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Egypt violence seems to backfire on Mubarak

Egypt violence seems to backfire on Mubarak

Violence tarnishes Egypt's image, hardens U.S. position; Friday seen next major test of demonstrators' resolve.

February 3, 2011 11:44 by

Violence against Egyptian protesters by Hosni Mubarak loyalists appeared to backfire on Wednesday, drawing criticism from the United States, which hardened its stance on the president’s political future.

The activists who have staged unprecedented protests against Mubarak said the rough tactics had also hardened their resolve.

The extent of their determination will become clear on Friday, when the protesters have called another mass rally to demand the 82-year old president step down.

Scenes of men claiming loyalty to Mubarak armed with sticks and knives might also have undermined some of the sympathy the president generated during his televised address on Tuesday, when he announced he would not seek re-election in September.

But public relations appeared to be of no importance to whoever was behind the violence: reporters were also attacked, including foreigners, in what the Committee to Protect Journalists said was an effort at “blanket censorship”.

By nightfall, the protesters were still holding their ground in Tahrir Square, scene of Wednesday’s violence and the hub for the anti-Mubarak protests over the last week. Whether they stay or leave might not matter that much.

The anti-Mubarak protest movement has generated great momentum over the last nine days. Were the protesters to leave the square, they would likely be able to regroup for Friday, harnessing the social media that allowed them to organise.

“If they’re attacked as they were today, by armed young men, then there’s the potential for real instability,” said Elijah Zarwan, a senior Cairo-based analyst with International Crisis Group. “I fear it could be a harbinger of further unrest.”

In Washington, a vital ally for Egypt, a senior U.S. official, speaking privately, shared the assessment of protesters and witnesses in Cairo that someone loyal to Mubarak had unleashed gangs of armed men to intimidate the protesters.

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