Eyewitnesses describe a strengthening movement. Speaking in Tahrir Square, one protester said, “we have been afraid for 30 years, but we are no longer afraid. We want freedom.” The Egyptian uprising appears to be reaching a defining moment.

All reports show that attempts to intimidate people have failed. There are tens of thousands in Tahrir Square in the centre of Cairo despite the presence of tanks and constant low-level fly overs by US-supplied Egyptian fighter planes. Earlier today protesters successfully stopped a column of tanks entering the main square. Eyewitnesses say a commander shouted, “we are with you” while protesters replied, “that’s good, but you are still not coming into the Square.”

But the media focus on Tahrir Square and individuals in middle class suburbs barely expresses the scale and depths of the uprising. Speaking from Tahrir Square socialist activist Ola Shahbaa said, “the protests are growing every day, and the movement is aiming for a massive mobilisation on Tuesday, when we want one million people in the centre of Cairo.”

Even today Al-Jazeera estimated that there were over a million people gathering in different parts of the capital, including protests in the massive working class areas that surround the city. In Suez the streets appeared to remain in the hands of the people, and in Alexandria there are still protests taking place. There are many reports of soldiers fraternising with protesters, and many tanks have been daubed with ‘Down with Mubarak’ slogans.

John Rees, reporting from Tahrir Square, explains that since the withdrawal of the police, many areas of the city are being run by popular organisations. “There are groups of 20 or 30 members of local committees on every major intersection. There are signs of the people taking the situation into their own hands in all sorts of ways, symbolised by many people, including a professor from the university working hard to keep the Square clean and orderly.” He also reports that the Egyptian police have melted away from the Rafah crossing on account of an uprising by the Bedouin who live in the area.

Mohammed El Baradei came to Tahrir Square today for the first time and received a mixed response. Some present commented that this was a man who had been absent not just from the movement but from the country for many years. John Rees says there is a sense that El Baradei will find it hard to capture the spirit of self-organisation that is developing in this movement.

Given the momentum that the protests have achieved, the only thing that could possibly head them off would be a massive escalation of the repression. This cannot be ruled out, but there is a big question mark over whether the regime could make this happen. There are reports of open defiance of orders by soldiers, and the costs of a clampdown would be immense. Historically the army has not attacked the Egyptian people in the streets before, that job has always been carried out by the vicious police force. As one protester said today, “if the army attack us they will have lost all credibility with the people forever.”

The global impact of these events can hardly be exaggerated. US policy in the Middle East is in tatters. If Mubarak goes they only have a handful of allies in the region left. And all the signs from Yemen, Jordan and now Sudan, are that the protests may well spread. The US appears now to have accepted that they are going to lose their brutal and trusted lieutenant in Egypt: after days of mealy-mouthed prevarication, Hillary Clinton today said she backs a transition to democracy.

The danger of a last-ditch stand by Mubarak remains. There is also the danger of a transition controlled by the army, one that fails to bring real change. For both these reasons, the hope lies with the Egyptian masses, whose bravery is inspiring the world.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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