By Ray Fleming

AT the time of writing the TV news has been promising for more than an hour that Egypt's President Mubarak will be making a statement “shortly”. Perhaps the promised statement was the one that ordered the Army on to the streets to enforce the night curfew which has been ignored by many demonstrators, and he has nothing else to say.

Perhaps he hopes that the protesters will grow tired when they see that four days of shouting and marching has not achieved anything concrete beyond the anxious admiration of much of the world. If so he is deluded. His own reign is effectively over, however long he manages to extend it by political illusion. By far the best way that Mubarak can serve his country would be to announce his resignation by a given date and to undertake to facilitate negotiations with all those interested in discussing electoral and constitutional reform -- if possible under United Nations or other international auspices -- in time for the presidential elections due in September.

Anything less will make worse the extremely dangerous vacuum already existing in Egypt. It must be filled constructively even if only in a transitional sense. Unfortunately, Mubarak's action in arresting leaders of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood party and putting Mohammed AlBaradei under house arrest yesterday morning showed that he is not yet thinking in a constructive way and perhaps may even have developed a bunker mentality.

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