Posts Tagged ‘Cairo’
Ahmed Shafiq vs Muhammad Morsi in presidential contest
Egypt’s transitional military government assumed legislative powers after the supreme constitutional court Thursday, June 14, declared invalid rules governing the parliamentary elections earlier this year which handed control to the two Islamist parties. Because one-third of the seats were elected illegally, the entire chamber is illegal and must dissolve. Egyptians therefore found they faced a new general election for all 498 seats in parliament two days before they vote in the presidential runoff. The Muslim Brotherhood announced it accepts the court’s ruling although it represents a major setback to its political aspirations.
The highest court in Egypt also overturned a Muslim Brotherhood-initiated law that would have disqualified former Mubarak prime minister Ahmed Shafiq from running against the MB’s Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi in the presidential runoff Saturday and Sunday. Shafiq therefore stays in the race.
DEBKAfile: Because the parliamentary constitutional assembly is prevented from writing a new charter to determine the extent of the new president’s powers, the powers of the winner of the presidential election, whether Shafiq or Morsi, remains undefined.
The constitution court’s two decisions send the democratic process back to square one and delay the transition of government from the SCAF military council to civilian hands until new elections are held.
DEBKAfile reported Wednesday:
Egypt’s constitutional court Thursday, June 14, declared invalid rules governing the parliamentary elections earlier this year which handed control to the two Islamist parties. Egyptian TV has just announced that after one-third of the seats were voided, parliament is to be dissolved and a new election is to be held.
The court also declared unconstitutional a Muslim Brotherhood-initiated law that would have disqualified former Mubarak prime minister Ahmed Shafiq from running against the MB’s Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi in the presidential runoff Saturday and Sunday.
DEBKAfile: Because the parliamentary constitutional assembly is prevented from writing a new charter to determine the extent of the new president’s powers, the powers of the winner of the presidential election, whether Shafiq or Morsi, remain undefined.
The constitution court’s two decisions Thursday are a major setback for the Muslim Brotherhood. They also send the democratic process back to square one and delay the transition of government from the SCAF military council to civilian hands until new elections are held.
Contesting the television broadcast, lawyers who heard the court rulings are not clear about the next stage of the crisis. Some question the need for a new general election and argue that only the one-third of the seats were voided and only they should be put up for re-election.
DEBKAfile reported Wednesday:
The Obama administration is girding up for the shock of Egypt becoming the first Arab country, and the most populous, to be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The last of three secret polls US intelligence conducted in Egypt assigned the MB contender Muhammad Morsi a 70 percent win of the presidential election runoff, Saturday-Sunday, June 16-17, against former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s 30 percent, according to DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources.
Although such polls often miss the mark, the US, Israel and the Middle East appear to be facing this fast-approaching prospect.
Egypt’s transitional government the Supreme Military Council (SCAF) has publicly pledged to transfer power to civilian control on July 1 whomsoever wins the election. There are signs of preparations for this game-changer in Washington, though not in Jerusalem – unless they are taking place in secret – although Israel’s strategic and regional situation faces radical change.
At the same time, as high-placed American sources monitoring events in Egypt point out, the incoming president’s powers are still undefined and the SCAF may hold off transferring authority until they are.
Defining the extent of presidential authority is one of the tasks up to the 100-member Egyptian Constitutional Assembly, which only began work Wednesday, June 13. It is impossible to predict the content of its final document, although the body has a Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Nour majority.
Furthermore, a judicial body, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, is due to hand down critical rulings Thursday, June 14, just two days before the presidential election. They promise major repercussions for voting patterns and the status of the two contenders and their parties.
One SCC recommendation is to abolish as unconstitutional the law passed by the Islamist-dominated parliament in April barring senior Mubarak-era officials (such as Ahmed Shafiq) from running for president.
The SCC may also throw out the electoral laws under which The Brotherhood and the Salafist party gained 75 percent of seats in parliament, order it its dissollution and call a new general election.
If confirmed, these rulings could produce a Brotherhood president without constitutional powers or parliamentary backing. In these circumstances, Muhammad Morsi would be too weak to govern, or even become a figurehead, and the SCAF would stay in power.
All this is of course speculative, DEBKAfile’s sources report. No one can tell for sure how Egypt’s first venture into full democracy will turn out.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s violent campaign tactics have meanwhile had some unforeseen consequences and created unexpected bedfellows.
