EGYPT WITHOUT MUBARAK: 'REVOLUTION' OR REGIME MUSICAL CHAIRS?
"What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime. When it became clear Feb. 10 that Mubarak would not voluntarily step down, the military staged what amounted to a coup to force his resignation. Once he was forced out of office, the military took over the existing regime by creating a military council and taking control of critical ministries. The regime was always centered on the military. What happened on Feb. 11 was that the military took direct control....
We now face the question of whether the coup will turn into a revolution. The demonstrators demanded — and the military has agreed to hold — genuinely democratic elections and to stop repression. It is not clear that the new leaders mean what they have said or were simply saying it to get the crowds to go home. But there are deeper problems in the democratization of Egypt. First, Mubarak’s repression had wrecked civil society. The formation of coherent political parties able to find and run candidates will take a while. Second, the military is deeply enmeshed in running the country. Backing them out of that position, with the best will in the world, will require time. The military bought time Feb. 13, but it is not clear that six months is enough time, and it is not clear that, in the end, the military will want to leave the position it has held for more than half a century.
Of course, there is the feeling, as there was in 2009 with the Tehran demonstrations, that something unheard of has taken place, as U.S. President Barack Obama has implied. It is said to have something to do with Twitter and Facebook. We should recall that, in our time, genuine revolutions that destroyed regimes took place in 1989 and 1979, the latter even before there were PCs. Indeed, such revolutions go back to the 18th century. None of them required smartphones, and all of them were more thorough and profound than what has happened in Egypt so far. This revolution will not be “Twitterized.” The largest number of protesters arrived in Tahrir Square after the Internet was completely shut down.
The new government has promised to honor all foreign commitments, which obviously include the most controversial one in Egypt, the treaty with Israel. During the celebrations the evening of Feb. 11 and morning of Feb. 12, the two chants were about democracy and Palestine. While the regime committed itself to maintaining the treaty with Israel, the crowds in the square seemed to have other thoughts, not yet clearly defined. But then, it is not clear that the demonstrators in the square represent the wishes of 80 million Egyptians. For all the chatter about the Egyptian people demanding democracy, the fact is that hardly anyone participated in the demonstrations, relative to the number of Egyptians there are, and no one really knows how the Egyptian people would vote on this issue....
Therefore, we face this reality. The Egyptian regime is still there, still controlled by old generals. They are committed to the same foreign policy as the man they forced out of office. They have promised democracy, but it is not clear that they mean it. If they mean it, it is not clear how they would do it, certainly not in a timeframe of a few months. Indeed, this means that the crowds may re-emerge demanding more rapid democratization, depending on who organized the crowds in the first place and what their intentions are now.
It is not that nothing happened in Egypt, and it is not that it isn’t important. It is simply that what happened was not what the media portrayed but a much more complex process, most of it not viewable on TV. Certainly, there was nothing unprecedented in what was achieved or how it was achieved. It is not even clear what was achieved. Nor is it clear that anything that has happened changes Egyptian foreign or domestic policy. It is not even clear that those policies could be changed in practical terms regardless of intent.
The week began with an old soldier running Egypt. It ended with different old soldiers running Egypt with even more formal power than Mubarak had. This has caused worldwide shock and awe. We were killjoys in 2009, when we said the Iranian revolution wasn’t going anywhere. We do not want to be killjoys now, since everyone is so excited and happy. But we should point out that, in spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but it hasn’t yet.
An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation".
George Friedman, "Egypt: the distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality," Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 14 February 2011 in www.stratfor.com.
"For so long, the brilliance and creativity of Egypt's ancient civilization seemed to have been crushed under the heavy burden of a repressive Pharaohnic regime. All that changed today when the Egyptian people rose up and with a heave of collective will threw off the chains of bondage. Suddenly, unexpectedly, they reasserted the greatness of their nation as the leader of the Arab world, this time not in war and not in peacemaking, but in the promotion of freedom. The Middle East will never be the same again.
We have been surprised by so much in the past eighteen days since demonstrators first despatched the feared security police and then stood against the onslaught of the ruling party's thugs with their cavalry of donkeys and camels. We should therefore be humble about predicting the course of events from here. We are in uncharted waters.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the quiet arbiter of outcomes so far has been the Egyptian army. If the Egyptian people have earned our admiration for acting, the army deserves our admiration for not doing so. There they stood, ringing the people in the square and the Pharaoh in his palace, preventing a descent into chaos. At each stage in the crisis, when they had to decide between the square and the palace they chose the square. They ensured that the ranks of the demonstrators would swell by declaring that they would not open fire on them. They declared the people's demands "legitimate." They allowed them to gather day after day. Now they seem to have given Mubarak the final push.
