|JOHN HAYLETT IN STAR: Mubarak runs out of time|
Hosni Mubarak authority among Egyptians and the international community is shattered. It is irreparable writes John Haylett in the Morning Star.
The key questions for the future of the country and its role in the region now revolve around how quickly he steps down and who replaces him.
The despot's self-pitying interview with New York Times journalist Christiane Amanpour portrayed the sellby-date-expired president as tired, fed up and looking forward to retirement but being forced reluctantly to stay on to save the country from chaos.
History is full of examples of dictators claiming to want to step down but being unable to do so because of their sense of duty and service to the people.
It's nonsense, of course. Mubarak's determination to hold on to the reins of power is because remaining in office may be the only way to avoid having to account to the Egyptian people for his crimes over the past three decades.
While he and his entourage have garnered great wealth, the lot of the Egyptian masses has been poverty, mass unemployment and emigration in search of a better life.
Mubarak's reputation has always been higher among those imperialist states that have relied on him to hold back the tide of justice and progressive change in the region.
Britain's leading war criminal Tony Blair revealed how useful Mubarak has been to the West, explaining: "I've worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so this is somebody I'm constantly in contact with and working with. And on that issue, I have to say, he's been immensely courageous and a force for good."
Blair went on to say: "I don't think the West should be the slightest bit embarrassed about the fact that it's been working with Mubarak over the peace process but at the same time it's been urging change in Egypt."
Britain's former prime minister has never developed the capacity for embarrassment over his misdeeds, but he must know that the idea of the West putting pressure on Mubarak to introduce democratic change is a figment of his imagination.
The Western powers' greatest consideration has been for Egypt to prevent a united front of Arab states against zionist expansionism, collaborating with Israel politically, commercially and militarily to undermine the Palestinian people.
The Faustian deal concluded with the US by Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Sadat has been US military aid and investment in return for Egyptian betrayal of Gamal Abdel Nasser's legacy of anti-imperialism and pan-Arabism, even descending to the depths of putting Egypt at the heart of US illegal rendition operations, taking in US captives and torturing them to order.
As long he honoured this deal, Mubarak could count on being treated by Washington and its allies as an international statesman and a voice for peace and moderation.
However, he should have read the small print on the agreement, which stipulates in invisible ink that all bets are off if the going gets tough.
Unswerving US allies such as Suharto in Indonesia and Marcos in the Philippines discovered their expendability when they could no longer hold back the popular tide demanding democratic renewal. That fate beckons now for Mubarak.
Washington does what it can to hold demands for immediate change, but it also searches for a short-term holding exercise and a revitalised longer-term dispensation.
It will disregard petulant outbursts from the president's National Democrat Party leader Dr Ibrahim Kemal, who bleats that the West has betrayed Egypt and is backing the wrong horse.
Like others before him, he imagines that dog-like loyalty cuts both ways.
In fact, the US is already casting around among regime notables such as intelligence head and Vice-President Omar Suleiman, Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Enan to fulfil the short-term stopgap role.
Suleiman, who has been trying to wean some weak elements away from the unified opposition stance of no negotiations without an end to the Mubarak regime, presents himself as a figure of moderation, denying that the army would be tasked with clearing Tahrir Square.
"We will ask them to go home, but we won't push them to go home," he said yesterday, although it would be a mistake to place too much weight on his words.
The united opposition called yesterday's enhanced level of protest the "day of departure," emphasising that there has been no change in its fundamental demand, but efforts will be made to fracture that unity in the coming days.
The pretext will be the bogey of the Muslim Brotherhood and the supposed likelihood of democracy being the precursor to an Islamist state modelled on Iran.
Secular forces stress their opposition to a theocratic state, but they have also expressed their willingness to work alongside Islamist forces for an end to the dictatorship and to secure a constituent assembly and a democratic state.
While Tunisia's successful uprising to rid itself of president Ben Ali has provided a lead to protest movements in Yemen, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria, Egypt's size and influence accord its revolutionary upsurge a significance for the region's future beyond all others.
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