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Cairo dangles on a bowstring

EGYPT'S revolution, at first peaceful and promising, has been jeopardised by the actions of supporters of President Hosni Mubarak. Whatever his spokesmen may say, everybody believes that the thugs who beat demonstrators and journalists yesterday enjoyed government sanction.

Did they move into what they would have seen as a breach left by the army? One of the most encouraging aspects of the mass demonstrations in Cairo and other cities has been the refusal of the military to open fire on the protesters. One must hope that their discipline is perfect and that no provocation brings about a disastrous incident. But Cairo is on a bowstring which could snap at any moment.

Many generals sympathise with the demonstrators. They are as pleased as well-wishing people in the West to see the beginnings of a middle-class revolution. But dictators like Mubarak refuse to accept that a certain level of education means people will no longer tolerate misery and oppression.

One sometimes wonders how the much-vaunted intelligence services spend their time, and to what extent (as so often in the Middle East) their reports are tainted by prejudice.

The necessary outcome of the Egyptian crisis is clear.

Mubarak must go. He must be replaced by a credible coalition that holds office until free elections can be held. And the powerful nations must exercise their influence in the interest of human rights.