Thanassis Cambanis , Archive » Waiting for Mubarak

Waiting for Mubarak

Posted February 2nd, 2011 by Thanassis Cambanis and filed in Writing

Mubarak’s speech tonight eerily evoked the tone of Iraqi Baathists in the spring of 2003. Even after Saddam had fled and American troops had occupied Iraq, I met Baathists in Baghdad who spoke to me with supreme confidence about their natural role running Iraq. They had no doubt that they would remain in charge, one way or another. It took them years to realize how much their nation had changed – and that the Iraqi people didn’t want to be ruled by some reconstituted version of Saddam’s regime.

I don’t mean to compare Saddam to Mubarak, only to point out the parallels in the process of regime detachment, teetering, and imminent implosion. It’s possible that Mubarak’s advisers have shielded him from an accurate assessment of the events of the last week, and that he has a distorted picture of the size of the crowds, their sentiment, and the dim reputation of the Egyptian state among its own people.

For three decades, Mubarak has successfully convinced some of Egypt’s elites, and much of the West, that the only choice lay between his dictatorship and Islamic fundamentalists. Mubarak offered continuity and cooperation for the United States, but little else, since Egypt under NDP rule shrank in every indicator (political influence, economic growth, regional influence). The other option in this belabored formulation was a violent, extremist Islamist Egypt ruled by the likes of Ayman Zawahiri.

In reality, however, there was no political space in Egypt whatsoever beyond the platform the regime accorded itself and its organs. The Muslim Brotherhood and the officially sanctioned opposition were only able to function in public within the limited confines permitted by the regime. Consequently, their political development was stymied.

Right now, political space has opened for the first time. The loudest voices within it come from unknown Egyptians, and not from the activists and cadres who have toiled for years in the state-sanctioned opposition. Their preferences are little understood, and perhaps not yet fully developed. They want Mubarak gone, and they seem to want his coterie out as well. They want some form of accountability. Beyond that, we have no idea if they’re interested in forming new political movements and ideologies, or whether they will forge a new way in Arab politics, some platform of ideas distinct from Islamism and secular statist autocracy. If they do, we can guess it will sound less friendly to Washington and Israel than Mubarak’s regime did, and we can also guess it might have a more religious and populist tone. Beyond that, though, there’s little yet to suggest what real representative politics will sound like, or what kind of government might take shape, or what its foreign policy might be.

There is reason to believe, however, that a post-Mubarak and post-Days of Rage Egypt might be able to deliver some improvement in living conditions, morale and perhaps regional leadership to the Egyptian people — if only by dint of trying. And so far, there’s no reason to expect that the mass of protesters, and the inchoate political realm coalescing in its wake, will agitate for war and instability. They seem bent on living better than they have under Mubarak’s rule, not on recreating the 1960s and 1970s.

One Response to “Waiting for Mubarak”

  1. Fromage420 says:

    As of today, in 30 years Mubarak has always won against the regular political opposition, the fanatic JI and EIJ, the so-called moderate MB, or the people itself. Important uprisings have occurred many times in the past three decades and yet he has never been kicked out like Ben Ali or Marie-Antoinette because their people could not eat.

    Just like Ghannouchi in Tunisia, the transition period has yet to start as Mubarak had the intelligence to buy himself enough time to cool down the people by implementing so-called reforms in the next six months. Even though Tahrir Square’s demonstrators yelled even louder after tonight’s speech, the least active citizens will most likely give a last shot to Mubarak’s reform promises and eventually wait for September in hope because they lack a leader to follow and will try to use the time to let one rise (if this person ever rises).

    As for the so-called democratic succession, Gamal seems to be out of picture because of the name, but Suleiman could be a good pick for Gamal, the Military and the U.S., as well as the MB if they find a Lebanese-like governmental deal together. Of course, Suleiman would just be Mubarak without facial and hair implants. However, if the team they form now manages to pull out a couple of structural reforms in the next six months, and if they eventually give a feeling of stability and credibility through restored security and prosperity, then Suleiman could be the answer for everybody and the establishment knows it.

    All this to say that my fear is that Mubarak will win again by managing to hand the power over to a person of his choice and keep ruling the country from a back room. Actually it’s not a fear, America has no friends but interests and no candidate that is not publicly or secretly endorsed by the US will ever become president in Egypt. Indeed, if a couple of media commentators in the US or Europe think that an election would be a totally transparent one, they’d rather operate a career change ASAP.

    And by the way, someone should also tell Christiane Amanpour that no, El Baradei has never been and will never be endorsed by the people to rule the country.

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