Last Updated: Tue Feb 01, 2011 10:25 am (KSA) 07:25 am (GMT)

The Egyptian earthquake

Hussein Shobokshi

The picture remains incomplete in Egypt. Floods of demonstrations erupted onto the streets in an angry and explosive manner, calling for the regime to change. As the days passed, the situation developed into a confrontation between angry mobs and Egypt’s Interior Ministry, which has come to represent the ‘enemy’. The Interior Ministry headquarters and its members were attacked, as ‘chaos’ set in. The police and its leaders disappeared, along with their equipment and weapons. Meanwhile organized armed gangs began violating people’s property, and holding citizens at gunpoint. To compound this, prisons ‘opened’ as their prisoners escaped, thus increasing the overall volume of disorder, destruction, panic, devastation, and lawlessness. This was the second example for the Arabs, after what happened in Tunisia, of how the Interior Ministry can be seen as symbol in defense of the regime, rather than in defense of the state, unlike the military establishment, which is highly respected. (This is opposite to what the people of Iraq experienced, after Paul Bremer targeted military governance in Iraq following the American invasion, by making the rash decision to disband the army)

Egypt is boiling and angry…there is now no limit to the demands of the people, and chaos prevails. President Mubarak today is paying for the errors of his aides, which he did nothing to prevent. Yet Egypt is a state with significant parliamentary history, and press freedoms dating back over a hundred years. Therefore, it is not reasonable to interpret the recent parliamentary elections as a totalitarian shift for the ruling party, transforming the People’s Assembly into something resembling the parliament of the Soviet Union, China, and other well-known examples of corruption and authoritarianism. What is happening in Egypt is a tremendous opportunity for reform, and this goes for the state, the party, the regime, the ruler, and every other aspect. However, what is alarming is the nature of the demonstrations today in Egypt. There are attempts to exploit a genuine, mature, and honest national movement, in the interests of some suspicious characters and slogans.

How can Nasserite images and slogans be raised in a national demonstration? Nassser founded the intelligence services, clandestine investigations, and ruled with an iron fist. He won elections with ‘99 percent of the vote’, and lost land to Israel. Cronyism was the theme of his government, and tyranny was the foundation. He destroyed relations with Arab states and introduced revolutionary, military authoritarianism, paving the way for successive dictatorships [in the Middle East]. It would be a catastrophe if the Egyptians demanded a return to this bleak model of governance. Therefore it was sad when the world watched a former member of parliament being carried on the shoulders of one of the protesters. This man, also an owner of a controversial newspaper, is known for his frequent media appearances, and has been a past advocate of Arab dictatorial regimes.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has also entered the debate, yet his political stance was intended to incite, rather than advocate calm and reassure frightened citizens, unlike the wise words of men such as Amr Khaled and Moez Masoud. They cast their attention to social affairs, the protection of homes, and the reluctance of civilians to send their youths to act as human shields. President Mubarak’s recent cabinet nominations came from the heart of Egypt’s military apparatus, and this represents his last means of security, as he waits to see what happens.

At the time of writing, the Egyptian tragedy is ongoing. The situation is critical, and the Egyptian lesson echoes far and wide. Sporadic politics have created a spontaneous uprising in the centre of the country, to shake the regime, the government, and the entire region. The coming days will be no less painful.

*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on feb. 31, 2011.

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