Television channels around the world have been on Mubarak-Resignation-Watch for several hours now. State TV has announced that Mubarak will speak this evening Cairo Time. Beyond that, however, everything is speculation.

This is an important point to make at a moment like this. Whatever is happening in the high councils of state is happening, for the moment, in camera.

CNN, for example, has been reporting seemingly conflicting announcements by a "senior Egyptian official" associated with the ruling National Democratic Party saying that Mubarak will step down. It also, however, is reporting a statement by the Egyptian information minister denying that the President is resigning. Considering, however, how radically Egyptian State Television has gone off-message in the last few hours it is reasonable to ask how on top of things the info minister really is. That, however, highlights a deeper point: Washington watchers know well that no Congressman, Senator or presidential aide is ever willing to admit to a reporter that he has no clue what is going on. Instead they make sage-sounding pronouncements while demanding anonymity as sources. What makes one think Egyptian officials are, in this regard any different (I can tell you from nearly seven years experience as a Cairo-based reporter that they aren't)?

Put another way, there are only a few people in Mubarak's inner circle and among the senior military leadership who really know what is happening right now, and it is a near certainty that none of those people are talking to the press - Western or Arab.

Reporters need to report stuff and when a senior official says something it can legitimately be treated as news. It is less often, however, that reporters stop to ask themselves whether the senior official in question really has any idea what he is talking about.

On the first or second morning of the Gulf War Cairo's semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram ran a seemingly blockbuster story about the Egyptian Air Force conducting missions outside Egyptian airspace as part of the war effort (something the government had previously said it would not do). As a reporter for ABC News I called up an Egyptian general I had a passing acquaintance with to try and get confirmation. Egypt, of course, has a very large military with an inordinate number of general officers... but for any foreign reporter in Cairo military sources were fiendishly hard to come by. Hey, you work with what you've got.

I asked the general to confirm the Al-Ahram story and was thrilled when he said "yes, yes. I can confirm that." Excellent! I thought, sensing a scoop. Then the general said...

"I saw it in Al-Ahram just this morning!"

So what is Mubarak about to say? I haven't a clue. And, frankly, neither does anyone on your TV screen. Patience.


10/02/2011 22:33

Well, we now know the Info Minister wasn't as out of the loop as it appeared.


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