Gangs of Islamist thugs have gone about burning Shafiq’s campaign branches, breaking up his public rallies and attacking the homes of his supporters and families. They turn up with loudspeaker cars on the fringes of pro-Shafiq rallies and shout slogans saying he should be hanged after the ousted ruler Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for lesser crimes.
Those tactics have absurdly sent some of the democratic and liberal forces which staged the Tahir Square revolution for toppling Mubarak rallying behind his last prime minister and adherent, as the lesser evil.
However, those tactics have a more sinister side.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that local gangs of Islamist thugs are linking up into a nationwide organization, for which the Brotherhood is setting up regional headquarters. In Cairo this week, a central headquarters began coordinating their activities with a fleet of vehicles ferrying squads between districts for creating mayhem.
The Brotherhood’s gangs are acquiring a hierarchical structure resembling the embryonic paramilitary militias which surfaced in the early years of Iran’s Shiite revolution in the late 1970s and early 1980s and evolved into Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
This manifestation will not disappear after elections are over but will be there to stay as part of Egypt’s political and street landscape, whoever is elected president. That is further cause for trepidation in the US and Israel.
For a time last week, Madison, Wis., resembled Cairo, Egypt as thousands of protesters descended on the Wisconsin capital to protest Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to strip some government workers of some of their rights to collectively bargain. Teachers called in sick and their students marched in protest. Union members bused in protesters for the occasion, and the media said there were as many as 25,000 protestors on hand.
Walker’s battle against the unions is his first step at getting a handle on his State’s budget. The State is short $137 million this year and looking at a $3.6 billion deficit over the next two years.
If Wisconsin were the United States, it would just fire up the printing presses to cover the deficit. But States can’t do that. They must balance their budgets or default.
A scene like the one in Wisconsin may very well come to a State capital near you very soon as States across the country grapple with budget shortfalls. Some State lawmakers are talking about raising taxes, but most of the elected elites on the State and local level recognize that they have pillaged their citizens as much as possible. The folks are bled out, as the saying goes.
So State lawmakers are beginning to make hard choices on cutting services, payrolls and state worker benefits — like the one Walker’s making — that won’t endear them to their constituency… especially the hand-out expecting “gimme, gimme” class.
The U.S., on the other hand, can spend at will, and it has done so to the tune of a deficit that President Barack Obama’s rosiest projections expect to be $1.6 trillion next year. Now a battle is brewing over the budget between Obama, Democrat lawmakers and Republican lawmakers. More and more, the mainstream media is glooming over the possibility of a government shutdown, which will come if the political elites can’t reach an agreement on how best to waste your money.
You can be sure that neither side will make hard choices about cutting spending like Walker and other governors and State lawmakers will have to make. Even the “toughest” Republican budget cutters — excepting those with the surname of Paul — aren’t really proposing cutting anything. Their “cuts” are mere window dressing, put up while the house burns down around them.
Due to pork barrel stimulus programs and bailouts for Wall Street, corrupt banksters and favored special interests, the Federal Government went from a deficit of $167 billion in 2007 to $1.8 trillion 2009 — an increase of 11,000 percent.
None of these did anything to help Main Street. Out here… outside of Washington, D.C., — one in five people are either unemployed or underemployed. For blacks, the unemployment rate is near 50 percent. Businesses are closed or closing, houses are going into foreclosure or stand empty and more and more people need assistance of some kind. Welfare and food stamp rolls are exploding.
So Obama says cuts are needed and he promises they’re coming… right after he spends more on failed mass transit systems (like the little-used AMTRAK and, a bigger boondoggle, high speed rail) and wireless Internet and after he taxes businesses even more, after he raises energy taxes and throws more fiat into the black hole called “green jobs.”
Keynesian economics is thriving, but people living under that failed system of deficit spending are not. They’re looking for a way out, and thought they elected some new leaders last November who were going to show the way. They thought elections meant something, but now they’re waking to the realization that elections mean nothing.
Washington is broken. Elected elites — even many of those newly elected — quickly see a way to enrich themselves and their corporatist sugar daddies and the cycle continues. Electing a bunch of new people running under a new banner just leads to a dashing of hope that makes a big splash but is as futile as a single wave against the sea wall of graft and corruption.
With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke helplessly spinning his deluded pronouncements of green shoots (in a television interview in March 2009, Bernanke said the recession would end that year and a recovery would gather steam in 2010), quantitative easing (he said QE would reduce longer-term interest rates on U.S. Treasuries but the rates on 10-year notes have risen from 2.49 percent last November to 3.65 percent last week) and other equally moronic statements, you can be sure things won’t get any better as long as Obama follows his lead.
