In the wake of now-former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation after thirty years in power—and the jubilation in Tahrir Square marking the end of an era—what lies ahead for the biggest, most powerful Arab country?
Implications of Mubarak’s Resignation on Egypt and the Middle East
In the BBC, Robert Hardy, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., reviews the implications of Mubarak’s resignation and departure from Cairo for Egypt and for regional politics:
First, President Mubarak’s resignation and his departure from Cairo do not mean that the Egyptian crisis is moving towards an early resolution.
On the contrary, Mr Mubarak has simply dumped his dilemmas into the lap of the military top brass.
Whether they can do a better job of dealing with them than he did – and whether the military can even retain its own cohesion – are far from certain.
Second, the success of ‘people power’ in Egypt is far more significant for Arabs everywhere than its success in Tunisia.
The Egyptian example has already electrified public opinion throughout a region where a similar set of ills – autocracy, corruption, unemployment, the dignity deficit – prevail.
Autocrats whose security services are smaller and weaker than Egypt’s are more vulnerable to the chill wind of popular anger.
Those with the money to buy off dissent are already trying to do so. Poorer states, such as Jordan and Yemen, will have to borrow in order to do so.
Hardy also notes the effects of the uprising on regional economics—it has already had an effect on oil prices and, of course, tourism to Egypt—and its impact on political issues in the Mideast including ‘the Arab-Israeli peace process, the growing influence of Iran, the battle against Muslim extremism.’ According to Hardy, ‘fears of Islamic revolutions everywhere are misplaced,’ as ‘most of the current dissent seems driven by nationalist rather than religious sentiment.’
Mubarak is Gone, But Mubarak’s Egypt Remains
The Guardian points out that, with Mubarak gone, the army is now in charge and some of the complications that are more than likely to arise as a result:
Egyptian and foreign commentators are sharply aware of how difficult it will be for the military to accept a democratic transition that includes the legalisation of its bugbear, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful opposition force in the country.
“This is just the end of the beginning,” said Jon Alterman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “Egypt isn’t moving toward democracy, it’s moved into martial law and where it goes is now subject to debate.”
Analysts also see risks for the army in the new situation, exposed to demands for a civilian transitional government that could challenge or dilute its own authority or launch investigations into corruption or human rights abuses. The army may also want to avoid an armed clash with the Republican Guards that would seriously destabilise the country and further rob the regime of legitimacy.
Might it be possible that Egypt in the post-Mubarak era might not look so different after all? Writing in the Atlantic, Max Fisher says that Mubarak stepping down does not mean the automatic end of ‘Mubarak’s Egypt,’ which is ‘composed of countless bureaucracies, institutions, and officials’ and is ‘likely to remain for a generation or more.’ While Mubarak’s departure is a historic moment for Egypt and the Middle East, Fisher emphasizes that
…… it’s important to remember that government do not transform overnight. Mubarak may be on his way out, but regimes are not confined to one man. They are vast networks, formal and informal, of partisans and technocrats, torture specialists and traffic cops, rent-seekers and public servants, all of them difficult or impossible to separate. The work of transforming Egypt to a democracy, whether by top-down reform or blanket purges, will likely be a difficult and frustrating process that could take a generation or more. Revolutions are messy, and this one is far from over.
Mubarak’s successor, Fisher writes, will ‘face public pressure to purge the ministry of its thousands of security and intelligence officers.’ While many in the US are ‘understandably concerned about Egyptian extremists rising in the wake of Mubarak’s departure,’ Fisher points out that ‘it’s worth bearing in mind that no one has killed more Egyptian civilians this year than the internal security forces.’
Analysis of Obama’s Handling of the Uprising in Egypt
Hardy in the BBC is frankly critical of President Obama’s handling of the crisis in Egypt:
The Obama administration’s handling of the Egypt crisis has been inept. The European Union has scarcely fared much better.
But even if their response had been sure-footed, the underlying conundrum would have been the same.
The West has, for decades, made stability a higher priority than democracy and human rights.
For Western powers, says Hardy, one ‘painful lesson’ to learn is about ‘how little influence they have, even in countries to which they give generous aid.’
Writing in the Guardian, Michael Tomasky states that it was
President Obama’s remarks on Friday afternoon were appropriate and powerful: the people of Egypt have inspired the world. For all the understandable frustration on the part of Egyptian protesters over the fact the the US wouldn’t commit to them more fully earlier, I think Obama and his people ended up playing this rather well. They turned up the heat incrementally, and but for one or two missteps, the timing was actually pretty good.
Critics, neocons especially, will say he didn’t lead, he followed. That’s true. And that was appropriate. It was up to the Egyptian people to lead this, not the United States.
This was Egypt’s show, not the US’s. And there is now, as Tomasky writes, a ‘great opportunity for the US, and all of the west, to help a people learn the habits of freedom, and for those habits to spread.’
Now What For Mubarak?
As for what is next for Mubarak himself, the picture is not at all clear. Swiss banks have frozen his accounts, the Guardian reports. Mubarak has reportedly flown to the the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and so far insists that he will stay in his homeland: In his first speech on the first of February, Mubarak pledged that he would ‘”die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.”‘
But exploratory discussions involving the Saudis, the US and the UAE have reportedly taken place about him moving to Dubai. One important issue is immunity from any prosecution he might face on charges of crimes against humanity after 300 deaths and documented abuses by the security forces.
According to the London-based paper al-Quds al-Arabi, revelations about the Mubarak family fortune and possible legal action over that are also a factor in planning for a post-presidential future.
Experts have estimated that the Mubaraks could be worth £43.5bn, with much of the wealth from investment deals in British and Swiss banks or tied up in upmarket real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and expensive tracts of the Red Sea coast.
A ‘peaceful retirement’ in Sharm el-Sheikh would, the Guardian notes, be an ‘unusual outcome for an Arab president in the post-second world war era.’ While a number of Lebanese presidents have retired after serving their terms in office, Arab leaders have either mostly ‘died in office been murdered.’
To see more about the developments in Egypt, click here.
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Photo by the author of a rally celebrating the departure of Mubarak in Journal Square, Jersey City, New Jersey.
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