It’s a mixed bag in Egypt right now with some developments that call for disappointment, and others that call for hope.
New Government Scandal – Already
The 24-hour long violent attacks by “pro-Mubarak” thugs against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square amid a total absence of security – coupled with government inaction – do not bode well for the current regime.
It is unlikely that Mubarak, a seasoned politician, authorized such primitive politically-naive action. It is improbable that the newly appointed government leadership was involved. It is highly likely however that elements in the ruling Democratic National Party (DNP) were involved. Either way, the fact that it happened, and that it went on for so long with the government failing to send in security forces, ambulances, or even so much as a timely public statement, indicates that the failures of the old guard system still plague us.
Between Marginalization and Revolution
Many Egyptians, by sheer fact of having lived all their lives under complete political marginalization are growing tired of the protests. They see it as a youth fad that is getting old and needs to end as soon as possible so that “life can get back to normal.” The State media is largely complicit in failing to carry the fact that the protests have grown into a revolution that has succeeded in bringing about unprecedented concessions in record time; choosing instead to propagandize on behalf of the status quo. Some elements in government conveniently feed into this line.
Many other Egyptians are full of praise for the protesters who have “achieved in a few days what all other Egyptians failed to achieve in decades.” They recognize that there is an Egypt before January 25th and post January 25th. Egyptian intellectuals largely feed into this line.
Thanks to the revolution, there is now such a thing as “public opinion” in Egypt that powerful politicians are obligated to take into full account.
Many protesters remain filled with energy and are insisting that Mubarak leave immediately.
President Hosni Mubarak
President Mubarak has refused to step down immediately, promising instead not to rerun in the fall for another term. He appointed a vice-president for the first time who said today that Mubarak’s son Gamal, will not be running for president in the fall as was fully expected before the revolution. Mubarak also appointed a new cabinet (executive government) and promised constitutional reforms.
Many Egyptians appreciate Mubarak as a war hero and love him as a dominant presence in their lives for the last three decades. Egyptians are a highly sentimental people. Their feelings, many will admit, are not an endorsement of his political record but are born out of personal human considerations and emotional attachments. They recognize Mubarak as an Egyptian national figure, who regardless of his shortcomings, must not be subjected to public humiliation. “Would you insult your father like that, even if he screws up?” many complained.
What should happen to Mubarak has therefore become a divisive issue in Egypt. The fixation on what is now a lame duck president by both sides, misses the larger picture, threatens to spoil the gains made by the revolution – and even worse – delve Egypt into further chaos and violence.
For those reasons, pro-democracy protesters must focus on ending corruption and on political reform and not uprooting Mubarak this very instant. Not only has Mubarak been effectively disengaged, but it is my belief that Mubarak himself would leave today before tomorrow, had it not been for his pride and fear of degradation after so many years of hegemony. Today, Mubarak himself told ABC that he wants to leave immediately but fears chaos if he did so.
I was one of those Egyptians who loudly called for an end to Mubarak’s regime. For me, Mubarak’s announcement to leave in September satisfies part of this demand (If anything, I was concerned about a power gap should he leave as Tunisia’s Ben Ali did). The other part of this demand has to do with system reform, which for me is the focus. This is not a change in goals but a change in strategy necessitated by practical considerations: Mubarak will not be ousted by force without plunging Egypt into full blown divisiveness.
As I have stated many times before, Egypt’s revolution is non-ideological, non-partisan, spontaneous, and grassroots with a focus on wide scale political reform and not merely replacing one head of state with another. This is why the revolution must bring its focus back on system change, political culture change, and not fixate on Mubarak’s removal today versus a few months from now.
The real success of the revolution will come when Egypt confronts its political and economic corruption (200 politically-wired families own 90% of Egypt’s private sector), and introduces constitutional reform, due process, and checks and balances.
Towards that end, there are some promising developments. Both the new Prime Minister and the new Vice-President are known to be anti-corruption. Indeed, they wasted no time indicting once untouchable billionaire politicians including the notorious Ahmed Ezz.
While Mubarak’s new political appointments are both military generals who are not likely to be vanguards of a new era of true democracy, they could act as a bridge that helps Egyptians cross over from dictatorship to democracy. In addition to their anti-corruption investigations, their promises to start a national debate about Egypt’s political system, and to place a schedule on implementing the demanded constitutional reforms are necessary preparatory steps for ushering in a new full-blown democracy, hopefully by the next election cycle.
Egyptians are fiercely nationalistic; no Egyptian would accept foreign interference – even in time of crisis. However, even those in Mubarak’s regime understand that the US and other countries are allies that have foreign policies affecting Egypt. It is fair game to put pressure on the US and others to advise their ally, Egypt, to push forward with the people’s demand for democracy. This however should not be misconstrued as an invitation for forced interference or internal meddling that politicizes domestic elements towards a foreign agenda. The US and others should put friendly pressure on the Egyptian government to continue in its declared steps towards democracy, offering resources that facilitate this journey.
The Next Steps
While the timeline for President Mubarak’s departure maybe subject to debate among protesters, there is little debate regarding the rest of the demands that focus on constitutional reform and guarantees for freedoms. The transitional government must not take those demands lightly or stall.
What has happened:
– The Presidency: Mubarak’s rule is effectively over. His son will not inherit the presidency. After 30 years, there will be a brand new president in September who is not Mubarak Sr. or Mubarak Jr.
– Corruption: The DNP ruling party, the source of much corruption in Egyptian politics (though certainly not the only one) has lost its immunity. The DNP was notorious for marrying politics to big money and special interest. It’s Secretary and mastermind, billionaire engineer Ahmed Ezz, has been indicted, his assets frozen.
What must happen:
– Constitutional reforms on a set schedule, particularly items 76, 77, and 88 that have to do with set terms for the presidency, opening up qualifications for the presidency, and independent judicial review.
– President Mubarak and Gamal Mubarak should resign immediately from the DNP
– Regulatory, grievance, and punitive measures should be instituted to help end police brutality and overreach
– All State media must be dissolved or privatized; the position of “Minister of Media” should be retired
– The repeal of emergency laws
– The complete independence of the Judiciary
– Parliamentary reelections in place of the rigged ones
– A new political culture of transparency and dialogue (chaos thrives where honest dialogue is suppressed, Egypt is learning that the hard way)
– The current government must acknowledge that it is a transitional government that will make way for a new government to be formed after September
– Constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion, expression, and speech
– Intellectuals must help breed a new discourse of democratic linguistics
– The youth must be given political capital including in leadership positions
– Non-governmental civic organizations must be created to educate the public on civil rights and civic participation
What is the guarantee for all of this? The popular revolution.
Peaceful pro-democracy protests will not stop until Egyptians have full confidence that the current guardians of the government are serious about implementing a transition towards democracy. This does not mean they should continue incessantly. To the contrary, protests should halt if and when good will is shown in order to give an opportunity for dialogue and action. In the case of treachery or backtracking: everyone knows their address at Tahrir Square.
Democracy does not happen overnight, the revolutionaries would do well to remember that. But at the same time, the age of patronizing the Egyptian people is over; the old guard would do well to remember that.