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The Daily Need

Egyptians want democracy, not military rule

The headline on Al Jazeera English, the “paper of record” for the protests in Egypt, currently reads: “Hosni Mubarak may step down.” Egyptian state television is reporting that the president will address the country tonight. The situation is clearly in flux; Al Jazeera is posting updates every two to three minutes.

I called journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy, who has been blogging and tweeting updates from the streets of Cairo since protests erupted 17 days ago, (with a brief interruption when the Internet went down) to find out what the people in Tahrir Square think of the developments.

He says that the flurry of activity and speculation erupted after a one-line statement from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces saying that the military will meet the demands of the people.

“Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation … and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people,” the statement reads.

“That in effect means that the army is in control of the country,” el-Hamalawy says. “There are also reports that Mubarak might step down tonight and leave the country, perhaps flee to Germany.”

If Mubarak resigns, mission accomplished, right? Not as far as el-Hamalawy is concerned.

“That changes nothing,” he said. “The army is the institution that receives $1.3 billion a year from the U.S. government. These are the people who have been ruling for the past 60 years. We are extremely disappointed.”

If you’ve been following the situation in Egypt, you may remember that in the early days, there was some camaraderie among the protesters and members of the military. Even some public displays of affection.

An Egyptian anti-government activist kisses a riot police officer following clashes in Cairo, on Jan. 28, 2011. Photo: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis

But el-Hamalaway says that these informal alliances were limited to foot soldiers.

“People were chanting for the military people on the ground to join them, but not for the generals to take over. They were chanting ‘Down with the Military Rule’.”

“If you turn on your TV, you will see that the protests in Tahrir Square have not ended. We want a civilian, democratic government,” el-Hamalaway said.

Asked what a military coup would mean for himself and other bloggers, el-Hamalaway responded: “It means that you will go try to collect my body from a garbage bin or you will find me in a military prison.”