Haider A Khan is a Professor of Economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. In this follow-up article to his initial thoughts, he continues his analytical coverage of the momentous revolution currently occurring in Egypt.
The political situation in Egypt remains fluid and uncertain.
The unprecedented protests in the country, particularly in urban centers such as Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and Luxor, have achieved some success-- along with many deaths of innocent people at the hands of the repressive police and armed forces. As of Saturday afternoon, President Hosni Mubarak dismissed his cabinet, though not himself. He also appointed the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman as vice-president. Perhaps these moves are meant as faint gestures of reconciliation and as intimations of further repression if the protestors do not back down. Omar Suleiman-- with his military credentials-- is know to have some significant connections and credibility inside and outside Egypt. However, this move has not had the intended effect so far; the protests have only grown larger and louder.
Clearly, the recent events in Egypt have been exhilarating for the people and unsettling for the media pundits and academic analysts. In any revolutionary situation, uncertainty is endemic. But as time goes by, the chances of Mubarak and his cronies hanging on to power grow ever more slender.
At the time of this writing, British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed his disappointment that Mubarak's new government was not a broad-based one. From the U.S. perspective, The New York Times piece by Sen. John Kerry has sent a clear message to Mubarak to step down. Kerry was diplomatic, but firm:
"President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure. One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.
Ushering in such a transformation offers President Mubarak-- a great nationalist ever since his generation of young officers helped their country escape the last vestiges of British colonialism--the chance to end the violence and lawlessness, to begin improving the dire economic and social conditions in his country and to change his place in history.
It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge 'fair' elections, as he did on Saturday. The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation."
A day earlier, the U.S. sent senior diplomat Frank G. Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt who knows Mubarak personally, to Cairo. Significantly, the State Dept. Spokesman, Phillip J. Crowley declined to say whether Wisner, who served as ambassador from 1986 to 1991, was carrying a message from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Crowley would only say that, "[Wisner] know some of the key players within the Egyptian government." Clearly, this choice involving Wisner, a respected senior member of the foreign policy establishment, has raised questions about whether his mission as an emissary is to push Mubarak gently into the night.
The power vacuum in Egypt is precisely what creates a problem of transition that is fraught with danger. The demonstrations are not as bereft of organization and leadership as the Western media claims. From the very beginning, these organizations included members of the once-popular Kifaya (Enough), a youth-based movement of change, the Popular Democrat Movement for Change (HASHD), the National Association of Change-- founded by former International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohamed El Baradei, the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement, and the Revolutionary Socialists.
A week before the demonstrations got under way, some thirty of these activists met in the decrepit headquarters of the Center for Socialist Studies in central Cairo to organize. However, secular forces such as these are less likely to play a major role without further organizing more explicit moves politically and programmatically. The two best organized forces during the current crisis have been the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter, however, has not been able to play a leading role; this is largely because of earlier hesitations from its senior leadership. The leaders hesitated at least for two reasons: one is their aversion to, and suspicion of, the secular forces; the other is their initial pessimistic estimate of the level of anger and energy of the masses, and their staying power.
It may very will be that short of a political miracle, Mubarak cannot stay on much longer. In an Egypt without Mubarak, who will rule? Given the organizational weakness of the civil society-based secular forces and the inability and unwillingness of the Muslim Brotherhood to mount a frontal challenge for seizing power, the army is the most likely candidate for being at least a transitional power-holder.
Here, too, there are further complications. The old guard, including Mubarak's hastily chosen successor, do not have the trust of the people. On the other hand, the mid-ranking officers who are with the people in Tahrir Square and more junior officers may side more with the people of Egypt. Will there be a replay of the situation that propelled another Lt. Col. named Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952?
The not-historically-insignificant factor this time will be the mass revolutionary movement preceding such a move by the mid-level and junior officers and rank-and-file soldiers. Such a pro-people move from the army will be deeply unsettling for the Israelis and their supporters. It is by no means a certainty that this will happen. But the longer Mubarak hangs on to power, the more likely a split between the tainted senior generals and the younger, more patriotic, officers will become. A variant of this scenario is a broad coalition of forces including those that have come up through the ongoing struggle that are initially led by the patriotic and pro-people segment among the military officers.
One thing is certain. No matter what kind of transitional regime comes to power immediately in Egypt, the deeper economic and political problems stemming from the extreme inequalities of power and wealth, and-- an at times abject-- foreign dependency of the elite must be addressed. And this may be true, not just for Egypt or even the Maghreb, but for the Arab world as a whole.