Thursday, February 03, 2011

Has "Democracy Lost" in Egypt? Foreign Policy Sez "Yep"...Edit: AJ Sez "Not So Fast"

I'll grant that this analysis from Robert Springbord is superficially convincing. He argues that the democratic forces in Egypt have lost their opportunity, since Mubarak has (supposedly) turned the conflict in Egypt into one between pro- and anti-regime groups, instead of a clear-cut battle between the dictator and the people.   He's banking on people's desire for order to sap the will from the protesters, and notes that military has retained its legitimacy.

Again, superficially convincing. And yet I don't buy it. Why?

Because everybody knows that Mubarak is behind the thugs. It' s not a he said/she said sort of situation. It's not really debatable or questionable. The pro-Mubarak thugs are a mixture of plainclothes security forces, hired goons, and some poor bastards who work for various state enterprises that were forced to join or face termination. They are absolutely and universally recognized as such. So the situation hasn't really changed; it's still a battle between the security forces and the people. The only change is that the security guys took off their riot gear and grabbed machetes and rocks.

Springbord's right about the strengthened hand of the military. But that was never really in doubt. Civilians were never going to seize power from the military. The question was always whether or not the military as a whole were going to back Mubarak et al, and that question is still up in the air. The Egyptians don't seem to be terribly satisfied with the thought of Suleiman taking over, either, so it's not like having Mubarak act as a sacrificial lamb will help much. The military still faces the prospect of having to fire on Egyptians; something they are clearly unwilling to do.

The real problem, though, is that Springbord doesn't seem to really lay out how democracy could have won. Was he expecting a full-on armed revolution? Was he somehow not expecting Mubarak to stir up black-ops chaos, when every dictator under threat does that, including good ol' Saddam? Would he have handled things differently, or is Springbord just saying that popular, non-violent protest is useless? And if so, why has it worked in the past?

He may be right. The thuggery yesterday may herald the end of this popular uprising. But I don't buy it. Not yet. Not when the "experts" never came close to predicting any of this in the first place.

Edit: Oh, but look what was on the AJ liveblog:

The pro-Mubarak crowd suddenly retreated, and the pro-democracy protesters advanced a moveable wall of metal shields to a new front line much further up. A side battle erupted down a street behind the pro-Mubarak lines, with rock throwing and molotov cocktails. An armored personnel carrier opened fire into the air, shooting red tracers up over Cairo, in an apparent effort to disperse/frighten the pro-Mubarak crowd, who contracted again. The pro-democracy protesters are now advancing their line of staggered metal shields farther and farther and seem to have gained decisive momentum.
Looks like at least some of the military guys aren't too thrilled with Mubarak's goons. Though, ominously, it looks like more goons are on the way.

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