The price Mubarak will have to pay
Just two days ago, Mideast experts and commentators could not foresee that Egypt could be on the verge of a revolution, and Mubarak's 30-year regime might come to a forced end.
January 28, 2011 will go down in the annals of Egyptian history, even though President Hosni Mubarak did not resign (he made it quite clear in his speech on Friday night that he is staying put), and the army deployed Saturday morning in strategic locations around the capital. The regime has not (yet) fallen.
But the “Friday of rage,” which continues with limited use of force and the obvious fact that Egypt is in the throes of a revolution, has not abated. The hundreds of thousands who on Friday night took to the streets of Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, Ismailia, Asyut and more, made it clear that this is end of the era of dictatorship of a faltering state. Revolution, which may end with the reins of power in the hands of the “National Democracy”, even if it seeks to do so, will be forced to deal in a democratic manner with other parties, primarily other leaders, and change the face of Egypt as we know it today.
It is hard to rationally explain the events of Friday. The anchorwoman on Al-Jazeera said at around midnight Friday that even that morning the phrase “Egypt is not Tunisia” could be heard in the studio. This is a logical analogy. Egypt is a nation whose security forces, in theory, do not treat the local population with brutality, a nation with stable political infrastructure and government institutions. Egypt’s friends in Israel - politicians, military officials and others - have in recent days explained that Egypt has over the years withstood other demonstrations of this nature, and pointed out that the army has not yet been brought in to the picture. Almost all of the experts on Egyptian affairs (including some Egyptians) could explain that after a day or two of protests, tempers would cool and the Nile would keep flowing, just like the regime in Cairo. On Thursday night, Haaretz spoke to an Egyptian analyst in Cairo, who even then dared to say that he could not predict with certainty that the following day (Friday) would see massive protests. Two days ago, when Cairo was experiencing a 24-day hour break in the protests, no one - not even in Egypt - believed there would be such widespread demonstrations.
But before our astonished eyes the concept disintegrated. Once again we witnessed the limitations of intelligence (within Egypt as well as in Israel), of the experts and interpreters to follow and understand the general public spirit. The Egyptian army has not tried to suppress the protests, but has become a sideline spectator. The security forces withdrew time and again away from the protesters in order to avoid a massacre which would only inflame the rage. The protesters took over the streets on Friday and the question that remains open is – where is Egypt heading today?
It should be said, the writing was on the wall. Immediately after the Tunisia revolution, a reasonable suspicion that Egypt will be next arose. It was by way of "the usual suspect." A dictatorship, a single ruler for over 30 years, a corrupt governmental system, a broken economy, millions living in humiliating poverty and mostly an entire generation demanding change: young, educated, unaffiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood ideology but rather to Western culture. This generation grew into an explosive device which went unnoticed by everyone. While everyone was searching for the Muslim threat on the Egyptian government, the radar did not pick up on the frustration and rage of the young generation who sought for a democracy, freedom and mostly livelihood.
Furthermore, the widespread forgery during the elections for the Egyptian parliament two months ago, were considered too much even for the millions who were used to living in a dictatorship. The ruling party in Egypt was so determined to defend itself from the Islamic threat that it did not understand the rage that grew among the country's masses. And yet, no one in Egypt and elsewhere really believed that the masses could copy the revolution in Tunisia so fast.
It is also difficult to tell, today, whether the events on Friday were spontaneous. A pamphlet that was handed out in recent days in Egypt, which explained exactly how to demonstrate, in which places to gather, and how to get there, raises the suspicion that there was a guiding hand behind the uprising. The protest group "April 6," which is leading the protests, was established over three years ago. And yet, this guiding hand has now disappeared and is not clearly visible. And this is perhaps the central problem facing the demonstrators and April 6: the lack of a familiar, candid dace that could lead the public and decide what the next step should be.
Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Cairo but was placed under house arrest, and it is entirely uncertain that he will be able to carry the burden of the revolution on his shoulders.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak suffered a resound slap in the face from Washington on Friday. We should hope that there is someone in the White House who understands the possible consequences that could come from the U.S. government's public criticism voiced yesterday against Mubarak.
Washington took a huge risk in the decision to criticize Mubarak at such critical time for the Egyptian government, and it is not estimable whether an alternative regime in Egypt will bring more democratic tidings.
The message that came from the White House carried seemingly traditional messages, but harms all the U.S. allies in the Middle East.
U.S. President Barack Obama's popularity might rise again in the Muslim world but the U.S. president might wake up to a new Middle East in which even the closest of U.S. allies will perceive America as the great devil, not only by the public, but also by the governments.
Nevertheless, despite the heavy blow that Mubarak received from Washington and from the masses in Cairo, and despite his flailing health, the Egyptian president appeared strong and confident during his speech tonight.
He announced that he dismissed the cabinet, and intends today to appoint a new government.
But it seems to be too little too late. An Egyptian cabinet was dismissed in the past (1977) due to mass demonstrations, but the masses are now demanding more. Mubarak will have to clarify that the inheritance of power has been dropped – that is, to sacrifice his son Gamal and announce that he will not be running for presidency in the next elections in order to calm the spirits.
It is possible that this move will not suffice, and the masses will not stop until the revolution is completed and Mubarak senior will join his Tunisian colleague Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.