Sharp is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who in 1973 published a book about methods of non-violent revolution called The Politics of Nonviolent Action. In the book (which I didn’t read), Sharp presents an analysis of the state as a power complex designed to keep citizens subservient, through a variety of political and administrative institutions (courts, policy, regulatory bodies) and cultural norms (religion, leadership cult, moral norms).
If that doesn’t sound too original (think Foucault and every theorist concerned with despotism and state power since Hobbes), what’s special about Sharp is that he presents a whole list of possible methods of nonviolent resistance. From boycotts to strikes, to using colors, to sit-ins, to empowering women and children, to employing peaceful symbols, Sharp seems to draw on methods and techniques of protest and revolution from Louis Blanqui to Gandhi to the New Left.
Now, I’m a bit hesitant to say that this person was “the brain” behind all those complex revolutions, and have the idea that Sharp’s influence is exaggerated a bit much by Western commentators (like as usual at the NYT). Yet, his ideas have been denounced by dictators ranging from Hugo Chavez to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sharp’s other important book From Dictatorship to Democracy, moreover, seems to have influenced civic youth movements from Serbia (during the overthrow of Milosevic) to Ukraine to Belarus, who again are said to have taught nonviolent revolutionary skills to each other and to the Arab youth protesters.
So anyway, check the trailer below, interesting stuff!
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION is a new documentary film revealing how one man’s work has helped millions of people achieve freedom in the face of oppression and tyranny.
Gene Sharp is a shy, modest and little-known man. But his work has inspired a generation of people to challenge dictators through non-violent action in a tidal wave of revolutionary spirit and reform that has swept from Eastern Europe, though Asia and to the Middle East and North Africa.
18 months ago we started work on this feature-length documentary. Through the candid and intimate testimony of the people responsible for non-violent revolutions our film seeks to tell the story of how people power can be used topple dictators.
To make this film our director (Ruaridh Arrow pictured above) slept overnight in Tahrir Square in Cairo at the height of the February revolution. He’s met the leaders of the Syrian pro-democracy movement and the people responsible for overthrowing dictators in Serbia and Ukraine. He has spent time with Gene and his colleagues as they spread their message of effective non-violent revolution.
The film reveals how the leaders of an uprising in one country train the participants in the next and how social media now threatens dictators and tyrants around the world in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
Not only is this documentary an important film of record of the civil uprisings that have shaken the world in the last decade but we also hope it will help inspire future pro-democracy movements develop their strategies for non-violent revolution in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.
So it has now been two days since Mubarak finally exited the scene. There has been lost of interesting stories emerge since that time. Apparently the army expected Mubarak to resign Thursday night Egypt time. But, notwithstanding pleading from the head of his Party, fighting within his own appointed cabinet and military impatience, Mubarak could not be persuaded beyond the insistence of his son Gamal that “he could still ride out the turmoil“.
And, most importantly, the army has started to make moves. The most significant of these to date have come this morning. The Supreme Council of the Military has announced that it is dissolving the Egyptian parliament, suspending the constitution and calling for elections to be held within six months. The army is also leaving in place a civilian caretaker government meant to ensure the stability of the Egyptian economy and safety of the Egyptian people.
That said, as Al Jazeera is reporting, it is “”quite clear that the power now rests entirely” with the military council”. And, of course commitments for reform are not the same as reform. And at least two points of contention remain it seems. First, it is not clear if the suspending of the constitution is sufficient to end ‘emergency rule’, a clear demand of protestors. There are mixed reports on that point. And second, the same Al Jazeera piece is reporting that there have been some skirmishes between soldiers that are pushing for people to return home and to get back to ‘ordinary’ life and protestors who seem to want to continue to hold Tahrir Square until more is known.
Also, I am not seeing anything at this point about how the military intends to integrate opposition members and representatives of the protestors into the process of democratic reform or about the release of the many people still detained. These are very important points.
Nonetheless, while questions do remain (see this post), I see todays developments quite positively. Each of these moves, while somewhat ambiguous, are all very good news. There is a clear timeline to move to civilian democratic leadership, free and fair elections were simply not possible under the existing, now suspended, constitution and protestors rightly saw Parliament as illegitimate given the record of fraudulent elections and it has been sent home.
