For the last week, I have watched the affairs in Tahir square in Cairo, as millions of Americans have, and was deeply impressed by the peaceful demonstration of Egyptian citizens calling for change in their nation — for change that would respond to the economic plight of ordinary citizens — for change that would give ordinary citizens the opportunity to be a part of the voice directing the course of their nation. Until yesterday those protests were absolutely peaceful. But that did change yesterday when pro-Mubarak forces entered the fray.
Last night I was watching as Molotov cocktails were being thrown by pro-Mubarak forces down from the heights of adjacent buildings onto the protesters below. I watched as organized thugs proceeded to stone those protesters. I watched as there was sporadic gun fire in the square. And I watched as a group of horsemen galloped through the crowd whipping people with their whips. This thuggery against citizens peacefully protesting is absolutely unacceptable.
Now, the United States has had a long and close relationship with Egypt. We channel a tremendous amount of economic development aid to Egypt. But let me be very clear, what happened yesterday cannot happen again. What happened yesterday with thugs attacking peaceful demonstrators on behalf of the government must not happen again. In no way can America turn a blind eye to this ruthless assault on ordinary citizens.
This morning there were voices from within the Egyptian government calling what happened yesterday a fatal error. The Prime Minister Shafiq called it a fatal error. And this morning there were signs that the army, instead of allowing and organizing thugs and allowing them on the square to assault, the demonstrators were standing in to protect them. This is a right turn of events.
But let it be noted by all who would care to listen that citizens of the United States of America are not going to stand by and support a government that is attacking peaceful demonstrators in a square in Cairo. So if we see a repeat of this violence, America must send a very strong message, there will be no further aid to the Mubarak government.
We do not know what the ultimate outcome of these protests will be. But peaceful action against government is a hallmark of democracy. It is a hallmark of freedom. And we should ensure that those protests could continue, those peaceful protests calling for a voice for ordinary citizens and that Egypt can move towards free and fair elections.