Watch for much theater out of Washington in the coming days. Elected elites will posture and preen. The press will wail and gnash its teeth over the “draconian cuts” that will lead to “starving children, displaced elderly and hardships for the weakest among us.” And the money printers will continue to churn and dollars will continue to fly out the door.
Meanwhile, when State lawmakers do make the hard choices, those who long sucked off the government teat — led by the thugs directing the government employee unions and egged on by the press — will march on their capitals demanding that its government rape the taxpayers one more time to ensure their cushy arrangement.
Hyperinflation is coming. Bernanke wants a little inflation and thinks he can control it once it’s started. But just as he was wrong about everything else — from missing the indicators of a coming housing collapse to missing the coming recession to the effects of the bailouts — he will be wrong again.
Americans have been pushed to the brink. To quote trends forecaster Gerald Celente, “When the people lose everything, they have nothing left to lose, and they lose it.” Once the line is finally crossed, a citizenry fed up with a pandering, do-nothing, wasteful government will rise up and throw it out. When that happens, the unrest in Egypt will pale in comparison.
If you have taken our advice and own gold and silver and have food and water stockpiled, you’ll weather the storm. Those who choose to depend on big daddy government will suffer.
On Feb. 11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. A military council was named to govern in his place. On Feb. 11-12, the crowds that had gathered in Tahrir Square celebrated Mubarak’s fall and the triumph of democracy in Egypt. On Feb. 13, the military council abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament, promising a new constitution to be ratified by a referendum and stating that the military would rule for six months, or until the military decides it’s ready to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.
What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power. This isn’t incompatible with democratic reform. Organizing elections, political parties and candidates is not something that can be done quickly. If the military is sincere in its intentions, it will have to do these things. The problem is that if the military is insincere it will do exactly the same things. Six months is a long time, passions can subside and promises can be forgotten.
At this point, we simply don’t know what will happen. We do know what has happened. Mubarak is out of office, the military regime remains intact and it is stronger than ever. This is not surprising, given what STRATFOR has said about recent events in Egypt, but the reality of what has happened in the last 72 hours and the interpretation that much of the world has placed on it are startlingly different. Power rests with the regime, not with the crowds. In our view, the crowds never had nearly as much power as many have claimed.
Certainly, there was a large crowd concentrated in a square in Cairo, and there were demonstrations in other cities. But the crowd was limited. It never got to be more than 300,000 people or so in Tahrir Square, and while that’s a lot of people, it is nothing like the crowds that turned out during the 1989 risings in Eastern Europe or the 1979 revolution in Iran. Those were massive social convulsions in which millions came out onto the streets. The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city.
In a genuine revolution, the police and military cannot contain the crowds. In Egypt, the military chose not to confront the demonstrators, not because the military itself was split, but because it agreed with the demonstrators’ core demand: getting rid of Mubarak. And since the military was the essence of the Egyptian regime, it is odd to consider this a revolution.
Mubarak and the Regime
The crowd in Cairo, as telegenic as it was, was the backdrop to the drama, not the main feature. The main drama began months ago when it became apparent that Mubarak intended to make his reform-minded 47-year-old son, Gamal, lacking in military service, president of Egypt. This represented a direct challenge to the regime. In a way, Mubarak was the one trying to overthrow the regime.
The Egyptian regime was founded in a coup led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser and modeled after that of Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, basing it on the military. It was intended to be a secular regime with democratic elements, but it would be guaranteed and ultimately controlled by the military. Nasser believed that the military was the most modern and progressive element of Egyptian society and that it had to be given the responsibility and power to modernize Egypt.
While Nasser took off his uniform, the military remained the bulwark of the regime. Each successive president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, while formally elected in elections of varying dubiousness, was an officer in the Egyptian military who had removed his uniform when he entered political life.
Mubarak’s decision to name his son represented a direct challenge to the Egyptian regime. Gamal Mubarak was not a career military officer, nor was he linked to the military’s high command, which had been the real power in the regime. Mubarak’s desire to have his son succeed him appalled and enraged the Egyptian military, the defender of the regime. If he were to be appointed, then the military regime would be replaced by, in essence, a hereditary monarchy — what had ruled Egypt before the military. Large segments of the military had been maneuvering to block Mubarak’s ambitions and, with increasing intensity, wanted to see Mubarak step down in order to pave the way for an orderly succession using the elections scheduled for September, elections designed to affirm the regime by selecting a figure acceptable to the senior military men. Mubarak’s insistence on Gamal and his unwillingness to step down created a crisis for the regime. The military feared the regime could not survive Mubarak’s ambitions.
