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Egypt After Mubarak: What Next?

February 23, 2011

I'm giving a public talk at Miami University on what might happen in Egypt following Mubarak's resignation.

On Feb. 14th I gave a public talk at Miami University on what the future might hold for Egypt now that Mubarak had resigned. This was the gist of my talk:

The Egyptian military has dissolved parliament, suspended the Constitution, and imposed a military junta that has declared itself an interim government responsible for overseeing an “orderly transition” to civilian rule in six months time.

This followed the 11 February resignation of Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt since October 14, 1981. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation to Egypt and the world.  State power was handed over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a body of the 18 highest-ranking officers who head the Egyptian military.

The Supreme Council’s first communiqué to the Egyptian people reported that 75-year old Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi would function as Egypt’s head of state. Tantawy has long been a close ally of Mubarak’s who served under him as defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces (he’s been called “Mubarak’s poodle”).

Other key players include Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish, the Navy commander in chief, Air Marshal Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, the Air Force commander, Lt. Gen. Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen, Commander of air defense, and Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, the Armed forces chief of staff who received roars of approval in Tahrir Square Feb, 11 when he told the protesters their demands would be met and their security guaranteed.

Yet the people of Egypt are joyful, celebratory, ebullient. Yesterday morning CNN reporter Ben Wedeman tweeted “Egypt is swept with a new spirit of optimism. Huge challenges, but finally people feel THEY can face them.”

What might appear to us to be a military coup does not have that connotation to most Egyptians. Although there are important relationships between the military and political leadership in Egypt, most Egyptians perceive the military as relatively benign.

Photo by Abdelrahman Mostafa.

There are two reasons for this: First, every adult male is required to do military service. Because everyone either has served, or has a son or brother serving, the army is viewed with both affection and nostalgia. Second, the army has never really been used as an arm of state repression against the Egyptian people. On the contrary, its job has been to symbolize a bulwark of strength protecting Egypt from potential threats by its frightening neighbor to the east.

At its core, this uprising has involved a joining of two movements, the first a social movement for greater political and social freedom largely driven by educated people under 30 years old that largely evolved in the past decade. The second is a labor movement that has been engaged in strikes and protests for better wages and working conditions for forty years (and some would say since the British Colonial period).

The two movements are not unrelated—those in the social movement often belong to the large and growing number of college educated unemployed, and expect “freedom” to lead to economic reforms. Both groups were also united in their anger over corruption by political leaders and their hatred of the Emergency Laws that essentially allowed the state to abrogate their constitutional rights and use force and intimidation stop them from airing their grievances.

There have been a number of “communiqués” and manifestos issued by various groups within the protesters listing their goals. One issued Feb. 12th by the so-called January 25th Leadership summarizes and typifies these, asking for:

  1. Immediate repeal of the State of Emergency
  2. Immediate release of all political prisoners
  3. Suspension of the existing constitution and its amendments
  4. Dissolution of the federal parliament and creation of a temporary, transitional governing council
  5. Formation of an interim government which would oversee free and fair elections
  6. Drafting of a new constitution which the Egyptian people would vote on in a national referendum
  7. Removal of all restrictions on formation of political parties.
  8. Freedom of the press
  9. Freedom to form unions and non-governmental organizations
  10. Abolition of all military courts (especially their jurisdiction over civilians)

The military has already agreed in principle to lift the emergency laws, and this move seems to be backed by the Obama administration. The dissolution of Parliament took place Feb.13. And a communiqué from the military council calls for talks with opposition parties, new elections in six weeks, and the drafting of a new constitution.

So what can we expect to happen? There are six scenarios that are being raised, some of which are more plausible than others:

Mob Rule

Unending protests. Riots. Clashes between police, protesters and army. Collapse of rule of law. Anarchy.

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Islamic Theocracy

Islamists seize control of the state and establish a theocratic state like that of Iran.

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Army Takeover

The military junta entrenches itself, maintains the state of emergency, and establishes direct military rule.

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Silent Coup

The old elite of military officers and businessmen who surrounded Mubarak survives him to remain more or less in power.

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NDP Electoral Victory

New presidential and parliamentary elections allow the old elite of Mubarak cronies to use their political experience and vast wealth to dominate the new Parliament, while the officer corps remains a power behind the scenes.

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Liberal Democracy

There is a genuine social and political revolution, in which substantial amounts of wealth and power are redistributed to new social actors. We see the emergence of new political parties, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, free press, and civil service.

Read more

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