So. This is world history. The Egyptian Revolution is, in my view, now on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ever since decolonization, the Middle East has been ruled by a series of secular autocratic regimes. These have been varying in levels of despotism and violence, but Egypt’s – the most populous and culturally the most influential Middle Eastern country - has not been the softest. Let’s not forget, moreover, that these regimes have been pillars of Western and especially US policy for decades. This is what fueled the islamist Iranian Revolution, and now the democratic Egyptian Revolution. For the first time (well, actually not, Tunisia was first), an Arab people stands up and en masse removes a dictator. That is news on a dizzying magnitude, and utterly unthinkable just two weeks ago.
While a jubilant mood on Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo and Alexandria because of the removal of a dictator by masses of peaceful protesters, led by the young, is now in order, let’s not forget that this is not over. This is essentially a military coup. The army leadership - led by the torturer and chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman – is now in full control of the country, and one might wonder how eager they are to quickly relinguish that power. The military has huge political and economic interests in Egypt. So as Mark noted yesterday, a vigilant eye must be kept on the process of constitutional reform. The state of emergency must be lifted, a real dialogue with the opposition (liberal as well as islamist) must be opened, and open and fair democratic elections are in order.
A historian’s note though. Mubarak’s thirty-year regime has effected an almost total eradication of anything resembling a civil society in Egypt. The middle and lower classes (constituting the vast bulk of Egypt’s population) have no organizations representing them; no labor unions, no interest associations, no political parties, almost nothing. There is only the Muslim Brotherhood – a very dedicated, highly organized minority. And Facebook. In my view, a democracy cannot properly function without a vibrant and stable civil society; unorganized people are prone to manipulation by populists, and may even slid into violence caused by old rifts (witness Iraq). So, I’m very concerned about how a post-Mubarak Egypt will develop. Democratization is more than just quick elections (we can also see that in Iraq). What is needed are organizing principles within Egyptian society. But that takes time.
A glimmer of hope though: the organizing of these protests, albeit informal, has shown signs of being highly coordinated and effective. Maybe from this, like in East Germany post-1989, something can grow…
So, while this is huge and fantastic – we’re not there yet!
- Update: Just talked to a friend in Cairo who is not an organizer but has been at Tahrir Square daily for most of the protests. He is saying two interesting things. First, that he and others still trust the army, suggesting that people still feel safe in the army’s presence. This fits with images on TV of protestors still chanting that the people and the army are united. Second, that the army is now “everywhere” taking up a much more visible presence in the city then merely hours ago. Personally I do not see the army as a neutral force up to this point and am not convinced just yet that a hand off of power to the army is consistent with, or will fulfill, the demands of the protestors so I am less certain about what to make of this. Nonetheless the background noise during the call was truly joyful. Lots of people honking their horns (beyond the incessant horn honking that is normal in Cairo. People chanting and singing. And everybody seemed to be heading towards the square. If the protestors or a sizeable chunk off them reject whatever comes next tonight the result could be overwhelming. At the same time it may risk massive division with the protestors. I ended the call telling him to be safe and to have an amazing time the square tonight; he laughed, told me not worry, and told me how incredibly happy he was. Let’s see what will happen next.
- Update: NYT reporting indicates this is basically an army takeover, a military intervention. Should we be too happy about that?
- Update: Wael Ghonim has written on his Twitter feed:
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and protest organizer whose anti-torture Facebook page helped spark the movement, wrote on his Twitter feed Thursday evening: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.”
“This is not a coup in the traditional sense,” the official said. “But this is a transfer of the system of government from the civilian to military. The military is stepping up, recognizing its responsibility to the Egyptian people.”
“These were all definite and conclusive steps toward a political process under the constitution,” the official said, referring to the effort to implement reforms. “But this political process never received enough support” — neither from Egyptians nor the international community. “Now we have to go outside the constitutional frame.”
