Back to Business in Egypt, Part 2

Can the people win this battle?

The idealist in me wants to think that Egypt will emerge from this current crisis with some sort of reformed democratic system that is open with regards to politics and basic rights. Mubarak and his cronies will be kicked out of the government, to be replaced by governmental officials that answer to the people of Egypt, rather than the suits in Washington or Tel Aviv. Perhaps the new government will act more morally towards the Palestinians trapped in Gaza. Perhaps the government will actually provide for the needs to everyday Egyptians. Perhaps the government will prioritize the needs of Egyptians over the desires of its western patrons. I have become rather pessimistic, however, with all signs pointing to the establishment of some sort of transitional government including both Suleiman and Mubarak. Now, it is entirely possible to envision Egypt still deeply ensconced in ‘Mubarakism’, though perhaps without the current president.

Adam Shatz has a brilliant essay in the LRB that is a must read not only because it is informative and well-written, but also because it holds the more optimistic view that the will of the Egyptian people can triumph over the political maneuvering of Obama, Netanyahu and Suleiman:

By 3 February, Thursday evening, Omar Suleiman seemed to be in charge. A hard, smooth-talking man, he cast himself as a national saviour in an interview on state television, defending Egypt from the ‘chaos’ the regime has done its best to encourage, and from a sinister conspiracy to destabilise the country on the part of ‘Iranian and Hamas agents’, with help from al-Jazeera. Wednesday’s mob violence in Tahrir Square would be investigated, he said (he denied any government responsibility), and the ‘reform’ process would go forward, but first demonstrators must go home – or face the consequences. With this grimly calibrated mix of promises and threats, Suleiman became the man of the hour: later that evening it was reported that the Obama administration was drafting plans for Mubarak’s immediate removal and a transitional government under his long-serving intelligence chief.

Mubarak, however, gracelessly refused to co-operate with the patrons who now find him such an embarrassment. He wanted to retire, he told Christiane Amanpour, he was ‘fed up’, but feared that his rapid departure would lead to ‘chaos’. The longer he remains in office, the more violence we’re likely to see. But even if Suleiman replaces him, it won’t be an ‘orderly transition’ – or a peaceful one – because Egypt’s pro-democracy forces want something better than Mubarakism without Mubarak; they have not sacrificed hundreds of lives in order to be ruled by the head of intelligence.

From the Obama administration we can expect criticisms of the crackdown, prayers for peace, and more calls for ‘restraint’ on ‘both sides’ – as if there were symmetry between unarmed protesters and the military regime – but Suleiman will be given the benefit of the doubt. Unlike ElBaradei, he’s a man Washington knows it can deal with. The men and women congregating in Tahrir Square have the misfortune to live in a country that shares a border with Israel, and to be fighting a regime that for the last three decades has provided indispensable services to the US. They are well aware of this. They know that if the West allows the Egyptian movement to be crushed, it will be, in part, because of the conviction that ‘we are not them,’ and that we can’t allow them to have what we have. Despite the enormous odds, they continue to fight.

Photo From Andrew Sullivan

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