Mubarak's notorious police stood down, but only for a few hours
CAIRO, Egypt -- It is too soon to know whether the stunning demonstrations that have rocked Egypt today, with tens of thousands of protesters descending on cities throughout the country and overtaking Cairo's central square in an effort to reproduce Tunisia's recent uprising, will succeed in forcing change. But a telling comment came just after cannons, shooting gas-infused water, dispersed crowds along one major Cairo thoroughfare, when a man turned to me and said, "We want a revolution. We don't want Hosni Mubarak."
That man was a police captain.
To be sure, today's protests have been marked with instances of shocking, even if sadly predictable, regime violence. Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets; government-hired thugs beat protesters in the streets; and many - including my own roommate - were arrested. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of today's "day of rage" was that, for the first few hours, Egypt's notorious security forces stood down.
The day began with uncertainty. Although many Egyptians had been inundated with text messages and Facebook alerts informing them of today's protests, most seemed determined to stay on the sidelines. Some said they preferred the security of a police state to the chaos of political change and, in any event, they had to go to work. Meanwhile, Egypt's many opposition groups divided over where to hold the protests and at what time. By noon, one opposition group leader said his group was considering scrapping all of the proposed venues because of the heavy security presences. The center of downtown Cairo, Tahrir Square, had been totally shut down by hundreds of riot police and the much-hyped January 25th protests seemed to be just another anti-totalitarian tease.