Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt in transition: Isn't it about time?

Today, Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, announced that he would not seek re-election this fall in what would amount to the end of his decades-old non-democratic presidency. The announcement comes after days of popular protests throughout Egypt calling for his resignation. However, it is unclear to me as to whether his announcement is genuine.

According to a recent New York Times article, Egyptian reactions to his announcement were not positive but quite the opposite. Protestors have called for his immediate resignation, but Mubarak's announcement seems to be an unacceptable compromise; one that could in fact result in him retaining power beyond the fall elections. Most likely, the negative reactions to his announcement signify that Egyptians are well aware of this possibility.

Egyptian presidential elections are months and months away, giving the Mubarak government plenty of time to allow popular resentment to subside. In that time, Mubarak can reassess his position, reestablish control, squash dissent, and build foreign support for the continuance of his regime. While Nobel laureate and former head of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency , Mohamed ElBaradei, is seen widely as one of the opposition leaders who could assume power, it isn't at all clear who will actually fill the vacuum should Mubarak step down. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood, a longtime Islamist political group, has been singled out by some Western-backed leaders as an undesirable potential replacement to the current government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is one leader who's recently raised concern that a Western-friendly government may not rise from the ashes of Mubarak's downfall, suggesting that there is a market in which the appeal of sticking with the current regime can be shopped and sold. Of course, Netanyahu's comments may be more reflective of his concern that a new Egypt will be less Israeli-friendly than that it would be less Western-friendly. I don't believe most international leaders would view the West and Israel as one-in-the-same.

While, at present, Mubarak may not truly intend to give up power in eight months, his announcement should give his government, as well as others, some breathing room and additional time to analyze what this uprising is all about. Governments around the world may find that this is a grassroots, peaceful, and popular movement toward real democracy, led by an educated and cosmopolitan demographic. Egypt is not Iraq, it is not Iran, and it is definitely not the sharia-law based Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Egypt has been a leader in the Middle East for decades, and has had a Western-influenced populace for years. In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, a peaceful domestic-led movement toward democracy in one of the Middle East's most stable countries doesn't sound so bad...actually, I thought that's what we've been waiting for?

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  1. Well said Raleigh!

    You mention your wariness towards Mubarak's real intentions in offering a delayed-response promise of resignation. You seem to reflect most Egyptians concerns that this compromise is a bid to retain power once in a stronger position.

    Your analysis of the what might happen should the President immediately step down seem just as dismissive- those who would step to fill in the gap should the president leave now might very well be much worse than Mubarak. At least that seems the Western position.

    So in the last analysis, what do you feel should actually happen- Mubarak step down immediately and come what may, or stay in power until the elections?

    One last note- you say that the uprising is of an educated and cosmopolitan crowd towards real democracy. A BBC article I read noted that most of the protesters were the increasingly rural poor, uneducated and noncosmopolitan, who have been steadily pushed out of the cities away from the riches of a smaller and smaller select few, with their resort homes styled after the Western powers. And among such rabble, isn't it the strong armed radicals (ie the Muslim Brotherhood) who will have the greatest sway over such a crowd?

  2. By the way- the blog looks great! Keep it up and us engaged!

  3. I'm not really trying to come to an affirmative conclusion about what will happen if Mubarak was to step down immediately. However, I tend to be less wary of a popular uprising in Egypt than I would be say...in Saudi Arabia.

    A couple of years ago we saw an uprising in Iran that was very similar, but which occured in an even more hardline conservative country. There's no doubt in my mind that had that uprising succeeded, it would have been Western-friendly forces who assumed power. But it did not succeed, and today most people might struggle to remember that it even happened.

    Your mention of the BBC article is most likely correct, however, as I mentioned, I am not tryting to make a conclusion that the educated and cosmopolitan are definitely behind this. That being said, my analysis of Egypt is that even the rural, less well off, people of Eqypt are more cosmopolitan and educated than most of their Arab neighbors. Last night, on CNN, a field reporter mentioned that a small group of protesters started shouting "Allahu Akbar" during a rally and was immediately engaged by the majority of protesters and told to stop yelling the overtly religious phrase. In addition, there has been polling data quoted by CNN and MSNBC, which shows only 20-30% of Egyptians have affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which I'm sure Mohamed ElBaradei is not one of them.

  4. ElBaradei may not be Muslim Brotherhood he is a friend of Iran

    I heard someone say: The next leader of Egypt will not speak English, meaning they wont be Western facing. Something to think about.

    Keep up the good work with the words but toons say it all http://tinyurl.com/62fjsu4

    PS Check out Sharansky if you are looking for a view from Israel.

  5. Thanks for the comment Pat, will do. Hope you're following the events closely.