Everyone knows that an Egyptian prison can be bad for your health and your toenails, they stuff ballot boxes, suppress opposition etc, so when a lot of people come onto the streets declaring that the ruler should step down (29 years is enough for anyone, surely), one is sympathetic.
When their demonstrations are mainly peaceful (apart from a few clashes with the pretty nasty police force), one is more sympathetic still.
And when the government sends thugs out to attack them, the sympathometer is off the scale. I must confess I thought the anti-Mubarak people were all going to be horribly beaten at best on Wednesday night, as stone-throwing pro-Mubarak crowds pushed them back into the square. But they stood firm, fought back and were well in control today, despite deaths from what may have been sniper fire.
Naturally I'm on 'their' side. But who are 'they' ? They don't like Mubarak, that's for sure - but is that enough policy to run a country on ?
Not all the pro-Mubarak people were thugs, and I saw some being interviewed just outside the square. They looked prosperous middle class, and made some reasonable points. One eloquent guy asked what had happened to Iraq when Saddam went? He didn't want to see that in Cairo (and there has been looting. And didn't a lot of prisoners break out of jail?). Another reckoned that if Mubarak stepped down there would be anarchy.
I'd been impressed with the way the demonstrators had fought back - but according to one report many of the fighters were Muslim Brotherhood chaps doing jihad. I certainly saw the odd chap in robes chucking rocks with the rest.
And while the way ordinary people set up local vigilante groups to defend their neigbourhoods against looting was admirable, some of those same people were quick to believe government warnings of 'foreign agents' and to start their search for the 'Israelis' who are behind all the unrest (IMHO Israel were probably quite happy with Mubarak, who preferred anti-Israel propaganda to anti-Israel action). There are some eight million Egyptian Coptic Christians, members of one of the oldest churches in the world, who have kept the faith for 1400 years as second-class citizens in a Muslim country, and who have been discriminated against, as well as coming under murderous attack by Islamist extremists. Iraq*, where ancient Christian communities have been slaughtered or driven out, is a terrible warning of what could happen to them.
Over on the Left blogs and the Guardian op-eds, some idiots see their favourite flavour of socialist revolution as imminent, some idiots see Cairo as a useful exemplar for London, more see the bad guys seemingly losing - and cheer that process without too much thought as to what comes next. I worry that might be all too close to my position.
So I'm generally supportive but with no illusions. A corrupt quasi-dictatorship with a democratic front-end, a strong Islamist presence, and a young, over-educated and under-employed demographic profile offers plenty of ways for a transfer of power to go wrong.
* re Iraq - I supported the overthrow of Saddam, but no one can say the implementation's been anything but poor - with dreadful results especially for minorities like Christians. In my defence I'd say that
a) everybody who knew anything about the region and ever made the pages of the Guardian predicted that Iraq would be America's Vietnam, Baghdad their Stalingrad. And that all over the Middle East the "Arab Street" would rise, threatening regimes from Cairo to Casablanca.
What nobody, as far as I can recall (and I was keeping my ears open), said in 2003 was :
"If you overthrow Saddam, the Sunnis will kill all the Shias - and vice-versa"
b) one unknown blogger did seem to grasp the potential for disorder, writing in his third-ever blog post, back in 2003 :
"... will survival be the biggest worry for most Iraqis ? The US and Brits are going to have to turn themselves into aid workers and/or policemen with some speed. When a strong police state collapses, anarchy often follows ... Night is falling in Baghdad. Let's hope they don't wake up to a looted and burning city tomorrow. I'm very pleased - but it seems to me that for the Coalition the hard work has only just begun."
A degree of normality
10 hours ago