Word of this is going to spread and will begin to counter the dominant narrative in Egyptian media about the people and the army being one. The longer this crisis persists, the more difficult for the army to continue either playing a double game or sitting on the fence. With Omar Suleiman’s threats of coups and the protests spreading to work stoppages across the country, decision time will be coming for the protestors to make up their minds about the army (or launch a more pronounced campaign to persuade commanders), for the army’s leadership to decide how it will proceed in a context where it is losing control, and for rank-and-file in the military to decide where they stand in all this.
- Update: There are serious of key issues here that require further clarification before it becomes clear how much change is actually about to occur. They include, but are not limited to: 1) Who will succeed Mubarak?; 2) Will there be constitutional amendments that will actually democratize any forthcoming elections (e.g., allow opposition members to organize and run in elections)? 3) What role will representatives of the uprising have in making those changes?; 4) How fast will those changes and any elections happen?; and 5) What will happen to those who have been, and are currently, detained?
Until some of these questions optimism should be quite cautious folks.
- Update: Al Jazeera English is reporting that nearly 3 million people are now in Tahrir Square!
- Update: Mubarak is live! Doubt he is leaving, his first few minutes is filled with “I wills”.
He characterizes past problems like torture and fraud as “mistakes” that “can happen in any system of government”.
He is relying on previously announced concessions, ‘I promised you that I will not run again for elections’, we are examining the constitution, etc.
“We have lost martyrs”, calling people sons and daughters. This dude is daring those 3 million people to burn down his palace (not that I am endorsing that). What a stubborn bastard.
The crowd is going nuts. What is happening?
He is trotting all the same bullshit he trotted out last speech. How does he think that is going to go with protests that are growing in size as this carries on?
People are chanting Leave! Out! Out! and waving their shoes in Tahrir Square.
He is talking about the determination of Egyptian people wait till this poor bastard wakes up tomorrow!
And that is it for Mubarak with 3 million royally pissed off people in the square. This is about to get ugly.
Soooo… There was not a single new concession in that speech. He had already said that he delegated powers to the VP. He reiterated his commitments to fixing this himself. And he clearly did not step down. I argued last week that Mubarak is misstepping and I believe it even more tonight.
- Update: The Guardian‘s Matt Wells is in Tahrir Square:
At one point Mubarak made a reference to being a young man and understanding the young men of Egypt – basically the people who are here – and at that moment the whole square erupted in anger. At that point, the whole square exploded in anger. The way that Mubarak is comparing himself to the people on the ground infuriated them.
And when it became clear that the that Mubarak intended to stay on until September, the square shook with fury. “We are not going until he goes,” they chanted.
CNN is interviewing a guy saying that Mubarak clearly does not want “to leave the country in one piece” and “has no brain”.
- Update: So what happens tomorrow? The day will clearly start with Friday prayers. After that? Does the crowd swell again? Do they finally march on the palace? Do they move to face Parliament? Does the army stay out of the way or impede protests? Does Mubarak launch another crackdown that includes arbitrary detention, torture and murder using police and/or other thugs?
- Update: CNN is now reporting people are leaving the square and chanting that they are going to the palace? Al Jazeera reports of demonstrations in Alexandria, and people marching towards army headquarters. Mubarak’s infuriating speech may tilt the relationship between the protesters and the army. They’re reporting about extreme anger on Tahrir Square now.
- Update: Well, we here at LSDimension are going to sign off for a bit so that we can try to catch up. But first I wanted to make four points: first, everyone should know that his post is both the work of Adriejan and myself; second, Suleiman is about to speak, though I doubt it will add much of anything; third, I think Mubarak is attempting to goad more extreme protests so that he can justify a more violence crackdown (I am quite worried this is going to get really ugly); and, fourth, what has happened tonight also paints the American intelligence services in poor light again. Senior US sources were behind the false rumours that Mubarak was going. They were wrong. The CIA director also made comments that are now unfounded. After Obama’s comments earlier about watching a transformation and history in the making, the US again comes off looking poor in this.
As they just put in on Al Jazeera: the revolution will start tomorrow.
