Last Updated: Tue Feb 01, 2011 10:01 am (KSA) 07:01 am (GMT)

Egypt, from Mubarak to… the military once again?

George Semaan

Change was launched in Egypt, while what happened and is still happening is very similar to what was witnessed and is still being witnessed in Tunisia. The end will be difficult to predict since the rise of angry people is not a military coup and consequently, the endings will not be similar. What happened and is still happening in these two North African countries looks nothing like what might be faced by additional countries, from Algeria to Yemen and Sudan, and maybe even others. The reasons behind the popular anger are similar and intertwining, ranging between poverty and unemployment, oppression, injustice, tyranny and hopelessness of ever exiting the dark tunnel toward a wide space of freedoms, pluralistic political work and the rotation of power. However, there are certain discrepancies related to the history, status and role of each state, as well as to the way their institutions and systems were constructed and the structure and racial, tribal, sectarian and denominational components of their societies. This means that although the circumstances are similar, the outcomes may not necessarily be so.

Still, the common denominator between what happened in Tunisia and what happened in Egypt, is probably the blunt absence of the security bodies and the security mayhem which ensued, or the “Farhud” as the Iraqis would put it. This confirms that the “order of the day” of these apparatuses was firstly to protect the political regime and the rule and not public order, the community, its institutions and facilities. When the regime was shaken, the contract with the security and its apparatuses collapsed. In Tunisia, the men of the regime tried to salvage what could be saved following the departure of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. However, the continuation of the popular action in light of the impartiality of the military institution, placed the country before a new stage and new measures which will result in the establishment of a new regime.

In Egypt however, the situation is different. In this country, the military institution enjoys traditions at the level of the rule and the management of the political process. Indeed, since the July Revolution, three presidents came from military ranks. Today, no one knows who adopted the decision to appoint General Omar Suleiman as the vice president and Marshall Ahmed Shafik as the prime minister of the awaited government. Did President Hosni Mubarak resort to the army in an attempt to salvage what could be saved and avoid the Tunisian ending? Or did the military institution intervene at the right moment to recover the rules of the game from the regime firstly, then from the street which might not calm down unless it senses actual measures that will place the events on the rails of change through the formation of an interim government that would reconsider the constitution, lift the emergency law and supervise early parliamentary elections? Still, this does not mean the return to the “militarization of the regime” and the adoption of security solutions, which is why it is feared that the steps adopted by the rule in Cairo were very late, just like they were in Tunisia.

It would not take an observer a lot of efforts to detect the major similarities between the facts that caused popular anger in both Tunisia and Egypt, despite the differences affecting the circumstances, the geographic position, the historic role and the demographic count in each. Dr. Mohammed al-Baradei, one of the leaders of the current movement of change who proposed himself as an alternative for the interim stage, wrote about a month and a half ago an article in the Washington Post summarizing the opinions of the intellectuals and dignitaries in Egypt. He did not lengthily tackle what he referred to as being the masquerade of the last legislative elections in which the ruling party found no trouble monopolizing almost all the seats while relying on the known means. He pointed to the president who enjoys “imperial powers” and to the impossibility of seeing an independent candidate running in the presidential elections due to the constitutional amendments and the impossible conditions and restrictions they imposed.

He spoke about the “oppression of the media” and the actual absence of partisan plurality. He spoke about the emergence law which allowed the president to obstruct constitutional life and about parliament, which is “elected in theory,” because the president also practically chooses around one third of its members. And while the Copts represent around 10% of the population, they only have three seats in parliament! He then pointed to the judicial system which is in place “in theory,” but whose sentences are without value if they conflict with the government’s policy, warning about the gap that is widening between the rich and the poor and the “total disappearance of the middle class” despite the economic growth witnessed in Egypt during the last two decades. Certainly, there is no need to recall the high rates of poverty and analphabetism, the tin neighborhoods surrounding Cairo and the inhabitants of the graveyards!

