Finally, Mubarak is gone, but this means the focus will be on what comes next not only in Egypt but beyond.
There will be a pro-democracy demonstration in Cairo on Saturday but it will be in an Egypt that will now be effectively under a government controlled by the military. The military clearly acted to end Mubarak’s rule and saw its future was supporting the street rather than the palace. They are now the arbitrators of the future unless they turn against the people. The military was saved by its reluctance to stand against the people or to use force against the demonstrators, but the officer class will not likely want to lose its influence in a changed Egypt.
The promise is that there will be a transition to a democratic government, but it is not clear how the old constitution will be treated and how fast the changes will take place. In short, much still remains to be worked out between the army and the coalition of parties who were in opposition. But hope and expectations are running high among the population and they will be hard to both resist and fulfill.
Some are calling for the old constitution to be scraped, while others want to see it kept and changed as part of a legal process. The question also arises to who will run for President, and when will the army permit elections. While the question of who might run for president is unsettled, the infighting will start unless there is a consensus around a particular figure like Mohamed ElBaradei or an unifying candidate. So as they say, this is only the start of the beginning.
The military needs to lift the state of emergency and provide a timetable for an orderly move to civilian government. Now politics takes over as the parties maneuver to ensure they have a place in the new order.
There is strong desire to unify at this moment in Egypt and the hope is that this spirit will continue. The fears that the Muslim Brotherhood would take charge of the process seems now unlikely and most observers think they would only obtain about 20% or so in any fair vote. But they will have a role. The first indications are that the military will move to institute reforms to keep at least on the side of the population. The other question is whether the demonstrators will accept a real lag in a swift move to democracy.
The tough issues are now on the table on how Egypt will develop and how real democracy will emerge. How will the new government move the nation towards dealing with the many problems of that society including employment, development of the poorest areas, the treatment of minorities, the remaining elements of power of the National Party and the military, and institution of the rule of law?
Implications for American foreign policy:
Obama’s statement on Friday took exactly the right tone. He said the people have spoken and this is historic. He noted many questions remain unanswered about the future. Noting less than genuine democracy will accepted he added. The army he said has acted responsibly. Thereby asking the army to be a handmaiden to democracy rather than it opponent. Change must be fair and democratic elections held. The US he said will be a partner to Egypt and will offer assistance to a transfer to democracy. He cited jobs as key and called for “Responsible leadership” by Egypt around the world. The Military protected the people importantly he said that Muslims and Christians acted together for change. He appointed to a new generation, while noted the historic context including the actions and place of Martin Luther King Jr and his “cries out for freedom.” He smartly tried to associate Egyptian aspirations with those of America. This was a difficult talk given the past history but it was necessary but not without dangers.
Reports are that behind this statement was a quiet full course press by American diplomats and not least the U.S. military in contacting their counterparts in Egypt to make change possible. We may over time learn more about these activities.
The question is both the short and long-term impact of these events on other nations. Already fighting is breaking out between solders supporting Southern Sudan region and the army of Sudan. Unrest is expected in Algeria and possibly Lebanon and Palestine. But at last America and Egypt are moving together with what we hope are common values. These changes indeed make the case for rethinking national security policies.
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