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Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak Is Out—What Comes Next

"The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse." — James Madison

At 16:09 GMT the Egyptian military announced Hosni Mubarak had stepped from his 30 year reign as president of Egypt. The crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square went wild with jubilation and the talking heads began to fall over each other to get their face on TV to give one opinion or another.

The one theme, however, that plays throughout the pundits is; “What comes next? There is an old Chinese proverb that goes; “Be careful of what you wish for as you may get it.

The Egyptian crowds in Tahrir Square have demanded that Mubarak step down for the last 18 days and today their demand came to fruition. Will they be happy or have they taken a step towards the institution of another totalitarian form of government.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered the following statement Feb. 11th at 16:09 GT: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.”

Suleiman’s statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It is not clear whether Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts.

At a certain point, the opposition’s euphoria will subside and demands for elections will be voiced. The United States, while supportive of the military containing the unrest, also has a strategic need to see Egypt move toward a more pluralistic system.

Whether the military stays true to its commitment to hold elections on schedule in September remains to be seen. If elections are held, however, the military must have a political vehicle in place to counter opposition forces, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The fate of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) thus lies in question. Without the NDP, the regime will have effectively collapsed and the military could run into greater difficulty in running the country. While the military council will be serving as the provisional government, it will likely want to retain as much of the ruling NDP as possible and incorporate elements of the opposition to manage the transition. Sustaining its hold over power while crafting a democratic government will be the biggest challenge for the military as it tries to avoid regime change while also dealing with a potential constitutional crisis.

Egypt has not had any form of democratic government in its long history, From the Pharaohs to Cleopatra to Mubarak the Egyptian people have never been allowed and form of self-government. Now they will have to decide if they want self-government or jobs and security. These two things do not necessarily go hand in hand. Will they struggle through the risks of self-government and entrepreneurship or will they look for a “great leader” to provide he jobs and security they are looking for?

Egypt has a rapidly growing population. Many of the young are educated, but without good jobs or he possibility of careers. Food prices have been rising, especially wheat and they have no real export base except cotton. Thousands of educated Egyptians migrate each year for better opportunities in Europe and the United States. This brain drain — the reason behind the Berlin Wall may leave Egypt without those who would be able to counteract the eventual rise of the Muslim Brotherhood — the party that will offer jobs, security and social justice.

Egypt has an economy based on corruption. It is not just corruption at the top, but a corruption that reaches all the way down to the lowest level of civil servant. As example; while I was in Cairo several years ago I spent time at the Cairo Museum. Throughout the museum there were signs posted forbidding photography. I had my camera over my shoulder and a guard noticed me. He approached me and motion that I come with behind a large pillar. There he told me I could take photos, without flash, if I paid him 10 Egyptian pounds, which I did and proceeded to snap away.

Another and more serious example is illustrated when the U.S. Government gave Egypt $300 million dollars to map the Nile River and its delta. An American firm, Geotronics out of Colorado Springs, was awarded the contract to assist the Egyptians with the project. As a part of the project the U.S. Government furnished the Egyptian Government millions of dollars in sophisticated survey and mapping equipment. How was this equipment used? Well, according to an former employee of mine, who was one of the project managers, the Egyptians used the equipment to pursue their private business and many did not even bother to show up for work on a daily bases.

I cite these examples not to criticize the Egyptians, but to provide an example of their culture — a culture that will have to change if self-government is to be successful.

The talking heads keep pointing to the Egyptian military as the saviors of the Country. It was the military that put Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak in power and kept them there for 55 years. They say that the military has close ties with the west, the United States and Israel. All of this may be true, but can the military govern in a democracy? Who will be their front man? Will it be ElBaradei, an opportunist, promoter of the Muslim Brotherhood and a professed Israel hater, or someone we do not know who is waiting in the wings. No revolution in history has been successfully governed by a military junta — just looks at Latin America.

I cannot help but reflect on the 1917 Russian and the 1979 Iranian Revolutions. Many of the same elements are present in Egypt. Both revolutions began in the streets. Both countries had no history of self-government.  Both revolutions opened a vacuum for another form of totalitarian government to rush in.

Act one is over and jubilation embraces Egypt. Act two is about to begin. It is act two that is most important as it will set the course for act three — the final act. Will the final act be democratic self- government with all of its risks or will it be the Muslim Brotherhood with their offers of jobs, security and social justice for all? Right now my bet is on the Brotherhood.

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