Steve Royston

A Ceaucescu Moment: Protest Coming to a Head

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Like millions of others, I’m watching events unfold in Tahrir Square. I’m struck by ubiquitous coverage of the crisis across the Middle East. I did a flip of all the satellite channels in the region, and counted at least 40 showing live pictures. Some Egyptian channels carry the banner “Protect Egypt” in English or Arabic depending on the language of the channel.

Looking back at TV coverage of pivotal events, one remembers iconic moments. Tanks in Prague. The last helicopter leaving the US Embassy in Saigon. The look of bewilderment on the face of Ceauceascu as he faces jeers for the first time. Germans demolishing the Berlin Wall block by block. The man defying the tank in Tiananmen Square. Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam and beating it with shoes.

For all the coverage from Cairo, we do not yet have the definitive media moment. Will that be the burning of the museum, corpses in Tahrir, or Hosni Mubarak boarding the aircraft on his way to exile?

I spoke to a friend in Jeddah, and he commented on the low-tech nature of the fighting. Camels, horses, sticks and stones. Looking at the battle in Tahrir Square, you could also imagine that for the first time you were witnessing an ancient battle – ebbing and flowing, chaotic, disorganised. So different from film portrayals of ranks of soldiers fighting each other – more a melee than a battle – and thankfully with less casualties than you would have seen from wounds inflicted by spears and swords.

The world’s attention has been grabbed by the potential for a domino effect across the Middle East and Africa. There is another dimension that nobody seems to have been talking about. And that’s the implosion of order in countries beyond the region. Pakistan particularly comes to mind. But perhaps also Indonesia and once again Thailand. All different situations, but all countries with extensive exposure to the global media. Each with their own problems, with large populations nursing grievances. Observers in these countries will have seen the events in Egypt, and will perhaps be encouraged to take matters into their own hands, like the protesters of Tahrir Square.

One thing’s for sure. One or two more days of rioting and confrontation will bring things to a head. My bet is on some form of military coup by mid-ranking officers – Mubarak deposed, a period of martial law followed by elections. The generals are too entrenched in the establishment to take that action, so it will be down to the colonels. After that – who knows?

The Egyptians are lovely people. It’s heartbreaking to see heads breaking and eyes white with hatred. Please God it ends soon.

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