Arlene from Israel
31 January '11
The issues are anything but simple, and resolution of the situation in Egypt will not happen overnight, or in a week or a month. I do not intend to focus exclusively on this situation. And yet... it is so important, and so fraught with major consequences, that we must continue to keep a very watchful eye.
At present there is a sort of holding pattern, or stalemate. Mubarak is refusing to step down. He has appointed a new cabinet and instructed the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to "allow wider participation" of political parties, and to address unemployment concerns.
These orders touch upon two key issues.
Financial difficulties being endured by the Egyptian people have a great deal to do with what brought tens of thousands into the street. (Anxiety about the subsidization of bread -- a staple in Egypt --because of Egyptian fiscal policies that have brought higher prices may have figured into this.)
Wider participation of political parties is meant to signal the very beginning of governmental reform; what actually happens in this regard remains to be seen.
The "new" cabinet has seen some people replaced, but still consists of many familiar faces.
In the meantime, the protests are still going on in the street, with tanks roaming about and helicopters overhead. Protesters insist they are not stopping until Mubarak leaves.
The expectation in many quarters is that Mubarak will resign shortly and make way for his vice president, Suleiman -- who certainly has the experience and capacity to take control.
Zvi Mazel, who served as ambassador to Egypt, has written:
"The people are no longer clamoring for food and work, they want him gone, and it is doubtful that they will settle for less. Even if Mubarak manages to hold on, it will be as a diminished president..." (Thanks here to Lily S.)
What seems most clearly the case is that if there is to be stable reform in Egypt -- that moves even tentatively in the direction of democracy -- it must be done via a moderating and reformulated version of the current regime, and not via a takeover by the street.
If Mubarak is to finish his term, writes Mazel, "he will have to implement political and economic reforms, including significant salary raises and increased subsidies, though it is not clear where the money will be coming for. The emergency laws which granted him extraordinary powers will have to be scraped, together with the special clauses introduced in the constitution to limit the possibility for an independent to be candidate for the presidency."
There is much talk about who the leaders of the protest movement are and which ideologies they represent. Young people -- educated and often radicalized -- are seriously invested in the rebellion. But what becomes more and more evident is how deeply involved is the Muslim Brotherhood, even though it has not moved to officially assume leadership.
As Shmuel Even, writing for the Institute for National Security Studies, put it:
"The outcome of the riots may not necessarily be connected to what or who ignited them, rather to whatever power structure is created and those who succeed in leveraging it for their own benefit."
The Brotherhood has announced official backing for El-Baradei, who first demanded Mubarak's ouster, and now has the Brotherhood's blessing to negotiate a "unity government."
Down the road, it goes without saying, the Egyptian military, and the leader it supports, will have considerable effect on what happens.