Two things appear to be clear as we round out two weeks of pro-democracy protests since the initial Egyptian ‘Day of Rage’ was launched on January 25th. First, that to the degree that protestors might have benefited in their hopes of realizing regime change in either the immediate or short-term from the support of Western democracies, including the United States and members of the European Union, any such benefits are not likely to accrue. The Western democracies uniformly appear happy to carve out a position marked by inconsistent messaging, tepid criticism, calls for change and, ultimately, acceptance of a slow process that formally leaves power in Mubarak’s hands as the best means of securing ‘stability’ and ‘orderly transition’. And by the way, I am not suggesting protestors wanted Western support. They likely did not. The point here is just that the West is willing to accept and support Mubarak rule for at least the next half-year at this point, and, as such, has made clear that its support for democracy around the world is conditional.
The latest example is aptly provided by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who described ‘new’ Vice-President Omar Suleiman’s remarks that ‘Egypt is not ready for democracy’ as “very unhelpful”. Very unhelpful? Is Gibbs sure that won’t set off a diplomatic crisis?
Second, the protestors are not showing any signs of going away quickly. Many reports from news agencies and those on the ground today suggest that there were more protestors today than any day so far. This is truly remarkable. In the face of thinly veiled threats, violence and kidnappings by the state security apparatus, people have made clear they are rejecting the empty ‘concessions’ on offer from the Mubarak regime (and it is getting hard to keep up with the empty promises on offer). It appears, as per the message of protestors from the start, anything short of Mubarak’s actual departure will not satisfy the revolutionaries occupying Tahrir Square and spread throughout much of the rest of the country.
One of the most recent rallying points drawing more people to participate is the story of Wael Ghonim. Ghonim is a Cairo native who is married to an American and lives and works in Dubai as Head of Marketing for Google Middle East and North Africa. He is being credited with being an early, albeit, at the time anonymous catalyst of the movement. Ghonim, under a false identity started the “We are all Khaled Said“ Facebook page commemorating the torture and killing of a 28-year old Egyptian blogger at the hands of the police for exposing police wrongdoing, agitating against police intimidation and brutality as well as calling for the January 25th protest.
Ghonim ’disappeared’ on January 27th during the protests by the Egyptian regime, which under the leadership of Suleiman allegedly participated in the United States’ extraordinary rendition programme that used foreign countries to torture detainees as part of the so-called War on Terror. Considerable attention was called to his disappearance by journalists and internal human rights organizations such Amnesty International before his eventual release yesterday.
Shortly after his release Ghonim granted a highly emotional interview to Egyptian channel DreamTV which has since been posted on the web complete with English subtitles. I consider this essential viewing.
The sincere compassion shown to everyone involved in the protests including his interrogators and the even-handedness with which Ghonim assesses what is happening and what should happen is remarkable, especially for a man who is just hours removed from being held captive for 12 days by a regime that his own past writing makes clear is to be feared. Among the highlights of the interview are when Ghonim makes clear that this is not the time to settle scores, to divide up the cake or to impose ideologies.
It is not the place of anyone to set a barometer for which countries ought to be a democracy and which ought not, besides the citizens of those countries. But even if it was, what more could we ask for than what Wael Ghonim and his compatriots have put on offer? Personally, the interview lays bare just how hypocritical Western governments are being in choosing a brutal authoritarian regime that has no claim whatsoever to democratic legitimacy over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who day after day have peacefully taken to the streets breaking down traditional gender, religious and socio-economic divides to demand justice and democracy. I could not imagine a more cynical and, frankly, disgusting stance.
While, I’d say, European media have mostly reported on the Egypt mass demonstrations in a carefully positive frame, on the American right the standard tone has mostly been that of concern and caution (or just a downright rejection of protesters as ‘rioters’). The Mubarak regime has been an ally of the US in the past thirty years, primarily because of the peace treaty with Israel. Now, with the possibility of regime change, that peace treaty might to some extent be up in the air. Views among the Egyptian public on Israel are very negative, and one of the main opposition groups – the Muslim Brotherhood – that may become part of a ruling coalition is no friend of the country either. So, Fox News and the once-esteemed Senator John McCain have already denounced the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘terrorists’ on par with Al Qaeda, and are claiming this Egyptian revolution is becoming another 1979 Iran.
