In response to the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Shadi Hamid, Salman Shaikh, Martin Indyk, Kenneth Pollack and Shibley Telhami discuss the implications of this latest development, what Egypt’s future will look like as a new democracy, and the impact on the Arab and wider world.
The Morning after the Revolution
Shadi Hamid, Fellow and Director of Research, Brookings Doha Center
It took 18 days. Egyptians had their revolution. The morning after the revolution, I spent some time in Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square talking to a few of the youth activists who made February 11 possible. The sense of both relief and celebration is palpable. But that feeling of celebration is unlikely to last. Nothing can take away the achievements of the past weeks, but it is worth noting that the revolution is not complete and its promises far from fulfilled. A military takeover is not the same thing as democracy. And so, today, the slow, difficult – and often painful – work of democratic transitions begins.
The military is in charge, but no one quite knows what the military wants. The army has been treated as an independent actor, and one naturally close to the people. But the Egyptian military, long the backbone of the old regime, bears some responsibility for the past several decades of repression. It is possible that, with the world watching and Egyptians hoping, the military will transform itself into a force for Egyptian democracy. It is also possible that it won’t.
The military is a powerful force in the Egyptian economy, with considerable land holdings and numerous businesses and commercial enterprises under its control. In other words, the military is unlikely to be interested in radical changes, particularly those that threaten its privileged role in society.
Until now, the military stayed above the fray and, at the very end, sided with the people over President Mubarak, one of their own. But now, under the guise of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, it will be governing. What happens if protesters take to the streets once again in one or two months? The military, after having in its own mind addressed the demands of the opposition, may not be in the mood for further unrest.
A number of activists I’ve spoken to have outlined their strategy going forward: if the military government fails to meet their demands, they will protest. The threat of revolt is now always present, and this, so the thinking goes, will keep the government honest. There is an intuitive logic at work. If there are a hundred thousand people in a square, there is not much the military, or anyone else, can do. Unless regimes are prepared to commit massacres, there is strength and safety in numbers. And in realizing that, the Egyptian opposition – and now oppositions throughout the region – have a powerful, perhaps decisive weapon.
Dawn of Egypt’s Democratic Experiment
Salman Shaikh, Fellow and Director, Brookings Doha Center
As people of all generations and backgrounds celebrate across Egypt this weekend, we are seeing history unfold. “Umm al-Duniya,” the “mother of the world,” has reawakened. So will the rest of its children around the region. Egyptians have changed the face of the region forever.
For too long, Egyptians have been in slumber, their lives marred by a sense of loss and by life’s everyday indignities. Held back by the “big brother regime,” which knew best for its people, the citizens lived under a collective sense of inferiority.
Now the events of the past few weeks in Egypt, and before that in Tunisia, have swept these sentiments away. What has been remarkable is not just that after 30 years President Hosni Mubarak has been ousted, but the way that this occurred. A new generation of 18- to 30-year-olds has organized its communities, stood up to the pressures of a dictator and his feared security forces, and countered with new ideas, when all seemed hopeless, to lead a nation of 84 million to freedom.
Egypt: A Powerful Reminder of the Strength in Democracy
Martin S. Indyk, Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy
For so long, the brilliance and creativity of Egypt’s ancient civilization seemed to have been crushed under the heavy burden of a repressive Pharaohnic regime. All that changed today when the Egyptian people rose up and with a heave of collective will threw off the chains of bondage. Suddenly, unexpectedly, they reasserted the greatness of their nation as the leader of the Arab world, this time not in war and not in peacemaking, but in the promotion of freedom. The Middle East will never be the same again.
We have been surprised by so much in the past eighteen days since demonstrators first despatched the feared security police and then stood against the onslaught of the ruling party’s thugs with their cavalry of donkeys and camels. We should therefore be humble about predicting the course of events from here. We are in uncharted waters.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the quiet arbiter of outcomes so far has been the Egyptian army. If the Egyptian people have earned our admiration for acting, the army deserves our admiration for not doing so. There they stood, ringing the people in the square and the Pharaoh in his palace, preventing a descent into chaos. At each stage in the crisis, when they had to decide between the square and the palace they chose the square. They ensured that the ranks of the demonstrators would swell by declaring that they would not open fire on them. They declared the people’s demands “legitimate.” They allowed them to gather day after day. Now they seem to have given Mubarak the final push.
This alliance between the people and their army, forged in the battle for freedom, bodes well for the future. For, as we have seen in Indonesia — the world’s largest muslim nation — when the army steps back from the regime and sides with the people the transition to democracy can be orderly. Some fear that Mubarak’s regime will now be replaced by military rule but that is hardly imaginable. Once the people have tasted freedom, and felt the power of their collective protest, they are hardly going to accept a new form of repressive rule. And once the army chose so decisively to stand above the fray in order to protect the nation rather than its rulers, it is hard to believe that they will decide now to suppress the people.
There is much for the West to celebrate in this development. The largest, most powerful, and most influential country in the Arab world has chosen democracy over authoritarianism. Just when some had begun to doubt the virtues of our political model as we stood in awe of the achievements of China’s autocrats, the Egyptian people reminded us that there is still something great about a system that upholds the universal rights of man. Now we can all walk tall like the Egyptians!
Egyptians deserve their time to celebrate. Hosni Mubarak’s resignation is a dramatic victory for the protest movement born so suddenly on January 25. As recently as a few weeks ago, few Egyptians—if any—could conceive of such a thing. As Americans, we should only bask in their reflected joy and allow them this moment to revel in what they have accomplished.
But the celebration cannot go on for too long because there is still much to be done if they are to realize their dreams of a prosperous, modern, democratic Egypt.
Mubarak’s exit cannot be seen as the ultimate triumph of Egypt’s pro-democracy protest movement, although it is an important victory on the way. Egypt’s problems began before Mubarak and they will not end with his ouster. Instead, they are the product of a corrupt, stagnant and oppressive system which Mubarak helped to build but now extends beyond his own person. And large elements of that system remain in place. The Egyptian military, particularly its senior officers and intelligence leadership, have been critical pillars of that system, and neither we nor the Egyptian people know whether they are ready to accept the far more important and expansive demands for democratization, rule of law, and economic reform that the protesters (and so many Egyptians) desire.
The Mubarak Regime has collapsed and the voice of the people has been heard. The ramifications for Egypt and for the Middle East will be more powerful than the impact of Arab-Israeli wars. But even with the uncertainty about the future one thing is certain: We are witnessing Osama bin Laden’s nightmare.
What comes next is, first and foremost, for Egyptians to decide, and whatever happens, it is the Egyptian people who will have to live with the consequences.
Understandably, however, Americans are watching events with awe mixed with concern. We are divided between the exhilaration of watching peaceful public empowerment in pursuit of the values Americans hold dear and fear of the consequences for U.S. interests in the Middle East. The future of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, the Israeli-Egyptian relationship and the power and design of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have consumed the lion’s share of the debate about U.S. interests.