Egypt's Putative Revolution

The demonstrations and riots erupted through Egypt, were neither a revolution (a total change in all political, social and economic realms), nor a rebellion (a mass movement upheaval). However, they were an excuse of an successful internal coup d'état within the military regime, perpetrated by Tantawi, the Defense Minister against Mubarak. The main reason is that the military elite was never in love with the idea of having Mubarak's son, Gamal, take over the presidency.  All that Egypt's 18-day uprising produced, is a change within the regime.  Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of direct rule, and the question is to what extent the military elite will share power with any civilian counterparts in the future.

The troika of the military regime to succeed Mubarak has been set. It includes the former Air Force chief, Ahmed Shafiq, as Prime Minister; the Defense Minister, Muhammad Hussein al-Tantawi, as the strong leader; and the Chief of General Staff, Sami Hafiz `Annan. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is the highest executive body, headed by Tantawi, and takes control of the governmental decision-making. Two conspicuous signs to this trend will be the increase in the budgets given to the Egyptian army; and the appointing of more generals in uniform to the governmental ministries.

However, what is surprising in the Egyptian situation is that the international community has suddenly discovered that the regimes in the Middle East are authoritarian, corrupt, and anti-democratic. Well, this is the exact situation, and has been since a long time ago. What is not surprising however is the deep involvement of the media, which has inflated the extent of the demonstrations; exceedingly distorted the figures; and painted the events in the streets with romantic colors.

So, it is not the "Papyrus Revolution," but the "al-Jazeera Revolution;" and ElBaradei, a man of nothing, was already coronated by CNN as the next Egyptian president. The media has created, with one collective voice, a virtual reality and al-Tahrir Square has become the stage. The protesters were dubbed true democrats, moderate and peace-loving.  The mantra that Egyptians want freedom and democracy has swept the world.  All ignored the reality: Just because people protest something, does not mean they are democracy-loving moderates.

However, when the Technicolor dust settles to earth, world public opinion will discover that the military regime stays in power; that the Egyptian military appoints another of its own to replace Mubarak; and perhaps even worse, that the military turns to direct rule, which means more oppressive and un-democratic measures. The important question is whether there is a regime change, or only change within the regime?

Actually, the only alternative to the military regime in Egypt is the Islamists in power. The Muslim Brotherhood can take the reins of government based only on two strict conditions: a) provided the military steps out of politics, and b) provided free real democratic elections are made. One has to recall Samuel Huntington's assertion: if you really give the Arab-Muslim free and democratic choice in elections, he will vote, with high probability, for the Islamic groups. The reason is because he cherishes Islam and knows it intimately; and because he believes it bears the only solution to his problems, compared to all the foreign ideologies and structures that have failed.

Three possible models stand for the Ikhwan in politics:
  • the "Turkish model:" an Islamist party in power that advances slowly and gradually but steadily toward the goal of Islamizing the state;
  • the "Algerian model:" a direct Islamic rule that exacerbates the situation and strengthens the military objection, which may lead to a civil war;
  • the "Lebanese model:" Hezb'allh's example of controlling the political system behind the screen, through non-Islamist politicians and political alliances. For all practical purposes, the Ikhwan will probably prefer the Lebanese model.

What are the immediate conclusions from the Egyptian events?

The outstanding phenomenon with far-reaching consequences is that Arab-Islamic fear barrier has been broken; perhaps forever. The people are no longer afraid of the regime. This is an important lesson: The Arab people have become a political player.

The new spirit waving in the Arab-Islamic Middle East is the need of the rulers to listen to the people; to be attentive to their needs. This is a meaningful revolution in the Arab-Islamic polity. That is to say that a civil society is growing.

The international media plays a decisively important role. It directly intervenes in the events and takes clear side. This has very negative ramifications, but should be taken as a given. 

The internet, Facebook and Twitter, has become a mirror of reality, so that no regime can hide behind the screen.  It is the alternative means of people to organize, to mobilize, and to cooperate.

There is a change in the international system's operation. For the first time it openly and publicly takes side in the internal affairs of other states. This is a kind of political intervention that bears significant consequences of world reality.

The Middle East is marching toward an additional round of political instability and threats, generated especially by the violent activity of the Islamic opposition, and the rising political demands of the people. This is perhaps the most important issue to study.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be put in proportion and perspective. It is the least important compare to all other issues in the Middle East.

The US administration has to consider that Egypt serves as a watershed and a milestone. President Obama happily praised the events in Egypt and compared them to the Berlin Wall and Gandhi inspiration. He has reiterated that "we are witnessing a history in creation." Well, all we can wish is that it will not be a history in recapitulation of Iran of 1979, and even the events that led to the eruption of the two World Wars. Therefore, it is recommended that the US:  

  • bear in mind what happened in Iran in 1979, when the people demanded freedom and they received Khomeini;
  • bear in mind what happened in Algeria after the free elections at the beginning of 1992, when the Islamic movement won, and the military intervened in an ongoing civil war that caused tens of thousands of people killed;
  • bear in mind what happened in Lebanon in March 2005, when the people demanded freedom, however, Hizbullah outmaneuvered the Prime Minister from November 2009, Sa`d Hariri, to complete the Lebanon takeover;
  • bear in mind what happened after the US pressures for free elections in the PA, in January 2006, and Hamas won out and is now running Gaza;
  • bear in mind what happened in Pakistan in February 2008, after the US insisted upon promoting democratic elections that caused Benazir Bhutto's murder and the rise of the Mujahidin and Taliban to control large parts of Pakistan.

The US should support the military, although it is authoritarian and coercive and even prevents the advancement of democracy. It must do so because the alternative is the embodiment of evil, and represents the abuse of all we love and cherish, of all democratic life.

David Bukay is at the School of Political Science, The University of Haifa