Daylife/AP Photo used by permission
For more than a week, opponents of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak had the upper hand in Cairo, protesting with near impunity in the face of police and an army that did little to stop them.
That all changed on Wednesday.
The morning after Mubarak dramatically announced he would not run for re-election in September, his supporters waded into Tahrir Square by the thousands, and suddenly serious, prolonged violence reigned in central Cairo.
There were immediate suspicions that the pro-Mubarak demonstrators were not simply average citizens standing up for the man who has led Egypt for three decades — suspicions that proved at least partly founded.
As battles raged between the two sides, some pro-Mubarak protesters were captured by his opponents. Some were terrified to be caught and begged for their lives, screaming that the government had paid them to come out and protest. Others turned out to be carrying what seemed to be police identification, though they were dressed in plain clothes.
Shadi Hamid, a Brookings Institution analyst based in Qatar, told CNN that the use of hired muscle to break up demonstrations “is a longtime regime strategy.”
“There are usually a line of thugs outside a protest who are waiting there,” he said. “They’re dressed in plain clothes, and then they’ll usually go and attack the protesters. Egyptians have seen this for quite some time, and that’s why they were able to recognize what was going on fairly quickly…”
Several CNN journalists heard from pro-Mubarak demonstrators that they worked for the government. Staff from the national petrochemical company said they had been ordered to come and protest…
RTFA. Read lots of articles. Excepting the truly ideological flunkeys, most of the world press identifies the violence now focused on pro-democracy demonstrators as coming exclusively from Mubarak supports, paid or otherwise.