But to which extent is this really true? Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest islamic fundamentalist organization in the modern world; and its conservative wing nowadays opposes the ‘Zionist entity’ and the West, as well as the Egyptian political system. According to other commentators, however, the Brotherhood is a ‘middle class institution’ consisting of lawyers and engineers that aims to combine Islam with democracy.
Either way, Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast has a good, insightful piece on the character of the Muslim Brotherhood, the actual likelihood of the organization gaining too much power, and the consequences of a possible democratic regime change to Egypt’s relations with Israel. Basically – and I agree – is that, like in the case of Turkey where a moderate Islamist party is also in power, it would expose Israel to harsher criticism of its treatment of the Gazan people. Not entirely unfair, I’d say. Also, the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip would from Egypt’s side probably be lifted. All in all, it may mean that the stalwart Netanyahu government may become a little more sensitive to Middle Eastern public opinion regarding the way it treats Palestinians. Would that be all bad?
Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that “The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political” tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”
Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people—the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”
But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.
Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.
All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.
The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.
Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep—and understandable—rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.
A very clear recap of the current situation in Egypt, by Scott Lucas from Enduring America (which is, by the way, a great blog to turn to to follow the events as they unfold):
[There is] uncertainty surrounding political talks between the regime, led by Vice President Omar Suleiman, and the opposition. Government outlets were soon announcing that agreement had been reached on joint committees, including one for Constitutional reform, free media, and an end to the military emergency. Other signals cames from the opposition side: the Muslim Brotherhood, now acknowledged by the Government for the first time in more than 50 years, said it was not negotiating but only ensuring that the regime heard the opposition point of view; representatives of the Tahrir Square protesters insisted that the immediate departure of President Mubarak remained an essential precondition; and Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been named by opposition parties to present their position, said he had not even invited to the discussions, even though his representative was there.
Opposition sources later told media, including the BBC’s Jon Leyne, that the talks had been limited to two points: constitutional changes and the procedure to implement them. That would fit the regime narrative that President Mubarak has to be replaced in an “orderly” process, involving Parliamentary approval of a replacement and a procedure for elections, rather than stepping down immediately. Given that the Parliament was dissolved last week by Mubarak, the time involved in even these limited steps would let the President enjoying his office desk for more months.
This is the process that the US, for all the confusion surrounding its position, is backing. President Obama used the occasion of American football’s Super Bowl for a pre-game interview in which he got back to his Administration’s mantra of “orderly transition”.
Today is ‘day of departure’ in Egypt – while people on the street are calling on Mubarak to leave, President Obama is putting pressure behind the scenes to effectuate the same. Vice President Omar Suleiman is poised to take over leadership, and there is talk of inviting opposition groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss constitutional reforms. This may seem like victory, but what happens on the background probably has more weight.
Via Andrew Sullivan, a couple of analyses that put the events in Egypt of the past few days in perspective. Basically, they cast a (from our point of view) not-so-favorable light on the Egyptian military, as well as put Mubarak and his son’s decision not to run for president (again) in perspective. I’ll discuss them here in a couple of posts.
Even though the military in the first stage of this uprising has seemed to be on the hand of the people (or at least not striking them down), the extent to which the army dominates Egyptian society – politically, culturally as well as economically – can not be ignored. What happens in Egypt happens through the military – and that, apparently, also seems to go for who runs the country. With Mubarak’s son Gamal gone, the army seems to be in full control of the country again.
Samuel Tadros at The American Interest blog, in a great piece, provides background on the role of the military in Egyptian society, Egyptian politics in the last twenty years, as well as the Mubarak dynasty:
The Egyptian army, incidentally, is hugely popular, due to a well-established myth in Egyptian politics. The army—which is for all intents and purposes the regime—is seen as separate from it by the people. The army is viewed as clean (not like the corrupt government), efficient (they do build bridges fast) and, more importantly, composed of the heroes who defeated Israel in 1973. (It’s no use debating this point with an Egyptian.) Thus people really did think the troops and tanks appearing in the streets were on their side—whatever that might mean. Egyptians, putting their own reading on why the President’s upcoming address kept being delayed, fully expected Mubarak’s resignation.
