Blood is not the ideal lubricant for the orderly transition which all political forces in Egypt claim to want. Nor is deceit. Yet there is a clear danger of more of both as the regime in Cairo wriggles and manoeuvres for advantage. They may understand on one level that things cannot go on as they did before, but on another, some of them at least are acting as if outflanking their opponents is the main objective. There is also evidence, in the shape of a worsening of the conditions under which foreign journalists have to work, that they want to do it without the international press at their elbow.
Much of this manoeuvring centres on the physical possession of Tahrir Square. The passionate advocates of immediate change in Egypt have already been pushed out of part of the square by violent pro-Mubarak demonstrators. Now, in addition, they face the more insidious prospect of being "persuaded" out of this symbolic place by the argument that what they are doing will lead to dire consequences for the livelihood of ordinary Egyptians.
The new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, yesterday apologised for the violence in the square on Wednesday and said it would not be repeated. But he did so in a way which not so subtly equated the two sets of demonstrators, while laying on the anti-Mubarak side the responsibility for the deterioration in the country's economy. Vice-president Omar Suleiman did the same in an interview in which he recounted his attempts to conduct a dialogue with political parties and spoke of the length of time needed to make constitutional changes. The game here is an obvious one: paint the country as more or less equally divided and in need of arbitration and reconciliation, make economic normalisation the immediate priority, and draw out the political process.
One does not have to believe that every pro-Mubarak demonstrator is a thug or a plainclothes policeman to understand that equating the two sides in this way distorts reality. And, while arguments about Egypt's economic plight or the need to observe legalities cannot be dismissed, they are no substitute for creating the trust necessary if there are to be real negotiations about the country's future. Read more.
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