Early Saturday, too, US intelligence sources disclosed that exactly a week ago, on Jan. 29, an attempt was made on the life of Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman in central Cairo as his convoy left the presidential palace. He had just been sworn in by President Hosni Mubarak as Vice President. Suleiman escaped unharmed but two of his bodyguards were killed. The sources said the attack bore the marks of professional, well-trained hitmen.
The attack was denied in Cairo but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed it in Munich when she said the assassination attempt was a sign of instability in Egypt.
Asked about this incident at his press briefing Friday night, Feb. 4, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said tensely: "I'm not going to… get into that question."
The attempt on the vice president's life underscores three features of the storm overtaking Egypt:
1. The pictures broadcast to world screens are almost exclusively restricted to Cairo's central Tahrir Square showing the opposition is gaining the upper hand in its challenge to the regime, while events elsewhere in the city and country suggest that Hosni Mubarak and his supporters are holding their ground against the movement and well able to fight back.
2. Whenever US President Barack Obama turns the heat up for Mubarak's immediate resignation – "now means now" – his words are greeted by an unwelcome rejoinder in the Egyptian arena. On Saturday night, Jan. 29, for instance, when Washington appeared confident that Mubarak was about to cave in, the attempt was staged on Suleiman's life.
Wednesday, Feb. 2, after Mubarak had held out for nine days of 24/7 protests against his presidency, Washington began leaning hard on the army chiefs to remove him. Gen. Suleiman, Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Enan were warned that the $1.3 billion of US military assistance to Egypt was in jeopardy.
That day, 50,000 Mubarak loyalists stormed apparently out of nowhere into Tahrir Square for a massive attack on the protesters that was powerful and brutal enough to send them fleeing.
Saturday, the day after Obama called on Mubarak "to make the right decision," an explosion in Sinai cut off Egyptian oil supplies to Israel and Jordan.
3. Mubarak does not appear to be frightened off by Obama's threat of an aid cutoff. According to international financial experts, he and his clique may well command many billions of dollars stashed away and invested outside the country. Some sources estimate Mubarak's private fortune at $20 billion which, if judiciously spent, could temporarily make up the shortfall, keep the wheels of government turning and enable the regime to hold out for some time.