So now Mubarak has two choices: lead Egypt into a new era of democracy and be remembered as the man who brought free and fair elections to his people or lose his chance at a graceful exit — and have his only legacy be that of an oppressor who ignored his peoples’ will.

A month ago most Americans couldn’t tell you much about how Egypt’s government works or what life is like for its residents. That all changed on Jan. 25, when long-simmering tensions bubbled to the surface and erupted into an anti-government uprising that activists have dubbed the “Nile Revolution.”


Since then, what began with tens of thousands of protesters — inspired, they say, by the uprising in Tunisia — taking to the streets to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule has grown into a full-scale revolt that has claimed nearly 300 lives so far, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.


Nearly half of the 80 million people who live in Egypt fall under or just above the $2-a-day poverty line set by the World Bank, and demonstrators say new leadership is needed in order to address widespread poverty and high unemployment and to put an end to repression and rampant corruption.


In an effort to quell the unrest, the regime has unrolled a series of sweeping concessions. The 82-year-old Mubarak promised he will not run for another term when elections take place in September, and his son, Gamal, will not succeed him, as expected. Mubarak also named a new cabinet, removed an unpopular interior minister in charge of police and, for the first time since he took office, appointed a vice president.


By Sunday, newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman met with opposition groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic group that has been banned in Egypt since the ’50s — to offer another round of concessions, such as granting freedom of the press and rolling back police powers.


On Monday, the Egyptian government approved a 15 percent raise for about 6 million government employees and released a young Google executive who was arrested and held for 12 days after helping organize via Facebook what he described, in an emotional interview with the Associated Press, as “the revolution of the youth of the Internet.”


Protesters are not swayed, however. According to the AP, judge Zakariya Abdel-Aziz calls the concessions “smoke in the air,” while pro-reform columnist Wael Abdel-Fattah notes, “Now we are at the nail-biting stage. The regime is also pulling out the big guns, using psychological warfare, terrorizing (protesters), isolating them from society and spreading the idea of Mubarak as a father ...”


It seems unlikely the regime will allow real reforms on its own, but activists are vowing not to back down until their demands are met, which sets the stage for a stalemate almost certain to result in more bloodshed.


If Mubarak really cares about the country he has ruled for three decades, he needs to act like a true leader and put the needs of his people ahead of his own power-hungry desires. His leaving is no longer in question, so now Mubarak has two choices: lead Egypt into a new era of democracy and be remembered as the man who brought free and fair elections to his people or lose his chance at a graceful exit — and have his only legacy be that of an oppressor who ignored his peoples’ will.


City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at 217-346-1111, ext. 663, or at agehrt@pekintimes.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times.