Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak: Wily Manipulator, or Defiant Dodderer?

Just when Egyptians, the CIA, and much of the world was sure that, at long last, he was going to step down, Hosni Mubarak seems to have surprised them all.  In a speech that Prof. Marc Lynch characterized as "the worst speech ever," Mr. Mubarak defied the thousands thronged in Tahrir Square by announcing that he would not leave, would not resign, but would hand over some of his power to his recently hand-picked vice-president and crony, Omar Suleiman - a step that, in his interpretation of it, Egypt's constitution allows him to do.

Mr. Suleiman then followed with a speech of his own, exhorting the demonstrators to go home (because their voices had been heard) and admonishing them against tuning in to foreign cable news services (read Al-Jazeera, mostly).  In the regime's spin, it's foreign influences who are trying to sow chaos.

All the accounts I've read of today's events capture a sense of absolute incredulity, followed by searing anger, at these developments.  What could Mubarak be thinking? One might conclude that, as a veteran of 30 years of sitting atop the pyramid of state and swatting away all comers, Mubarak is a shrewd, wily manipulator who feels he's still grasping a trump card: the Egyptian military, upon whose loyal shoulders Egypt's political leadership has perched ever since 1952.  As Nancy Youssef writes for McClatchy, the army's next move is a huge question mark.  And Egypt's future hangs in the balance.  The assumption is that the upper echelons of the officer corps would be most inclined to stick with Mubarak and some version of the status quo.  They receive tremendous social respect - and personal opportunity for enrichment - as officers, as well as access to the training and sophisticated weaponry that Mubarak's partnership with the US (and peace with Israel) have afforded.  But, as Youssef notes, the rank-and-file are conscripts, and in many cases, the brothers or cousins of demonstrators.  If called upon to do so, will they fire into the crowds?  For that matter, will the captains and majors follow orders to do so issued from the generals, or will they decide that the people's respect for the army cannot be sacrificed on the altar of regime loyalty - and specifically, loyalty to an aged group of men who have come to take too much for granted.  The concerns of Egypt's politicians are noted by Financial Times' Roula Khalaf:
Egypt’s army, an opaque institution which has operated behind the scenes, has won the respect of many Egyptians precisely because it has not directly interfered in politics, leaving the running of the country to the presidents that it has chosen for decades. . . .

But among politicians in Cairo, the enthusiasm for the engagement of the army was more cautious, amid concerns that the amicable behaviour of the rank and file – soldiers who are as frustrated as the rest of Egyptians – would not extend to the senior leadership, which has huge vested interests in the current regime, including the expansion of the military into an array of businesses.

The WaPo's Stephen Stromberg characterized Mubarak's speech as an
 "overstuffed, incoherent monstrosity . . . .the uninspiring, self-righteous rambling of a man who has had tens of millions of Egyptians as a captive audience for 30 years, a personality that has terminally confused the will of his people for his own, what they would like to hear with what he would prefer to say. He hasn't had to authentically lead people for decades -- state television would carry anything he wanted it to. That has resulted in the boorishness that comes with the long-term exercise of unchecked power"

Indeed, it seems to represent the workings of the mind of a defiant, stubborn, perhaps partly senile old man who refuses to accept the reality that confronts him now, but from which he has insulated himself for so long. 

I'm hoping that the lower echelons and rank-and-file of the army will see that as well, and will refuse orders to fire on the crowds that surely will number close to the promised million tomorrow.  I'd also bet that Obama, Clinton, and Gates are doing whatever they can to reach out to Egypt's field-level officers, to tell them that firing into the protesters will mean the end of any access to US military largesse, but that siding with them will keep the training and weapons coming, as well as ensure that the Egyptian military will retain the respect that will be needed for it if a new civilian-led democracy is able to thrive and Egypt to re-emerge as a truly respected leader of the Arab world.

If it comes, finally, that democracy will surely include representation from the Muslim Brotherhood.  By all means, check out James Traub's fine essay at Foreign Policy. The title and subtitle say it all:
 "Don't fear the Brotherhood. Running away from the Islamic party is exactly what the entrenched Egyptian ruling class wants America to do. "

No comments:


Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)