British Foreign secretary Jack Straw has set himself the task of giving Arab rulers “the confidence to face down terrorism”. He believes there is “a wind of change” blowing in the Middle East.
But it was not evident in Egypt last week. President Hosni Mubarak is the US and Britain’s key ally in the region.
After Mubarak announced his decision to run in September’s presidential elections, protesters attempted to join a rally called by the pro-democracy Kifaya movement at Tahrir Square in central Cairo.
The elections have been rigged to shoehorn 77 year old Mubarak back into office.
As people entered the square they were set upon by riot police and government supporters, beaten, kicked while on the ground and dragged off to be arrested.
Police tried to arrest activist Wail Khalil but other protesters managed to wrestle him free.
He was able to tell those present, “It’s very clear that the orders today are slaughter,” before men, one carrying a gun, surrounded Wail and took him away.
Women protesters were also attacked and sexually harassed. A trade union leader suffered broken ribs. At the time of writing Wail was still in custody. Many of those detained are being held in military camps.
The interior minister warned protesters, “No more demonstrations after Mubarak has nominated himself. No more journalists jumping all over the place. Next time we shall detain and never release.”
Jack Straw has not yet spoken out over the state violence which marked the beginning of Egypt’s presidential election.
For more on the struggle to win democracy in the Middle East see The drive for real democracy in the Middle East