Saturday, January 29, 2011

Whither Egypt?

Today the army is out on the streets of Egypt. Gone are the repressive police, the right arm of repression of the Mubarak regime. Since the 'revolt of the colonels' almost 60 years ago, which brought Naguib then Nasser to power, the army remains the 'arbiter egalitariarum' on matters of power. For the present, it is supporting Mubarak, yet the question remains 'for how long?'
Mubarak dismissed his government, but it has not quieted the streets of Egypt. They do not believe him. They knew his tricks, and even if, this time, he's sincere in restoring 'democracy' or establishing 'economic justice' so on and on, it just won't do. He has to go. And that is the bottom line, no doubt about it.
In a way, Mubarak is like the Indonesian strongman Suharto who stayed too long in power, and didn't get the message. Ultimately, he was forced out of power, and in his place, another general came to power. Grosso modo, the analogy holds, but in Egypt, the army will in the end determine who will rule.
The media talk of the Muslim Brotherhood, but they are late comers to the streets, and in a way, events have outstripped their appeal. The 'enraged' Egyptians on the street represent, in breath and depth, a broad cross section of Egyptian society. The world press talk of Mohammed El Baradei, who rushed home from Vienna, to join the protests, as a possible successor to Mubarak. But he has no following, no programme, nothing but slogans. Nonetheless, he looks like that weak straw for allies of Mubarak to grasp at.
To slip into pre World War 2 talk, the chancelleries of the world are burning the midnight oil, for no one knows which way Egypt will go.
The US is doing its best to walk on egg shells, opening supporting Mubarak, and privately pressuring him to calm the passions of his citizens. Of late, Obama is lecturing him on the minimum features of 'Democracy 101'. Washington has been an anchor of support of Mubarak and he has dutifully remained a reliable ally. With Mubarak gone, whiter America's foothold in Egypt?
Israel has a lot to lose. It has remained silent as a tomb, fingering feverishly its worry beads. A change in regime in Egypt will, in one way or the other, modify Cairo's relations with the Zionist state--think Gaza, think, too, making fully known the terms of the peace treaty it signed with Egypt, think, even more, the tearing up of the foresaid agreement.
Ripples of unrest are heard on the streets of Amman, another Arab ally of Israel.
The stakes are big for Washington, and for Tel Aviv, they spell disaster, and a return to a defensive posture in the Middle East. Suddenly, it is in danger of isolation, that even its protector the US can fully offer complete assurances.
The streets of Egypt are going to force a re orientation of US policy in the region, and Israel is becoming in ways known and unsuspected, an albatross.
For these two countries, events playing out in the streets or in the corridors of power in Egypt do not offer a cheerful view of political life.
Nonetheless, sight unseen, the military is weighing its options. Furthermore, it is its sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and its' 'smala' who are protesting. Today, it may side with Mubarak, but within days if not weeks, Mubarak, now 'damaged goods' will take the path of exile like Farouk whom the military chased out of Egypt. Who will become 'ar rais' remains an open question? You can bet the US is trying its best to buy off the generals and purchase a man who will speak to its condition. But nothing is certain. And the top military brass continue palabering, making deals and promises, for the time that they will push Mubarak out the door.
For those of those who never thought the Arab street would never bring down strongmen, they now know better. A single spark of discontent of years of poverty, unemployment, social stagnation, and corruption and the rise of a parasite class of the privileged, like barnacles feeding off the ship of state--broke out into a praire fire, and is spreading fast and far in a Middle East thought timeless and unchangeable.

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