My college roommate was born in the US and lives in London, but his parents were Egyptian and he still has family in Egypt. On February 2, he flew to Cairo to join the demonstrations. Today he flew back to London. Here is his email from Tahrir Square. He makes one invaluable point that we don't see enough in the media: a dictator is a person, but a dictatorship is an institution. Getting rid of Mubarak would be historic but is not, in and of itself, democracy. If the institutions of dictatorship sacrifice Mubarak to save themselves, nothing permanent has been gained.
Three exhilarating days in Cairo but tomorrow I have to go home to my other life.
It feels like years of history have been written in a super short period. Certainly, a country that had been stuck in a multi-decade statis has been thrust through a time warp where massive and unpredictable changes are coming fast and furious.
Just 12 days ago we weren't sure if the rumors of 90,000 possible attendees at the first demonstration would turn out to be true. I was wondering if they were throwing a big party that nobody would turn up for, again.
Then we had a massive turnout - and then over and over again until the regime's first then-shocker of a concession: the full cabinet dismissal. Then the formerly powerful (and highly feared and loathed) Minister of Interior Habib Adly gets a travel ban and has his personal assets frozen. Boom.
Then a promise by Mubarak not to run or to allow his son to run. In the old world, this was huge. Then today more former ministers under investigation and a shuffle and dismissal of senior party hacks.
However momentous these gains are - they never would have happened in the previous period of stasis - they are fragile and easily reversible. Even while in disarray, the regime is playing a rope-a-dope strategy with the demonstrators, offering one sacrificial lamb after another in order to preserve itself and peel away their coalition.
It seems likely that they may even throw Mubarak himself under the bus.
Even if they do that, the gains of the past 12 days will remain at risk for as long as the continuing government (interim, transitional, or otherwise) is dominated by people like Omar Suleiman other bloody-handed members of the old regime.
Consolidating Egypt's transition to democracy is not just about removing Mubarak.
The leaders of Tahrir posted six additional demands on their massive eight story banner yesterday: repealing the emergency law, amending the constitution, appointing independent trustees for state-owned media, dissolving the sham parliament, accountability for the violence and death, and accountability for the stolen wealth.
These are smart demands. If implemented, they make back sliding or reprisals by the 'new' post Mubarak regime virtually impossible. Stopping now, with Mubarak still in place or nominal changes in the remaining regime members could well be a recipe for the cold arm of reprisals and maybe even a bloodbath.
I hope the rest of the world keeps watching. These dignified people are fighting to restore their people's freedom and they deserve all our attention.