Civil Disobedience

Heads Under the Treads


Credit:Thanassis Cambanis

The independent journalist Thanassis Cambanis took this photo in Tahrir Square as thousands of Egyptians gathered to demand an end to Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship. The protesters had allowed the tanks into the square to help protect the Egyptian Museum from Mubarak's brownshirts. "Ever since," Cambanis wrote on his blog, "the army has tried to move them further." Demonstrators took turns blocking the machines' path to keep them from pressing forward.

On February 11, Mubarak finally bowed to popular pressure and stepped down. One reason for his resignation is that the army brass said they wouldn't stand by him anymore. And one reason the generals did that was a fear of mutiny in the lower ranks, where many conscripts seemed more sympathetic to the crowds than to the officers issuing orders. Even if the command came down to crush those heads beneath the treads, it wasn't clear the drivers would obey.

At press time, Egypt is under military control; the new rulers have promised liberal reforms, but they have also engaged in extrajudicial detentions and other illiberal practices. Here's hoping the rebels keep their heads under the treads, figuratively speaking. It may have made sense to let the army into the square, but that doesn't mean those tanks should move any further.