|Tune in to Al Jazeera's free streaming coverage of events in Egypt here.|
In the days that followed, President Mubarak responded by unleashing violent thugs on his own people. (Many were security forces out of uniform, while others were ordinary citizens paid a few bucks to attack their compatriots—which says much about the depths of Egyptians' poverty.) The attacks dimmed many Egyptians' hopes for change at just the moment when many began to fear for their economic security. The need to put food on the table began to take a toll and, though the nucleus of the crowds remained in Tahrir Square, many Egyptians returned to work.
Earlier this week (after two weeks of protests now) the release of detained online activist Wael Ghonim—and his emotional interview that followed—breathed new life into the demonstrations.
Today, the army announced that President Mubarak would soon step down. Egyptians filled the streets once again, sensing the long-awaited moment of liberation close at hand. Unfortunately, the rambling address which Mubarak delivered this evening was a slap in the face to the people. Rather than stick to the script the army seemed to have prepared for him, Mubarak announced that he would give some powers to his handpicked vice president (a scumbag even worse than Mubarak himself), while retaining his seat in defiance of the protesters' principal demand.
The insult to the Egyptian people—and to his backers in Washington—which his speech revealed will not be forgiven. Mubarak's reign looks to be in its final hours. Tomorrow, expect protests bigger than any seen so far. Egypt's fate will be in the hands of the military: if the army deposes the president, the demonstrators will dance with joy; if it instead defends the regime, bloodshed in the streets is almost certain.
Already the protesters in Tahrir Square and across Egypt have sent a shockwave through the Arab world. But the future of Egypt itself is unclear, except for one fact: when the dictator finally falls, Egypt will have a very long and dangerous road ahead.
Side note: It would be impossible to overstate the central importance which Al Jazeera has had in these events. Here in the US, its sister station, Al Jazeera English, has also filled in the gap left by the woefully shoddy American news channels, as my friend Jeb has written at Foreign Policy Watch. I encourage everyone to watch the live feed today.