At least they had a game to play while nobody answered their questions - count the scowls on Air Force One.
Expecting to witness history in Tahrir City as he returned from Michigan, President Barack Obama and his team were greeted with the same rage facing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Under the impression that he would resign amid a swirl of rumors and a military statement - and receiving the opposite outcome - White House press secretary Robert Gibbs fielded no questions from reporters. The age of secrets is over though.
Marine One landed roughly 10 minutes after Mubarak finished speaking, with reporters from multiple U.S. sources describing the White House as “deeply disappointed.”
Apparently these dozens of officials don’t understand whether Mubarak led them on with the rest of Egyptian protesters, or if a breakdown in communication occurred. Of course Obama (and CIA director Leon Panetta) did guess right about one thing. The massive crowds had reverted from silence to rage by the time Mubarak finished enumerating his services to the Egyptian people. Not only did Mubarak refuse to step down, he appeared to step back from those powers already “transferred” to Suleiman. He also rejected responsibility for any violence over the preceding weeks. But the highly personalized nature of Mubarak’s tone, described as “ narcissistic,” “egotistical,” “patronizing,” "condescending" and “junk,” particularly infuriated protesters.
“Extremely," "foul," "stunned," "profound," "unprecedented" anger.
History did unfold at midnight in Tahrir, just as it will during Friday’s “Day of the Masses.” Given bubbling rumors that the presidential palace will finally become a target for marches, opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei warned that Egypt “could explode” if the military decides to back the government. Opposition leaders readily admit to Egypt’s popular revolution outpacing their capabilities to organize.
So how could America and its jittery allies possibly keep up?
Not coincidentally, after rage had peaked from Mubarak and Vice President Omar Suleiman’s addresses, the Egyptian government began to notify international news desks that they misunderstood Mubarak’s translation. By this point Suleiman had already blamed “satellite T.V” - foreign media - for a breakdown in communication. However, neither of these chain-reactions resulted from such trivial factors, but from a systematic breakdown in state policy in Cairo and Washington, Jerusalem and Riyadh.
And if their collective policy isn’t remedied immediately, all will face their own nightmares in the Mubarak regime’s fall.
One activist told Al Jazeera English, whose parent went offline in Egypt, that Mubarak’s decision was “unbelievably stupid,” a fitting description. Failing to accomplish their immediate objective of clearing Tahrir Square, Mubarak and Suleiman will now witness Egypt’s largest protests in 18 days. They’ve simply fueled the fire. And if ensuing marches do hasten Mubarak’s fall, his time to manipulate the political system will be compromised. Mubarak’s speech so clearly failed to satisfy protesters that Suleiman soon appeared on state T.V, blaming “satellite T.V.” for fomenting dissent and continuing to suppress protesters’ rights.
“Go back home, Go back to work,” he ordered more than pleaded... “The clock is ticking for work.”
Never-mind that many people are protesting their unemployment, or that many others claim to have lost their job after marching. Suleiman's remarks are direct references to labor strikes already joining the call for Friday's mobilization. Many protesters are starting to believe that Mubarak and Suleiman are broadcasting from Mars.
How Obama caught himself on the wrong end of Mubarak can only be explained by poor judgment, as has been the case throughout Egypt’s revolution. Lost in translation is a feeble excuse for lost policy, hitched as it is to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Despite a growing euphoria in Tahrir Square, the odds favored Mubarak’s exact response to the masses. Now U.S. officials must trudge out in their walk of shame to spin the White House’s latest controversy, a pattern they’ve grown accustomed to.
Like Mubarak’s policy, the White House’s response has been counterproductive in the short and long term, a total strategic failure.
As anger mounts and international reporting turns decisively negative, Egyptian officials continue to push their contradictory line of “misunderstanding.” Beyond scapegoating the international media, Suleiman said that peoples' expectations were confused by the military’s earlier statement. Another Egyptian official went so far as to say Mubarak has no power, but that he remains the ruling head of state. All authority has been transferred to Suleiman - except powers to amend the constitution, dissolve parliament, and fire the cabinet.
Naturally Egyptians believe that Mubarak, even if he does cede his entire authority, could still take it back before September. The regime has released its usual smoke screen, forcing even the White House to sort through the his speech in confusion. Both Mubarak and Washington continue to see the revolution in shades of gray, rather than the black and white that it is. There’s nothing complicated about protesters' demands: “Mubarak and Suleiman must go.”
Revolution and negotiation don’t mix.
Where, then, do these various endgames lead? Protesters are explicitly clear in marching by the millions after Friday’s noon prayer. If Mubarak didn’t leave today though, what reason will he have tomorrow? Yet while Mubarak vowed to stay until September, a preemptive escape after weeks or months remains possible. While he forcefully rejected “outsiders,” he’s solely propped up by Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. A paper tiger, Mubarak would immediately crumble without their support, especially the Saudi King’s nexus of dollars and oil. King Abdullah has come to shackle Washington and Jerusalem’s political and economy policies.
Thus Saudi Arabia appears a probable point of exile for Mubarak, his family, and supporters. Maybe he stays for three or four months, after orchestrating favorable political terms, and spirits across the Red Sea at night, treasure in tow. However this strategy may not safeguard the impending punishment levied upon his family.
The second question everyone wants to know is how the military will respond on Friday. With anger peaking and many accusing Mubarak’s speech of being a set-up, the possibility of intentional violence and a corresponding crackdown is rising. Protesters are currently debating how to secure the military’s permanent allegiance after being repeatedly deceived. Non-violence is pivotal and demonstrators aren’t about change course, but some are "expecting the worst."
Any bloodshed will directly result from the Mubarak regime, leaving the military complicit in the event that it fails to intervene. And this development will further jeopardize Washington’s plan to transition Egypt into military oversight.
As with Egypt’s military, the White House cannot preach loyalty and support to protesters only to stand idle as they’re beaten, arrested, tortured, and killed. Obama and Clinton must prevent the looming violence if they're so worried about it. Don’t cry afterward and wonder how it happened. Back the Egyptian people and unilaterally demand Mubarak’s resignation. If this leads to “instability” and “disorder,” so be it.
Whatever chaos Egypt’s people generate in his absence won’t match the prolonged countdown to Mubarak’s exit.