Five anti-government protesters were shot dead in Tahrir Square early Thursday, and hundreds more were injured, as the bloody clashes between demonstrators and government loyalists continued for a second day.And this concerns the perpetually concerned:
The prominent watchdog group Human Rights Watch condemned the Egyptian government for what it called "organized attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators" Wednesday and asked that those responsible be prosecuted.
Point of order: who's going to do the prosecuting? But I digress. We continue:
The statement said Egyptian security forces did not try to stop the attacks by "pro-government provocateurs armed with petrol bombs, sticks, and whips" and called on the United States and the European Union to intervene.
"The events in Tahrir Square and elsewhere strongly suggest government involvement in violence against peaceful protesters," Kenneth Roth, executive director of the rights group, said Thursday. "The U.S. and other allies should make clear that further abuse will come at a very high price."
We used to call this sort of thing writing checks on someone else's account. I don't doubt for a moment that the pro-government people are a bunch of paid thugs. I don't suspect that many people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, "gee, what can I do to help out Hosni Mubarak today?"
But I have an honest question -- what should the U.S. and the European Union do? I'm not sure there's much they can do besides the jawboning that Obama administration has been doing. There's almost no chance that we'd send troops to the area. Economic pressure is probably a moot point right now. The Egyptian military, ever mindful of its prerogatives, has not taken sides. They could be decisive but my guess is that they have little stomach for actually running the government.
I realize that human rights groups are going to say their piece and that reporters on deadline are going to include such statements in articles, but no one who matters is going to take Kenneth Roth seriously.
We are spectators. And that is what we'll remain.