This is the key point to understand. There is a critical distinction between the regime and Hosni Mubarak. The regime consisted — and consists — of complex institutions centered on the military but also including the civilian bureaucracy controlled by the military. Hosni Mubarak was the leader of the regime, successor to Nasser and Sadat, who over time came to distinguish his interests from those of the regime. He was increasingly seen as a threat to the regime, and the regime turned on him.
The demonstrators never called for the downfall of the regime. They demanded that Mubarak step aside. This was the same demand that was being made by many if not most officers in the military months before the crowds gathered in the streets. The military did not like the spectacle of the crowds, which is not the way the military likes to handle political matters. At the same time, paradoxically, the military welcomed the demonstrations, since they created a crisis that put the question of Mubarak’s future on the table. They gave the military an opportunity to save the regime and preserve its own interests.
The Egyptian military is opaque. It isn’t clear who was reluctant to act and who was eager. We would guess that the people who now make up the ruling military council were reluctant to act. They were of the same generation as Hosni Mubarak, owed their careers to him and were his friends. Younger officers, who had joined the military after 1973 and had trained with the Americans rather than the Soviets, were the likely agitators for blocking Mubarak’s selection of Gamal as his heir, but there were also senior officers publicly expressing reservations. Who was on what side is a guess. What is known is that many in the military opposed Gamal, would not push the issue to a coup, and then staged a coup designed to save the regime after the demonstrations in Cairo were under way.
That is the point. What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime. When it became clear Feb. 10 that Mubarak would not voluntarily step down, the military staged what amounted to a coup to force his resignation. Once he was forced out of office, the military took over the existing regime by creating a military council and taking control of critical ministries. The regime was always centered on the military. What happened on Feb. 11 was that the military took direct control.
Again, as a guess, the older officers, friends of Mubarak, found themselves under pressure from other officers and the United States to act. They finally did, taking the major positions for themselves. The demonstrations were the backdrop for this drama and the justification for the military’s actions, but they were not a revolution in the streets. It was a military coup designed to preserve a military-dominated regime. And that was what the crowds were demanding as well.
Coup and Revolution
We now face the question of whether the coup will turn into a revolution. The demonstrators demanded — and the military has agreed to hold — genuinely democratic elections and to stop repression. It is not clear that the new leaders mean what they have said or were simply saying it to get the crowds to go home. But there are deeper problems in the democratization of Egypt. First, Mubarak’s repression had wrecked civil society. The formation of coherent political parties able to find and run candidates will take a while. Second, the military is deeply enmeshed in running the country. Backing them out of that position, with the best will in the world, will require time. The military bought time Feb. 13, but it is not clear that six months is enough time, and it is not clear that, in the end, the military will want to leave the position it has held for more than half a century.
Of course, there is the feeling, as there was in 2009 with the Tehran demonstrations, that something unheard of has taken place, as U.S. President Barack Obama has implied. It is said to have something to do with Twitter and Facebook. We should recall that, in our time, genuine revolutions that destroyed regimes took place in 1989 and 1979, the latter even before there were PCs. Indeed, such revolutions go back to the 18th century. None of them required smartphones, and all of them were more thorough and profound than what has happened in Egypt so far. This revolution will not be “Twitterized.” The largest number of protesters arrived in Tahrir Square after the Internet was completely shut down.
The new government has promised to honor all foreign commitments, which obviously include the most controversial one in Egypt, the treaty with Israel. During the celebrations the evening of Feb. 11 and morning of Feb. 12, the two chants were about democracy and Palestine. While the regime committed itself to maintaining the treaty with Israel, the crowds in the square seemed to have other thoughts, not yet clearly defined. But then, it is not clear that the demonstrators in the square represent the wishes of 80 million Egyptians. For all the chatter about the Egyptian people demanding democracy, the fact is that hardly anyone participated in the demonstrations, relative to the number of Egyptians there are, and no one really knows how the Egyptian people would vote on this issue.
