Hosni Mubarak didn’t contrive his I’m the preventer of chaos reality all alone.  The tyrannical dictator of Egypt, who today told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour that he’d love to step down but can’t, has for three decades been appreciated (both politically and financially) by the West for what he is not:  another critical voice in a troubled and troubling region.  Poverty, ineptitude, graft, corruption, injustice: all were no match for Western fear of creeping radical Islam, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood.  Mubarak’s spent his years making the most of Islamophobic rhetoric.  In a nation that’s neither rich nor poor, African nor Middle Eastern, friendly nor hostile, familiar nor understood, Mubarak’s benefitted from playing the foil for Western projection.

By rhetorically and physically crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, he’s kept his power secure  and prevented potential rivals from emerging.  It’s no surprise that he took to a prominent Western journalist to share his message; he’s always known his audience.  But Mubarak’s got a tough row; even U.S. conservatives have found it difficult to ignore calls for democracy.

The Sean Hannitys of the U.S. may pander Shari’ah scares without having to examine what Shari’ah really is, but while the Muslim Brotherhood joins protesters to call for an elected government, social services, and the protection of churches, the narrative that Mubarak is our secular balance-keeper in the Middle East becomes increasingly more difficult to believe.

Meanwhile, Cairo burns.  Widespread reports say that pro-Mubarak groups, armed and violent, are bragging about their police credentials and $10 payments.  With cameras and journalists purged from Tahrir Square tonight, we’ll see whose reality the West is paying for, Mubarak’s or the protesters’.