A Snowball in Cairo

The protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak might be snowballing into something big. The New York Times reports "tens of thousands of people" protested in "several Egyptian cities," tearing down posters of their autocratic leader in what organizers called the "Day of Revolution."  But, though there were clashes between protestors and security forces, and the government shut down Twitter access, Time magazine quotes one police captain as saying with a shrug: "We can contain them at any time." See the Times's Lede blog for several video clips of the hubbub. The Washington Post is now saying that calm has returned to Cairo's streets.

New York Times correspondent Mark Landler reports that the unrest across the region—Tunis, Lebanon and Egypt—has thrown a monkey wrench into the administration's foreign-policy approach, downplaying the Bush administration's "freedom agenda." Brookings fellow Shadi Hamid agrees that Washington "is—at least in the short term—stuck," and urges the Obama administration to "to ride with, rather than against, the tide of Arab popular rule." Mother Jones's Nick Baumann gives a thumnail sketch of what's going on here.

In the latest development, the Times of India is repeating a story that it says surfaced on a "US-based Arabic website," that Mubarak's son and potential successor, Gamal, and his family have fled to Britain along with Mubarak's wife. But Juan Cole reports that the U.S. embassy in Cairo has denied the rumor. Cole also points out that it's unclear whether these protests are more similar to the 1977 food riots (when protestors were soon placated) or if the demonstrators want real "political reform." That would depend on whether Egypts army "will stand unified behind the Mubarak regime."  AllahPundit warns those hoping for political change: "Don’t start handing out cigars yet," since bringing down Mubarak could lead to a power grab by the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Corner's Charlie Szrom wants to see President Obama "take a stand" by offering "rhetorical support" and tripling "democracy aid," while cutting economic aid to the ruling regime. The Post also pushes the administration to start "talking about how [Egypt] must change."

In the Wall Street Journal, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says the toppling of Tunisia's government, and now the Egypt protests, could prove his argument that "democratization would come to the Middle East sooner than most projected." He wonders if it will be a "Berlin Wall moment for the Middle East," and calls on Washington to "stop supporting tyrants and autocrats whether in the Middle East, Pakistan or Southeast Asia."