2 February 2011
Kate Nevens
(Former Chatham House Expert)


& Jessica Forsythe, Programme Operations Developer, Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Whoever writes the speeches for Middle Eastern autocrats must be making a small fortune. The words of Egypt's Mubarak, Tunisia's Ben Ali and Yemen's Saleh, all sound very much like they are penned by the same hand.

Echoing Tunisia's Zine El Abdine Ben Ali, President Mubarak succeeded in both turning against his people - condemning protestors for looting and 'creating havoc' - and placating, promising 'new priorities that respond to the youths' requests'. No apologies, no regrets or condolences for those who have died. Ben Ali, it should be noted, stepped down two days after making his remarks, so it is not necessarily the perfect blueprint for Mubarak to follow.

The crowd of protesters at Tahrir Square were unswayed by Mubarak's words. Promises of change hold little weight when internet access is still intermittent, emergency law is still effective, transport is still locked down and the despised President has just committed to being in power for a further seven months.

Discontent across the region

Other governments across the Arab world have been scrambling to implement quick-fix policies to stave off popular discontent. Algeria, Jordan and Syria have all raised key price subsidies, and the Jordanian King has dismissed his government. The Syrian president Bashar al-Asad claims to be 'closely linked to the beliefs of the people', and is insistent that political reforms will take place this year. It remains to be seen whether this sudden rash of attentiveness will satisfy disgruntled populations, or whether the regimes will be seen to have blinked.

Within twelve hours of Mubarak's address, Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh also stepped up to the plate. Using a remarkably similar refrain, Saleh told his people that he, also, would not be seeking re-election and that he, also, would not be transferring power to his son.

The people, however, are not buying it. Saleh said the same thing prior to the 2006 elections: reneging on promises is nothing new. Yemen's opposition are organising calmly but in numbers, and have declared a 'Day of Anger' on February 3.

The US: Deliberately ambiguous

The US administration have supported and funded Mubarak's regime for the last 30 years, turning a blind eye to 'elements' that didn't fit with a Western value system: corruption, cronyism and torture, to name a few. Tony Blair told CNN that Mubarak was a 'courageous man' and was a 'force for good'.

The people of Egypt and the protests across the region have forced these contradictions into the spotlight. Double standards may come as no surprise, but watching President Obama, the leader of the free world, struggling to align democratic values with US interests on a public platform may only work to reinforce anti-Western feeling across the Arab world.

The Egyptian economy will take time to limp back into life after the communications blackout. If Mubarak remains in power and protests continue, it could stumble further. Damage to the Suez canal, a vital trade asset, will also not be straying far from Obama's mind.

Tense anticipation

Mubarak may be proving tougher than Ben Ali, and be gearing up for a fight, but the protestors are steely and determined. The streets are becoming violent, with an 'anti-revolutionary' backlash (reportedly financed by Mubarak) coming to blows with those standing for change.

The world watches, in tense anticipation of what may become known as the Lotus Revolution of Egypt, 2011.