always be living with pride, with dignity, to the end." Whose end is more at hand? Mubarak's? Or rather that of another hundreds of Egyptians dying on the streets?! This question, as painful as it is, remains to be answered in the days to come.
2011 © Matthew Machowski
Pictures from Al Jazeera and Newsweek.