Democracy advocates need heroes. And in Egypt, they've found them in two judges being punished after citing fraud in recent elections that gave a sure victory to President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Mubarak's response? A violent crackdown on dissent.
Last week, security forces in Cairo viciously broke up peaceful protests on behalf of the two judges. The action, which came after renewed government detentions of pro-democracy activists, is a sure sign that Mubarak, a former military officer who's ruled Egypt with an iron fist for a quarter century, has decided he can backtrack on last year's promise to bring improvement in civil liberties and elections.
Mubarak's promises weren't credible from the start. They came only after the Bush administration (and some in Congress) pushed the leader of this giant Arab nation to turn away from the kind of Middle East authoritarianism that's bred Islamic radicals and terrorists for decades.
But Mubarak may now think he's won the argument with the US that freedom's just another word for Islamists taking power. He can cite Islamic militants having won the Palestinian election this year, while Iraq's elections have seated many Islamic Shiite radicals.
The only problem with that argument is that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, a popular social and political group that's the granddaddy of today's Arab radicals, has begun to moderate itself, and could be given incentives toward more moderation.
Meanwhile, secular, pro-democracy forces have gained ground among Egyptians. Such progress, and the fact that Mubarak is grooming his son Gamal to follow him in office, suggests the president merely wants to cling to power, pharaoh style.