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Archive for February, 2011

Almost a decade ago, one of the rationales for the U.S. move to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was to spread democracy.  Conventional wisdom has long held that democracy must be seized from within a country, not imposed from the outside.  Iraq is not now, and may not be democratic for a very long time.  On the other hand, looking at Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East, it would appear that homegrown democracy movements are taking root.

I’ve been following the events in Egypt, holding my breath as the people removed their support from the regime.  It has been apparent to me for over a week that Mubarak could not survive the change long-term.  It was only a matter of time before the regime fell.  The only question was whether the people could be deterred with sufficient force coming from the regime.  When the goon squads were sent in, I feared that wholesale violence would break out, and had the army not remained neutral, it could have.  But with the military’s commitment not to fire on the demonstrators, it became obvious that Mubarak’s hold on power was evaporating.  The only questions were how long he might try to hold on and whether he would leave with any of his dignity intact.

Yesterday, all indications were that he would be resigning.  But he had one last surprise up his sleeve.  I held my breath as the crowd realized that Mubarak had not resigned.  The crowd was primed for a massive celebration, and they were understandably shocked and angry.  Would their anger turn to violence?  What would the army do?

This morning, when discussing the fact of Mubarak’s resignation, NBC’s Brian Williams may have hit upon something profound, perhaps without realizing the implication of his words.  He mentioned that yesterday, the official statement from the Egyptian government was that Mubarak had turned over his powers to Vice President Suleiman, while retaining his titular role as President of Egypt.  That sentiment was echoed in interviews given by the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S.  Yet, this morning, when VP Suleiman made his announcement of Mubarak’s resignation, he indicated that it was Mubarak (the titular but supposedly impotent president) who transferred power to the military.  Hmmmm.  If Mubarak had transferred power to Suleiman, how could he be the one to transfer power to the military today?  Was yesterday a shell game?  A “man behind the curtain” event, whereby Mubarak would still be controlling the levers of power while in theory Suleiman held them?  Or had the military in effect staged a coup, forcing Mubarak out, giving him the option of “resign or be fired.”

It remains to be seen what Egypt’s future will look like.  President Obama set out several markers in his statement — fair and free elections, revocation of the hated 30-year-old emergency law, and a transition to civilian rule with an open political process.  There will be a lot of work to do before those free and fair elections can be held.  Meanwhile, with Parliament having been dissolved and the entire cabinet sacked, much remains uncertain.

What will be most interesting will be to watch the response of both the leaders and the street in the other Middle Eastern countries.  Will there be another revolution?  Will the powers that be respond with violence?  Or might they try to get ahead of the street and institute meaningful reform?  No one knows.  Yet.  The temptation of the military will be to place stability ahead of democracy.  That’s what Mubarak did.  That’s what governments do in general.  It will take time and much lively discussion and negotiation to bring true democracy to Egypt.  There are many voices, many opinions, many dreams for Egypt’s future that will need to be heard and considered if true democracy is to prevail.  And a time of rising expectations can be unpredictable.

To the Egyptian people, I wish you well as you enter this new and exciting time in your history.

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