Mubarak decided to appoint Omar Suliman as Vice President and Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister. Both are military men, Suliman being the Chief of the Egyptian Intelligence Service and Shafik being the former commander of the Air Forces.
It is no news for anyone following Egyptian politics that Gamal Mubarak, the President’s son was being groomed to follow his father. In reality, the elder Mubarak was never fully behind that scenario. Whether because of a real assessment of his son’s capabilities or because of the army unwillingness to accept such a scenario, Mubarak was hesitant. It was Mubarak’s wife, rather, who was heavily pushing that scenario. Step by step, Gamal started to rise up the ranks of the ruling NDP party.
The army never liked Gamal or his friends. Gamal had never served in the military. And now to add insult to injury, their technocratic, neo-liberal policies were threatening the army’s dominance of the closed economy. The party was becoming, step by step, an actual organization capable of competing with army officers to fill administrative positions.
As long as President Mubarak was there, however, the army stayed silent. The army is 100 percent loyal to the President. He is an October War hero and their Commander in Chief.
As the recent events unfolded, the army was finally able to demonstrate their narrative to the President and get his backing—that narrative being that Gamal and his friends ruined everything. Their neo-liberal policies alienated people and robbed them of their subsidies, and they destroyed the political system by aiming to crush all opposition.
1. The Gamal inheritance scenario is finished.
2. Mubarak will not run for another Presidential term. His term ends in October and either he will serve the rest of his term or will resign once things cool down for health reasons. (These concerns, incidentally, are real; he is in fact dying.)
3. The army is in control now. We are heading back to the “golden age” of army rule. The “kids” are not in charge anymore; the “men” are back in control.
4. Until the economy fails again, neo-liberal economic policies are over. Forget about seeing an open economy any time soon.
Tadros also confirms what I’ve suspected since the beginning: that Mohamed El Baradei, the darling of the Western media, really does not have a role at all in real-life Egyptian politics:
You might, after all of this, be asking yourself where El Baradei and the Egyptian opposition factor into all of this. CNN’s anointed leader of the Egyptian Revolution must somehow be an important figure for Egypt’s future. Hardly! Outside Western media hype, El Baradei is nothing. A man who has spent less than thirty days in the past year and hardly any time in the past twenty years in Egypt is a nobody. It is insulting to Egyptians to suggest otherwise.
And what of the opposition? Outside the Muslim Brotherhood, no opposition group can claim more than about 5,000 actual members. With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders, the opposition is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It is the apolitical-cum-political generation of young Egyptians that is the real enigma in all this.
- Edit: The NYT confirms this picture. Let’s just forget about Mohamed El Baradei, shall we?
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been authorized by the protesters to negotiate with the authorities, said no one from government had contacted him, but he was still standing by.
So the question is: will the army relinquish power, by opening up free and fair elections in September? Let’s have an honest answer to that…
Hi folks, I have now returned to and am settling into the Canadian tundra after spending nearly the last 10 months in a variety of locales around the world, including 40 days traveling through the Middle East (UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey) in December and January. The dramatic events that have ripped through Lebanon and Egypt since I have left that part of the world have gripped mine, like most everyone else’s attention. I will have more to say on some of the stuff I saw, especially in relation to current events but this is just a quick post following up on Adriejan’s earlier post noting that Mubarak’s announcement that he will not run again. The Guardian now has the full text of Mubarak’s speech online here.
I was shocked to hear this speech described by at least on pundit (on Al Jazeera English) as clever. My sense is that all he has done with this speech is pour gas on the fire by insulting and demonizing protestors and making no firm commitments on reform or to rescind internet, mobile or television restrictions. His commitment to not run again, after his chat with Obama, is a joke. Demonstrators have been clear all along they want him gone, and they want him gone now. His staying, even temporarily has never been negotiable with the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets across the country. And his commitment to having Parliament “discuss amending article 76 and 77 of the constitution” amounts to having his own cronies control the reform agenda. Yeah that is what the people wanted. And that is not to even mention the outright lies, like pointing the fingers at the protestors for looting when there is clear evidence emerging that his own thugs are responsible.
