Enter the Thugs

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Human Rights Watch, which has had observers on the ground in Tahrir Square today, supports the emerging view: that the anti-government protesters there had remained peaceful until the arrival of pro-Mubarak forces and that violence was initiated and continues to be instigated by the pro-Mubarak forces. HRW’s observers “saw men on horseback and camels charging the crowd, and rock and bottle-throwing by the people charging the [anti-Mubarak] protesters,” says Tom Malinowski, Washington Director for HRW.

The violence looks familiar to Malinowski. “The Mubarak regime traditionally uses plainclothes thugs who are paid and directed by the regime to break up demonstrations, harass voters on election day and generally do its dirty work,” Malinowski says.

He was in Egypt last fall to observe parliamentary elections that were roundly condemned as rigged and saw them at work. “There was an incident at a voting place where people were protesting what they thought was ballot stuffing and the riot police surrounded the station and sent in a group of [plainclothes] thugs to chase people away. They were described by locals as known thugs for hire.”

The last few days have shown that Mubarak may not be overly susceptible to American pressure. Malinowski says the U.S. needs to do more: “I don’t see any realistic solution to this unless Mubarak goes and gives way to an interim government with the opposition.”