This alliance between the people and their army, forged in the battle for freedom, bodes well for the future. For, as we have seen in Indonesia -- the world's largest muslim nation -- when the army steps back from the regime and sides with the people the transition to democracy can be orderly. Some fear that Mubarak's regime will now be replaced by military rule but that is hardly imaginable. Once the people have tasted freedom, and felt the power of their collective protest, they are hardly going to accept a new form of repressive rule. And once the army chose so decisively to stand above the fray in order to protect the nation rather than its rulers, it is hard to believe that they will decide now to suppress the people.
There is much for the West to celebrate in this development. The largest, most powerful, and most influential country in the Arab world has chosen democracy over authoritarianism. Just when some had begun to doubt the virtues of our political model as we stood in awe of the achievements of China's autocrats, the Egyptian people reminded us that there is still something great about a system that upholds the universal rights of man. Now we can all walk tall like the Egyptians!"
Ambassador [retired] Martin Indyk, "Egypt: A powerful Reminder of the Strength of Democracy", The Brookings Institute. Round Table: Around the Halls: a New Egypt," 11 February 2011, in www.Brookings.edu.
Judging from what one has come across in most of the Anglo-American press since the ouster of ex-President Mubarak last week, the caveats that have been expressed by Dr. Friedman of the American intelligence firm, Stratfor, as well as certain regional experts, such as Ellis Goldberg, Kenneth Pollack and Marina Ottaway, have been outweighed by rank optimism `a la ex-Ambassador Martin Indyk 1. As readers of this journal may recall, my own surmise in the first week of the crisis in Egypt was that there was a very good possibility of genuine democratization in Egypt, if Mubarak was forced from power without bloodshed. I also pointed out that there was an equal possibility that the military would `a la what took place in Burma and Algeria in 1989-1990, endeavor to prevent, by use of force if need be, free and fair elections. And would annul the same, if any such elections returned a candidate who was seen as unwilling to do the military's bidding, or abide by the military's regle de jeu. At this point it is impossible to predict accurately which particular outcome is likely to occur. What perhaps may be a key variable however, in determining an outcome is the fact that in neither the Algerian or Burmese case, did the military (or indeed the regime at large) have close ties to the United States. And in the past twenty-five years or so, when American allies who have experienced the type of regime change and or popular uprising, that we have seen in Egypt recently, the pattern has been for those allies to indeed to undergo a genuine democratic transformation. In particular the cases of the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987) and Indonesia (1998), come immediately to mind as instances where American pressure (albeit reluctant) on the military and on the regime to avoid widespread violence, has proven an important variable to a peaceful outcomes 2. In the case of Egypt, given the evidence of American pressure on the military to avoid violence, that would seem to indicate that the military will reluctantly, and with certain built-in caveats and controls, both de jure and de facto ,proceed with the democratization project. Perhaps modeling themselves along the lines of Turkey in the years after the military coup d'etat of 1980. Where even after the military returned to the barracks in the mid-1980's, the political set-up in Turkey was such as to allow the military to exercise substantial influence from off-stage, as well as stage its 'silent coup' of 1997, against a government which was perceived as too dangerously 'Islamist' in nature. As of today, with everything still undecided, my own surmise is that Egypt's military will indeed go down the path I have outlined above and not attempt to thwart directly the country's road towards political pluralism and some form of democracy. Albeit, assuming that none of the other political actors, both known (the Muslim Brotherhood) and unknown (Al-Ghad, the Wafd), tries to upset socio-economic status quo in the country. Or current Egyptian foreign policy (the alliance with the USA and peace with Israel). And most important of all, the military's institutional independence and autonomy. Only if these three apple carts are upset, do I see the military returning to some form of direct, authoritarian rule and terminating the country's experiment with democracy.
1. Ellis Goldberg, "Mubarakism without Mubarak: why Egypt's military will not embrace Democracy," Foreign Affairs. 11 February 2011, in www.foreignaffairs.com; Kenneth Pollack, "Egypt: the End of the Beginning," The Brookings Institute. 11 February 2011, in www.brookings.edu; Marina Ottaway, "The Presidents Left, the Regimes are Still Here," The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 14 February 2011, in www.carnegieendowment.org.
2. For an analysis (abeit of the immediate variety) along these lines in the case of Egypt in the last month, see: Daniel L. Byman, "What Sways Armies' Allegiances in the Middle East?" The Brookings Institute. 15 February 2011, in www.brookings.edu.