Saturday, June 5, 2010

Can Mubarak weather a perfect storm?

Anger over support for Israel in addition to political stagnation and economic instability could undermine Egypt's president

Jack Shenker, Saturday 5 June 2010

"Holed up under the belle époque domes of his presidential palace this week, ailing Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak would not have heard the crowds chanting his name on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Fayoum and other major cities across the country.

Which is just as well, as their words were enough to send a chill down the spine of any Arab autocrat fighting to maintain his grip over a nation increasingly reluctant to afford those at the top of the political tree any kind of credibility. "Ya Mubarak, Ya Sahyoni" ("Mubarak the Zionist") sang the protesters, as anger over Israel's deadly assault on the Gaza aid flotilla gathered momentum. "Down with the siege, down with Mubarak."

Only last month the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was describing the relationship between Mubarak and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a "wonderful friendship" and claiming that Bibi felt closer to the 82-year-old Egyptian than to any other world statesman....

Prominent political activist Hossam el-Hamalawy told me:

"Unanimously now, whenever protesters get together, you'll find their first chants are against Mubarak. Whenever anything happens with Palestine and Israel, the strongest impact is here in Egypt. It's very ironic: we have the most treacherous regime when it comes to the Palestinian cause – Mubarak is America's most senior thug in the region – and yet the people of Egypt are among the most sympathetic you can find in terms of the Palestinians, because they can understand the correlations between the Palestinian issue and their own situation.".....

Even more worryingly for the Egyptian government, the very leverage it held in the Israel/Palestine arena may itself be draining away. "The situation is explosive and in the upper echelons of the state there's total confusion in terms of how to handle it," el-Hamalawy argues.

Caught between his people and his paymasters, tough times lie ahead for one of the Middle East's oldest western stalwarts."

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