11A034 Who Loots? by Jim Davies, 2/3/2011    

TV from Cairo these days is far from boring, and I learned at the weekend that as well as closing most of the Internet, Mubarak's government has even shut down Al Jazeera TV, lest viewers learn something he doesn't want them to know. Such desperation, to cling on to power! It must be highly intoxicating. Then another news item actually shocked me: the Cairo antiquities museum had been looted. Whodunnit?

It's very hard to believe the ordinary protesters took any part. Indeed, they are the ones spontaneously to have formed a link-arm guard around it, until the Army (not the police) arrived to take on the task; for they know it contains treasures of incalculable value, for all mankind and not just Egypt. Who, then?

Time quotes the curator as calling them "idiots" who looted mainly the souvenir shop, evidently thinking the souvenirs were the real thing. Maybe. Nine did break display cases in the museum proper, evidently "looking for gold." I wonder if these nine were prisoners, who had escaped during the chaos. I wonder if they were enabled to escape for just that purpose, to discredit the protesters. I wonder that, but won't say it, lest you think me a conspiracy nut. Because really, I'm not.

The withdrawal of the police has been from more than around the museum; it seems to be rather general. Now, why would a government, known for running a police state, stand down its police force at the height of historically massive street demonstrations? Police are largely parasitic and oppressive, but once in a while they do useful work. Helping at an accident site, detecting a villain who hurt or robbed someone, and so on. With a very large crowd in the streets, it's not surprising that a few are looting regular stores, whose owners would normally look to the police for protection... but now, they're missing. So Mubarak isn't looting, but he has sent home the people who would normally prevent looting, so isn't he responsible for such looting as takes place? Might he not be saying in effect: "See how you like the chaos that will result if I'm not in charge"? - makes sense to me. It's the kind of thing that governments do.

It's all very exciting, but don't let's get blown away. There may well be régime change sweeping the Middle East, and the outcome may be a lot healthier; but as far as I know nobody is calling for an end to government as such - just for one to be replaced by another. There was régime change in Eastern Europe twenty years ago, and much benefit resulted; but much more is awaited and needed and when that change comes, it will come not from protests in the street, but when all government employees just walk off the job, in well informed disgust. That needs patience and preparation, but it's in process. It won't happen this year or next, but we don't have long to wait.

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