Does he really think that simultaneously treating the people like idiots at this point, digging in his heels and elevating the situation through fear mongering and dangerous rhetoric, like declaring “on this land I will die”, is a good idea? At this point I would say that he is remarkably lucky to be the beneficiary of the remarkable amount of restraint and poise exercised the impressive Egyptian revolutionaries that have taken to the streets.
I really do not think I have heard a speech so out of touch with the context in which it was delivered. The full text follows with some emphasis added:
“I talk to you during critical times that are testing Egypt and its people which could sweep them into the unknown. The country is passing through difficult times and tough experiences which began with noble youths and citizens who practise their rights to peaceful demonstrations and protests, expressing their concerns and aspirations but they were quickly exploited by those who sought to spread chaos and violence, confrontation and to violate the constitutional legitimacy and to attack it.
Those protests were transformed from a noble and civilised phenomenon of practising freedom of expression to unfortunate clashes, mobilised and controlled by political forces that wanted to escalate and worsen the situation. They targeted the nation’s security and stability through acts of provocation theft and looting and setting fires and blocking roads and attacking vital installations and public and private properties and storming some diplomatic missions.
We are living together painful days and the most painful thing is the fear that affected the huge majority of Egyptians and caused concern and anxiety over what tomorrow could bring them and their families and the future of their country.
The events of the last few days require us all as a people and as a leadership to chose between chaos and stability and to set in front of us new circumstances and a new Egyptian reality which our people and armed forces must work with wisely and in the interest of Egypt and its citizens.
Dear brothers and citizens, I took the initiative of forming a new government with new priorities and duties that respond to the demand of our youth and their mission. I entrusted the vice president with the task of holding dialogue with all the political forces and factions about all the issues that have been raised concerning political and democratic reform and the constitutional and legislative amendments required to realise these legitimate demands and to restore law and order but there are some political forces who have refused this call to dialogue, sticking to their particular agendas without concern for the current delicate circumstances of Egypt and its people.
In light of this refusal to the call for dialogue and this is a call which remains standing, I direct my speech today directly to the people, its Muslims and Christians, old and young, peasants and workers, and all Egyptian men and women in the countryside and city over the whole country.
I have never, ever been seeking power and the people know the difficult circumstances that I shouldered my responsibility and what I offered this country in war and peace, just as I am a man from the armed forces and it is not in my nature to betray the trust or give up my responsibilities and duties.
My primary responsibility now is security and independence of the nation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in circumstances that protect Egypt and the Egyptians and allow handing over responsibility to whoever the people choose in the coming presidential election.
I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I have spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.
I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safe-keeping and banner … preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution.
I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
According to my constitutional powers, I call on parliament in both its houses to discuss amending article 76 and 77 of the constitution concerning the conditions on running for presidency of the republic and it sets specific a period for the presidential term. In order for the current parliament in both houses to be able to discuss these constitutional amendments and the legislative amendments linked to it for laws that complement the constitution and to ensure the participation of all the political forces in these discussions, I demand parliament to adhere to the word of the judiciary and its verdicts concerning the latest cases which have been legally challenged.
I will entrust the new government to perform in ways that will achieve the legitimate rights of the people and that its performance should express the people and their aspirations of political, social and economic reform and to allow job opportunities and combating poverty, realising social justice.
In this context, I charge the police apparatus to carry out its duty in serving the people, protecting the citizens with integrity and honour with complete respect for their rights, freedom and dignity.
I also demand the judicial and supervisory authorities to take immediately the necessary measures to continue pursuing outlaws and to investigate those who caused the security disarray and those who undertook acts of theft, looting and setting fires and terrorising citizens.
This is my pledge to the people during the last remaining months of my current term:
I ask God to help me to honour this pledge to complete my vocation to Egypt and its people in what satisfies God, the nation and its people.
Dear citizens, Egypt will emerge from these current circumstances stronger, more confident and unified and stable. And our people will emerge with more awareness of how to achieve reconciliation and be more determined not to undermine its future and destiny.
