In Cairo, protesters restless as they hope for U.S. support

Egypt's anti-Mubarak protesters urge a push to oust the president after the government concedes little ground in talks with oppostion. (Feb 8)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 5:23 PM

CAIRO - With the barrels of American-designed tanks pointing at them, American-backed air power circling overhead and a long-time American client still sitting in the presidential palace, the protesters in Tahrir Square were starting to get restless.

"No Kentucky! No Kentucky! No Kentucky!" went their chant, using the local slang for KFC food as a call to arms, one that seemed mostly a call for the United States to take a clearer stand in favor of their struggle for an Egyptian democracy.

The United States is hardly the most pressing concern among demonstrators here, whose uprising has shown little of the broad "Down with America'' vitriol that for decades has been a staple of other protests in the region. But a specific background hum of anti-American feeling is drifting through the square among demonstrators who say they can't understand why Washington hasn't endorsed their demand that President Hosni Mubarak leave and take his regime with him.

"What are you thinking about us?" Bilal Mohamed, a 24-year-old doctor, asked incredulously, pointing out that what the protesters want seems to be consistent with what America says it stands for. "We are speaking about our rights. You must be clear. Being midway is no good."

The demonstrators point out that when President Obama was here 18 months ago he talked specifically about democracy in this part of the world. They also say that much of the U.S. assistance given to the Mubarak regime has gone toward their oppression, starting with all that military hardware being brandished against them. They argue that the United States hasn't gotten a good return on its assistance.

"Don't gamble on a leader - put your money on the people," said Lotfy Abdul-Mageed, another doctor.

The fluctuations in Obama administration policy toward Mubarak over the past week were barely noticed in Tahrir Square. Protesters felt Washington wasn't doing enough, no matter what it said. When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Monday against Mubarak leaving too hastily, demonstrators felt she was finally being honest about U.S. intentions.

What particularly annoys people here is the U.S. focus on the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized and largest opposition group, with its desire to remake Egypt into a more thoroughly Islamic country. In the eyes of demonstrators, the U.S. attention to the Brotherhood is a misplaced obsession.

"This is a revolution of the people. It's not a revolution of the Muslim Brotherhood," said Mahmoud Saad Ibrahim. The Brotherhood has not played a leading role in the uprising; Ibrahim and others doubt that it can snatch the fruits of the revolution from those who have been on the square day after day, if and when they emerge victorious. They say the Brotherhood doesn't have that much support throughout Egyptian society.

"Everybody's afraid of Egypt turning out like Iran," said a demonstrator who did not want to be identified. "Why would Egypt turn out like Iran?"

Some protesters criticize Mubarak for doing America's bidding: for keeping quiet over the invasion of Iraq, for instance, and for helping Israel by closing access to the Gaza Strip.

A takeoff on a movie poster that went up in Tahrir Square on Monday says, "The Film of the Season: 'The Collaborator,' starring Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, directed by the United States and Israel."

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