All of this is witnessed while the regime is busy protecting itself, trying to ensure the bequeathal of power and fighting the opposition forces, at the head of which is the Muslim Brotherhood. The official project of the state dissipated in the absence of programs or projects that would meet the demands and needs of the people, would motivate them to defend the acquirements and consequently to protect the regime. It thus settled for meeting the American conditions connected to the aid and the conditions of the agreement with Israel, which naturally detonated the time bomb and prompted the people to take to the streets and demand social and economic justice, a system of accountability and transparency, democracy and real freedoms.

But what gives the developments in Egypt - as well as their repercussions – this regional and international dimension, is the fact that this country is crucial on two levels: African and Middle Eastern. Therefore, any drastic change in it will generate change in the regional and international equations. The international system had become accustomed to Egypt’s retreat and had even worked to ensure it. As for Egypt, it isolated itself and left a dangerous vacuum in its African and Asian surroundings, which allowed others to try to fill it. Hence, it was and still is one of the main elements behind the overall Arab retreat. In this context, did Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa not call during the Libya summit at the end of last year for the establishment of a “League of Neighboring States?” Egypt relinquished its leading role, since if it had been able to embark the Arab League members on a political and economic project that could have earned consensus among the Arab states, there would have been no need to resort to Turkey and its weight to counter the attempts of other Arabs to resort to Iran’s role and weight.

Cairo is no longer a major Arab capital in the era of globalization and the information revolution. Consequently, capitals which never tried – throughout their history – to play a leading role vis-à-vis the Arab League members, attempted to play one which exceeded their capabilities and tools. Egypt’s absence for years from its African space was blunt. Indeed, it was not able to play a role at the level of the settlement of the Lockerbie crisis which erupted between Libya, Britain and the United States, thus forcing Tripoli to await a settlement that was drafted by Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Also, it did not play a role worth mentioning at the level of what Somalia has suffered and is still suffering. Even Turkey, which is far from the African Horn, organized an international conference to reconstruct this country. In addition, Egypt did not know how to deal with its backyard, Sudan, whose management it shared with Britain until the mid-fifties. It was unable to help it maintain its unity and now its South is seceding. There are also the events in Darfur and maybe tomorrow, other regions will follow in its footsteps. All these failures had catastrophic repercussions on Cairo, although the Nile water problem would have been enough after the upstream states dared reconsider the allocation of the water of this river which made Egypt’s history, both the ancient and the modern one.

At the level of the Arab space, the situation is even worse. Egypt was incapable of deterring the fate towards which Iraq slipped ever since the occupation of Kuwait and the destructive blockade imposed on this country and its people, until the American-British war on Baghdad whose arena was clear before Iran and Turkey among others. Historically speaking, Iraq was never the Eastern gate of the Arab world. Throughout history, it constituted the border of the conflicts between empires, cultures and interests, i.e. the gateway toward Pharaonic influence, considering that Ancient Egypt rose toward its Asian East whenever the Persian influence extended toward the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in order to defend its political and economic space and its strategic security. And where is Cairo today?

As for the biggest proof for the retreat of the Egyptian role, it is the tragedy in Gaza. Is it possible that throughout three and a half years, Cairo was unable to get the conflicting Palestinian sides to reconcile, so as not to point to what truly concerns it, i.e. the positioning of the pro-Tehran factions on its border with the Strip? In light of all that, is it logical to seek reasons for the attempts to annihilate the Palestinian cause? Egypt has recanted its role a long time ago, and continued – until recently – to carry out pseudo “missions” in the context of international, American or European wishes, missions which it even became unable to fulfill. At this level, there is no need to compare between what it has now and what it had about half a century ago, from deep inside Africa to the Iraqi border, going through Beirut, Damascus and Sana’a!

Therefore, the upcoming change in Egypt does not require a crisis cell in Washington alone. It requires a crisis cell throughout the Arab world, in Israel and in all the regional neighboring states. We are facing change at the level of the maps of alliances and strategies, unless Egypt settles for exiting the lap of the security regime into that of the military regime, not the civilian one.

*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Jan. 31, 2011.

Comments »

Post Your Comment »

Social Media »