Hosni Mubarak who speaks to you today is proud of the long years he spent in the service of Egypt and its people. This dear nation is my country, it is the country of all Egyptians, here I have lived and fought for its sake and I defended its land, its sovereignty and interests and on this land I will die and history will judge me and others for our merits and faults.
The nation remains. Visitors come and go but ancient Egypt will remain eternal, its banner and safekeeping will pass from one generation to the next. It is up to us to ensure this in pride and dignity.”
Multiple sources have just confirmed that Tahrir, or Liberation Square, in Cairo has been filled with a million protesters, like demonstrators had hoped. So the genie definitely is out of the bottle, and this seems to be the culmination of the events of the past six days.
The military leadership has stated that it will not fire on protesters; the new vice president Omar Suleiman has indicated that he wants to talk about constitutional reforms; but Mubarak shows no signs of giving up (even though Turkey and the US seem to be giving up on him, and in Jordan King Abdullah has dismissed his government). Mohamed Al Baradei, meanwhile, is being pitched by Western media as a figurehead of the opposition, but the question is to which extent this conforms to street reality. And the question is: how does the Muslim Brotherhood fit into this?
The role of the United States is, basically, to try to smooth the way behind the scenes for something approximating a South Korean-type endgame, where a transitional regime affiliated with the old powers agrees to play by new rules, paving the way for an opposition coalition to win in the future. Is that possible? I don’t think anybody can say for sure. But we don’t need to know, because second-best outcomes follow the same path.
The worst-case scenario would be for Egypt to arrive at a truly revolutionary situation, with the collapse of the government and the seizure of power by a temporarily united opposition. This is the most likely scenario to lead to an Islamic regime, precisely because the Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized non-state political force, which privileges it in a situation of political chaos.
Nearly as bad would be for the army to side explicitly with the Mubarak regime and crush the Egyptian people by force, as this would make the Egyptian regime transparently illegitimate, and would make it practically impossible for the United States to continue its relationship with Egypt as it has in the past (and the Egyptian regime would, undoubtedly, look for other sponsorship to shore up its position). The only way to avoid either scenario would be to rely on the military to ease the current regime out, and do so in a context of some dialogue with the opposition. This appears to be pretty much what the United States is quietly nudging the military to do behind the scenes.
(Picture: A relatively recent screenshot of Tahrir Square, Cairo, where fighter jets scrambled over earlier today and people are making preparations to stay during the night, from this live-blog.)
While we don’t know exactly how the Egyptian government choked off Internet access, there’s no centralized red button that the government—or anyone—can push to turn it off. Evidence suggests a government official called Egypt’s four biggest Internet service providers—Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, and Etisalat Misr—and told them to halt connections. (Vodafone has said it cooperated because the regime has the legal authority to order such a halt.) An engineer at each ISP would then access the ISP’s routers, which contain lists of all the IP addresses accessible through that provider, and delete most or all of those IP addresses, thus cutting off anyone who wants to access them from within or outside the country. That doesn’t mean each ISP had to physically power down their computers; they simply had to change some lines of code.
Egypt didn’t shut down the entire Internet. About 93 percent of Egyptian networks have been disabled, according to Renesys, a company that monitors global Internet activity. One major ISP, Noor Group, is still up and running. Perhaps not coincidentally, Noor happens to host Egypt’s stock exchange. Web connections used by the government and military are also likely still operating on their own private ISPs. Some Egyptian users might also be able to use old-fashioned dial-up connections.
Withholding the Internet in Egypt is relatively easy, compared with other more democratic countries. For one thing, there are only four major ISPs, each of which has relatively few routers connecting them to the outside world. By comparison, anyone who wanted to shut down the Internet in the United States would have to deal with many different companies. And while Egypt can legally disable telecom companies by executive decree, American companies might fall under various regulatory umbrellas that limit the government’s power to disrupt communication channels. Members of Congress have proposed creating a “kill switch” that would shut down the Internet at the push of a button in the case of a “cybersecurity emergency,” but erecting such a blockade would be logistically difficult.