Belmont Club

I'll See You In September

Is the political crisis in Egypt on the way to resolution, or has it just moved into a new phase? When Hosni Mubarak announced he would serve to the end of his term but not leave Egypt; when he told the audience that he would not run again, with the election scheduled for September, the single question left hanging in the air was what the opposition’s best alternative to accepting a Mubarak offer would be.  Reuters describes the Mubarak gambit: I’ll leave, but on my own terms.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Tuesday he would not leave Egypt although he would step down from the presidency at the end of his term, due to end when the country holds a presidential election in September. “The Hosni Mubarak who speaks to you today is proud of his achievements over the years in serving Egypt and its people,” he said in an address broadcast on state television.

“This is my country. This is where I lived, I fought and defended its land, sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil,” he said.

They were the words of a man determined to leave office on his own terms and remain a force despite his deep unpopularity. Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times thinks the offer is too little, too late:

So President Hosni Mubarak has announced that he won’t run for office again in the September elections. That would have been a historic decision if he had made it two weeks ago, and it might have avoided the present mess. But today, it’s too little, too late. And if the White House has devoted its political capital to getting Mubarak to agree to such a half-measure, then I fear that there’s a measure of cluelessness on both sides.

Maybe Washington is clueless, but Mubarak is not. Since the outbreak of open unrest against his regime, he has pursued a policy that looks an awful lot like a scorched earth retreat. By pulling the police out of the street, shutting down the Internet, and basically staying put, Mubarak has made the opposition face that biggest of all operational problems: the logistic challenge of sustaining an advance.

Cairo is running out of money with the ATMs down and commerce paralyzed. The poor in the Third World are not like the middle class West. In the slums they are probably running out of food, with most households left with only enough comestibles for a day or two. The Egyptian dictator has absorbed hostility with time and space. Twenty hours ago, the NYT wrote:

Egypt’s economy approached paralysis on Monday as foreign commerce, tourism and banking all but halted, placing acute pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to find a way out of the weeklong chaos.

International companies closed plants and sent workers home or out of the country; food staples went undelivered to stores; and banks remained closed during a week when many Egyptians, who are routinely paid monthly, would receive their paychecks.

A major ratings agency cut the country’s bond rating, while shortages led to rising prices. And poorer Egyptians told of cutting back to just two meals a day to cope.

That will be down to one and none as the week wears on. The NYT concluded: “The protests’ crippling effects could give Mr. Mubarak and his new cabinet perhaps only a few weeks to re-establish order before shortages, rising unemployment and a deep crisis set in, economists said.” That’s only half right. It also means that the opposition has only a short time left before people are forced to turn away from demonstrating to concentrate on finding the means to stay alive.  Watch for the word “humanitarian crisis” to creep into the news.

In gambling parlance the choices open to the opposition now are to fold or raise the stakes. Mubarak is sitting at one end of the table, looking at his cards. He’s 82 and is going to die one way or the other in a few years. In a very real sense, he doesn’t give a damn. What does the opposition do now? Because what happens next will be interesting to watch. Do they urge the people to go back to normalcy and come back when summer’s gone as per Gary Lewis and The Playboys?

I’ll see you in September when summer is gone
Have a good time but, remember, I’ll be waiting back home
And when you go out dating with some guy all alone
Just remember I’ll be waiting when summer is gone

Or do both heed the advice of Kenny Rogers in “The Gambler”?

Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.

Does Barack Obama have any cards left to play? Or is he left crossing his fingers hoping he finally gets to hear this song play?

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