The Egyptian government is hardly in a position to confront Israel, even if it wanted to. The Egyptian army has mostly American equipment and cannot function if the Americans don’t provide spare parts or contractors to maintain that equipment. There is no Soviet Union vying to replace the United States today. Re-equipping and training a military the size of Egypt’s is measured in decades, not weeks. Egypt is not going to war any time soon. But then the new rulers have declared that all prior treaties — such as with Israel — will remain in effect.
What Was Achieved?
Therefore, we face this reality. The Egyptian regime is still there, still controlled by old generals. They are committed to the same foreign policy as the man they forced out of office. They have promised democracy, but it is not clear that they mean it. If they mean it, it is not clear how they would do it, certainly not in a timeframe of a few months. Indeed, this means that the crowds may re-emerge demanding more rapid democratization, depending on who organized the crowds in the first place and what their intentions are now.
It is not that nothing happened in Egypt, and it is not that it isn’t important. It is simply that what happened was not what the media portrayed but a much more complex process, most of it not viewable on TV. Certainly, there was nothing unprecedented in what was achieved or how it was achieved. It is not even clear what was achieved. Nor is it clear that anything that has happened changes Egyptian foreign or domestic policy. It is not even clear that those policies could be changed in practical terms regardless of intent.
The week began with an old soldier running Egypt. It ended with different old soldiers running Egypt with even more formal power than Mubarak had. This has caused worldwide shock and awe. We were killjoys in 2009, when we said the Iranian revolution wasn’t going anywhere. We do not want to be killjoys now, since everyone is so excited and happy. But we should point out that, in spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but it hasn’t yet.
An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation.
The Egyptian army has secured a famed antiquities museum from looters after dozens tried to steal priceless artifacts.
The Egyptian army secured Cairo’s famed antiquities museum early Saturday, protecting thousands of priceless artifacts, including the gold mask of King Tutankhamun, from looters. The greatest threat to the Egyptian Museum, which draws millions of tourists a year, first appeared to come from the fire engulfing the ruling party headquarters next door on Friday night, set ablaze by anti-government protesters.
Then dozens of would-be thieves started entering the grounds surrounding the museum, climbing over the metal fence or jumping inside from trees lining the sidewalk outside.
One man pleaded with people outside the museum’s gates on Tahrir Square not to loot the building, shouting at the crowd: “We are not like Baghdad.” After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, thieves carted off thousands of artifacts from the National Museum in Baghdad — only a fraction of which have been recovered.
Suddenly other young men — some armed with truncheons taken from the police — formed a human chain outside the main entrance in an attempt to protect the collection inside.
“I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,” said one of the men, Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer.
Another man, 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, said it was important to guard the museum because it “has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.”
Finally, four armored vehicles took up posts outside the massive coral-colored building in downtown Cairo. Soldiers surrounded the building and moved inside to protect mummies, monumental stone statues, ornate royal jewelry and other pharaonic artifacts.
The soldiers appeared to have rounded up all the would-be looters who made it onto the museum grounds and had lined them up in a row. As the soldiers corralled one man toward the line, crowds outside the fence shouted, “Thief, thief!” A couple the troops then hit the man with the butts of their rifles and sat him down with the others apparently caught inside.
A man who places himself at the helm for three decades inevitably becomes the target of all the realm’s discontents
By FOUAD AJAMI
‘When Ramses II was over eighty he celebrated his rejuvenation at the feast of Set, repeating it yearly until he was ninety and more, and displaying his power of rejuvenation to the Gods above in the Obelisks he regularly erected as a memorial, which the aged Pharaoh decorated with electrum at the top so that their brightness should pour over lands of Egypt when the sun was mirrored in them.”
This is from a classic account of this ancient and ordered land, “The Nile in Egypt,” by Emil Ludwig (1937). Hosni Mubarak, the military officer who became Pharaoh in his own right, is well over 80. His is the third-longest reign since Ramses, who ruled for 67 years. The second-longest had belonged to a remarkable soldier of fortune, Muhammad Ali, an Albanian by birth and the creator of modern Egypt, who conquered the country in the opening years of the 19th century and ruled for five decades. His dynasty was to govern Egypt until the middle years of the 20th century.
In the received image of it, Egypt is the most stable of nations, a place of continuity on the banks of a sanguine river. Egyptians, the chronicles tell us, never killed their pharaohs. Anwar al-Sadat had been the first. But this received image conceals a good deal of tumult. The submission to the will of Gods and rulers has been punctured by ferocious rebellions.
