Egypt's Hosni Mubarak: Following Missteps of Ousted Tunisian Leader?

Article excerpt

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak at first ignored protesters, and then responded with force. 'I don't think Mubarak learned anything from the Tunisian case,' says one observer.

Tunisia's deposed President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali seemingly provided the Arab world a textbook in what not to do to avoid being ousted.

Yet instead of avoiding Mr. Ben Ali's missteps, observers say, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak appears to be taking pages from his playbook.

"I don't think Mubarak learned anything from the Tunisian case," says Mustapha Kamel El Sayyid, political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

In both countries, uncontrollable protests only worsened when police tried to forcefully restrain them; police pulled back and an ensuing security vacuum prompted neighborhood residents to patrol their streets to protect their property; and people gave a joyous welcome to the Army when it stepped in to secure streets.

The similarities in the responses may not bode well for the Egyptian leader, or for the United States. While Tunisia's revolution was a wakeup call to the Arab world and the West, the toppling of Mubarak, America's most stalwart ally in the Middle East and leader of the most populous Arab country, would have far wider consequences for the region.

Similar roots of unrest, anger at police

The revolution in Tunisia was sparked by widespread anger not only over rising unemployment and increasingly difficult living circumstances, but the ruling family's flagrant corruption and the government's crushing repression. In Egypt, protesters as well have combined economic grievances with a stronger call for freedom and an end to the 30-year-rule of their autocrat.

The Egyptian protests are moving somewhat faster than in Tunisia, perhaps thanks to the example of the nation whose population is a little over half the size of Egypt's capital, Cairo. While in Tunisia the demonstrations began as a protest against the government and did not, until the end, coalesce into clear calls for Ben Ali to leave, signs saying "Down with Mubarak" and "Mubarak out" have been a fixture at Egyptian demonstrations since the first one on Jan. 25.

As the demonstrations got bigger, police in both nations used force to try to put them down, in what Sayyid says was a key factor in pushing demonstrators over the edge.

Protesters fought police, welcomed Army

Tunisia's Army did not step in to restore order on the streets until after Ben Ali's departure. Egypt's military began patrolling the capital after protesters overwhelmed police on Friday. But in both cases, the people welcomed the military with cheers, hugs, and flowers. The internal security apparatuses of both nations have earned the hatred of the populations after decades of being used to suppress them. Torture at the hands of police is common in Tunisia and Egypt. …