Saturday, January 29, 2011


It's gotten nasty.

The president's attempt to mollify the demonstrators by sacking his government 24 hours earlier had failed and the leader of the largest Arab nation was facing an ignoble and violent end to his 30 years in power. The streets rang out with anti-government slogans and the cry "Mubarak, your plane is ready"...
...Last night, even as the death toll from confrontations between the security forces and the protesters reached 100 and hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, there were even more people on the streets of the country's major cities after dark, defying an army-backed curfew. Small-arms fire was heard throughout the night.

The chief of staff of Egypt's armed forces, Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Enan, cut short a visit to meet the American joint chiefs of staffs as news spread that some troops were refusing to open fire on unarmed protesters.

"There's a lot of uncertainty about where the army stands right now," said Karim Ennarah, who was taking part in protests in Cairo. "They are telling people that the tanks have moved in to protect them, and people are showing great warmth in return, dancing on tanks and hugging and kissing soldiers. It looks as if the soldiers are unwilling to launch attacks on the crowds, although senior officers are pleading with protesters to respect the curfew and go home."
It looks like the army is really unwilling to step in to aid Mubarak; unsurprising considering that Egyptian troops have never fired on Egyptian civilians. To the extent that the security forces are, it only underscores the weakness of the regime.  I don't see how the regime can survive now, barring the sort of repression that would leave Egypt an international and regional pariah.
(And even that may not work, if it forces the army's hand in confronting the security forces.)

Mubarak was rocked by the resignation of a senior member of his ruling party, Ahmed Ezz, a close friend of his son. Further pressure was heaped on him by the Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who said Mubarak should step down and set a framework for transition of power as the only way to end unrest. The former head of the UN nuclear watchdog told al-Jazeera that Mubarak's speech, in which he said he would form a new government, was "disappointing" for Egyptians.
No doubt.

David Cameron spoke to Mubarak last night to express his "grave concern" about violence against anti-government protesters in Egypt. The prime minister urged the embattled leader to "take bold steps to accelerate political reform and build democratic legitimacy" rather than attempt to repress dissent, according to Downing Street.

In a joint statement with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Cameron added: "The Egyptian people have legitimate grievances and a longing for a just and better future. We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections."
And this shows just how conflicted and out-of-touch the various western governments are. Cameron, Sarkozy, and Merkel cannot possibly believe that "a process of transformation" is going to be enough. The process of transformation is going on right now, and it's one that is like to see Mubarak out on his ear at the very best.  But, as some wags have said, those governments hands are tied: the arabs that are revolting are the ones in the countries whose dictators they liked, and it's vanishingly unlikely that a democratic Tunisia, Egypt, or Algeria is going to be as useful from a geopolitical point of view.
Nasty business for the western right as well. This is the sort of thing they've always cheered on. Certainly the neoconservatives have been yammering on about this sort of thing. But this is almost a nightmare scenario for them, because it's a popular uprising that includes
 the Muslim Brotherhood, without being by and for the Muslim Brotherhood. The idea that groups like the Brotherhood could be part of a broadly progressive and secular coalition is antithetical to their very ideology, since they see the entire world as a conflict between "democracy" and totalitarian "Islamists". What happens when the "Islamists" agree to share power with a broad popular coalition?

Worse yet, what if said broad popular coalition includes leftists as well? The unions were key to the Tunisian uprising, and these protests are heavily driven by dissatisfaction with the very sort of rich-get-richer-poor-get-poorer economics that the right adores so much. Mubarak brought in western-style economists, and they arguably made things WORSE.

Forget Iran: what if the future of Egypt is Bolivia? What if the Egyptians adopt the kind of socialist and social-democratic government that makes Goldman Sachs partners and Republican strategists wake up in a cold sweat at night? Nobody predicted that, but it's eminently possible. (Or possibly imminent.)

This is all speculation, of course. The future of Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and all the rest are ultimately in the hands of their people. But it is clear that popular uprisings will not be on the Republicans' terms, or on American terms in general. They will be on ARAB terms. Nobody else's.

Edit: Gawker has a piece about how Egyptian football fans may be playing a big role. Not surprised a bit. 

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