From Ludwig again: “Once the fellahin (the peasants) and the workers of Egypt revolted against their masters; once their resentment burst out: a revolution dispossessed the rich men and the priests of Egypt of their power.” One such revolution at the end of the Old Kingdom raged intermittently for two centuries (2350 B.C. to 2150 B.C.).
In more recent times, in 1952, the Egyptians rose in rebellion and set much of modern Cairo to the torch, which would lead to the fall of the monarchy. The agile Sadat faced a big revolt of his own in 1977 when he attempted to reduce the subsidies on bread and sugar and cooking gas. It is said that he had been ready to quit this country in the face of that upheaval.
It is hard to know with precision when Hosni Mubarak, the son of middle peasantry, lost the warrant of his people. It had started out well for this most cautious of men. He had been there on the reviewing stand on Oct. 6, 1981 when a small band of young men from the army struck down Sadat as the flamboyant ruler was reviewing his troops and celebrating the eighth anniversary of the October War of 1973.
The new man had risen by grace of his predecessor’s will. He had had no political past. The people of Egypt had not known of him. He was the antidote to two great and ambitious figures—Nasser and Sadat. His promise was modesty. He would tranquilize the realm after three decades of tumult and wars and heartbreaking bids to re-make the country.
A deceased friend of mine, an army general of Mr. Mubarak’s class and generation, spoke of the man with familiarity: He was a civil servant with the rank of president, he said of his fellow officer. Mr. Mubarak put the word out that he would serve two six-year terms and be gone. But the appetite grew with the eating. The humble officer would undergo a transformation. A presidency-for-life announced itself. And in an astounding change, where Nasser and Sadat feared the will and the changing moods of their countrymen, Mr. Mubarak grew imperious and dismissive.
Egypt bent to his will. A country with a vibrant parliamentary tradition in the 1920s and 1930s became a sterile tyranny. A land that had opened onto Europe in the course of the 19th century, that had given rise to professional syndicates and associations, to an independent judiciary, was brought low.
There has always been an Egyptian pride in their country—even as Egypt tried and failed to modernize, even as its Sisyphean struggle broke its heart and engendered a deep sense of disappointment—and Mr. Mubarak came to offend that sense of national pride.
In the annals of Muslim dynasties and kingdoms, wives and children have figured prominently in the undoing of rulers. An ambitious wife, Suzanne, with haughty manners, and a taste for wealth and power (a variation on the hairdresser Leila Trabelsi, the wife of the deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) and a favored son who, by all indications, was preparing to inherit his father’s power, deepened the estrangement between Mr. Mubarak and his people.
Egypt had been the trendsetter in Arab politics, in its self-image the place where all things modern in Arab life—the cinema, radio, women’s emancipation, parliamentary life, mass politics, forced industrialization—had begun. The sight of Tunisians, hitherto a marginal people in the Arab consciousness, taking to the streets and deposing their tyrant, both shamed and emboldened the Egyptians. They had wearied of the large prison that Mr. Mubarak had constructed for them. A man who places himself at the helm for three decades inevitably, and justly, becomes the target of all the discontents in the realm.
Revolts of this kind are always a gamble on the unknown. At bottom, they are an attempt at self-purification, a society wishes to be done with the stain of submission to a dictator’s transgressions. Amid the tumult, what is so clear today is the hatred felt for the ruler and his immediate family. Reigns like Mr. Mubarak’s devour the green and the dry, as a favored Arab expression has it. The sycophants come to the fore and steal what they can. Those with heart and character and pride are hauled off to prison, or banished to the outer margins of public life.
Mr. Mubarak has been merciless with his critics. For this isolated, aging man of the barracks, dissent is always treason. There remains, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. It was in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood was born in the late 1920s. The Brotherhood has been the alibi and the bogeyman with which Hosni Mubarak frightened the middle class at home and the donors abroad in Washington and Europe, who prop his regime out of fear that Egypt would come apart and the zealots would triumph.
In one of the novels by the late Egyptian novelist and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, a pharaoh is told by his lovely mistress Rabudis of rumors of pending rebellion, of popular disaffection. “And they say the priests are a powerful group with control over the hearts and the minds of the people.” But he smiles and answers. “But I am the stronger.” “What of the anger of the people my lord,” she asks? “It will calm down when they see me on my chariot.” We shall see if and how this modern-day pharaoh copes with a people determined to be rid of him.
Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.