Friday, January 13, 2012

Mubarak's End: The military coup and the popular uprising

Tahrir Square: One year later

Hosni Mubarak's end did not end the system

Unfortunately, the rising level of violence between the military and the opposition demanding civilian rule was predictable. There was a temporary coalition with one short term goal put an end to Mubarak and his succession plan.

The end of the Mubarak era was the result of a confluence of factors and interests that created a perfect storm against the Mubarak regime. The disenchantment of the army with Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak, as a successor was a main and key factor. Egyptian liberals were put off by the dynastic succession from father to son and the military refused to recognize the son of their military leader who had never served in the military.

During the January 25th Revolution it was said that the army and the people were one hand because the army had refused to fire on the people in Tahrir Square and forced Mubarak's surrender. Furthermore, that it was a combination of the mass protests and disgruntled elements in the military that pressured Mubarak to step down and his son to flee the country. Gamal had made enemies in the senior ranks of the military as he sought to have some of them purged and replaced with his own supporters.

Hosni Mubarak, at age 82, was engaged in a risky venture – a succession/transition from military dynastic rule to Mubarak dynastic rule based on blood descendents. Gamal Mubarak had never served a day in the military. Not even the basic military service required of all Egyptians. This had more in common with the preexisting political order that had been overthrown by the military.

Muhammad Ali Pasha was the first ruler since 1517
to divest the Ottoman Empire of control over Egypt and laid the groundwork for an independent Egypt. He modernized the country and along with his descendents reduced mortality rates, improved the quality of life in Egypt and the population exploded. This royal family would rule Egypt from June 18, 1805 until June 18, 1953.

On July 26, 1952 Egyptian military officers forced the abdication of Farouk I who had ruled over the country since 1936 replacing him with his infant son Fuad II. On June 18, 1953 the constitutional monarchy that had ruled over Egypt since 1805 was abolished and replaced with a republic in name and military rule in practice. It was the end of the Muhammad Ali dynasty.

Over the next 60 years Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak (all from the military) would rule Egypt: Gamar Abdel Nasser from 1956 to 1970, Anwar Sadat from 1970 until his assassination on October 6, 1981 and finally Mubarak from 1981 until he relinquished power on February 11, 2011.

A dynastic succession from a father in the military to a son who had never served a day in uniform had more in common with the previous monarchic system than with the past 60 years of Egyptian military rule. It was unpopular both with democrats and the military but for different reasons.

The demonstrators in Tahrir Square, primarily young Egyptians many of them urban, secular, liberals, social democrats, and leftists along with younger members of the Muslim brotherhood and even some Salafists objected to 30 years of Mubarak rule and its continuation under yet another Mubarak on democratic grounds. The military elite did not want to be purged to make way for Gamal Mubarak's inner circle and was also offended at having to submit to civilian oversight.

Both the demonstrators and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) were on the same page that a Mubarak succession was unacceptable but for profoundly different reasons. In the span of 18 days a 30 years long Mubarak regime was swept away. However, the stark reality is that the military dictatorship that has ruled Egypt since 1952 remains intact and in power.

The continuing conflict between the military and the civilian demonstrators, which includes the Islamists is over the end of military rule in favor of civilian rule that has oversight over the military. The military wants civilian rule to take responsibility for the economy and social services while maintaining its own perks and privileges.

However, that does not detract from the fact of the matter was that in the matter of stopping the Mubarak succession plan the people and the army were on the same page but for entirely different reasons. It is also why the downfall of the Mubarak regime had the characteristics of both a popular uprising and a military coup.

Unfortunately, with the end of the Mubarak dynasty most of the millions of Egyptians that had taken to the streets returned home leaving behind a smaller but determined group of revolutionaries that would occupy Tahrir Squares and other key squares throughout Egypt. The parliamentary elections, although not guaranteeing civilian rule with oversight of the military, further satisfied the public desire for normality and further isolated the liberals and secularists while empowering the Islamic parties.

It is an outcome that benefits the military that will now be viewed as the last line between a secular Egypt and an Islamic theocracy to the international community. This would also explain the calculated raids on human rights organizations and increased violence and repression against activists in Tahrir Square.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on the raids against NGOs in Egypt

The military controls the institutions of government and has superior fire power but the violence committed against activists in Tahrir and raids against non-governmental organizations throughout Egypt endangers its legitimacy with Egyptians. As Gandhi once observed: "The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within." The power of the powerless can wash away the military with nonviolence and civil disobedience as effectively as long ago the Red Sea swept away Pharaoh's army.

There is much work yet to do to achieve a free and democratic Egypt but the good news is that it is an obtainable goal. Courageous Egyptians have demonstrated over the past half century and with great passion over the past year the necessary toughness and discipline in resisting military rule.

My prayers and solidarity with the people of Egypt in achieving freedom and the rule of law in their country.

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