Belmont Club

After Mubarak

One way to tell whether a regime has lost power is when its major symbols are overrun and no gatekeepers remain to stop it. Then the Berlin Wall is smashed down, Saddam’s statue is toppled, or Marcos’ palace is swarmed by crowds. In the case of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, the singer is gone, but the song remains. The 82-year-old strongman is on the way out, but Egypt is still mostly under the control of the Army. This means that the story, far from having ended, is now moving into a second phase.

Time magazine reported the administration was preparing an aid package for opposition groups — but before Mubarak left.

First, with diminishing influence over Mubarak, they have to try to ensure the dictator fully relinquishes control. … The second challenge is harder. Washington has publicly called for a transition to democracy, which Egypt has never known. To avoid a continuation of dictatorial rule under a new strong man or a dangerous power vacuum as weaker players try to seize control, Egypt will need to see the lightning-fast development of long-suppressed political parties. So the US is preparing a new package of assistance to Egyptian opposition groups designed to help with constitutional reform, democratic development and election organizing, State department officials tell TIME. The package is still being formulated, and the officials declined to say how much it would be worth or to which groups it would be directed.

The “aid package” is something that should have been undertaken from the beginning of the crisis. The package now under consideration is now way behind the curve and looks to be like carrying coals to Newcastle. Time suggests what it might look like.  “In countries like Serbia and Ukraine direct and indirect U.S. aid helped youth driven opposition movements successfully oust repressive leaders by training them in non-violent civil disobedience, election organizing and other fundamentals of civil society.” The aid package has to “lead” events — and events are moving at a pace far faster than the glacial formation of the aid package.

What appears to be happening, as noted above, is that the head of the system is changing, but the system itself remains largely intact. Egypt is now  in the post-Mubarak period. But whether it is in the post-Army period or moving there remains to be seen. Recent events may have convinced the Army officer corps that Mubarak had to go, but it probably still believes the Army has to remain in charge. The role of opposition groups in this context will be to take sides with factions in the Army. The BBC hypothesizes that this will change the ideology of the Army, but not the fact that the Army rules:

It is still too soon to know for certain what made Mr Mubarak step down, but it seems a reasonable assumption that the army leadership could see the hairline cracks appearing among their own officer corps.

The generals were inclined to side with the president, one of their own, and the more junior officers sympathised with the demonstrators.

There was an historical echo to that.

In 1952 many of the senior officers here preferred the monarchy, while the younger ones, including a young colonel called Gamal Abdel Nasser, favoured a successful coup against the old system.

There have only been two presidents since Nasser: Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, who took over when Sadat was murdered.

What has happened today is that the old Nasserite system, a vaguely socialist, military dictatorship, heavily dependent on an unpleasant secret police, has collapsed.

What the next days and weeks will show is what the factions look like. If the Army has split, even so slightly, then that fact should manifest itself in the appearance of a number of blocs. Which way the civilian opposition groups are drawn will serve as an indicator, in the way that dust is drawn to some giant unseen gravitational source, of what is going on beneath. Some opposition groups will tailor their programs to capture some of the “aid” money the Obama administration is putting together, but the fundamental character of these blocs may already be determined by prior events — where they fall within the new constellation.

Not only will the cast of characters shake out, but so will process.  The answer to the question: how will this unfinished revolution complete itself will soon be apparent. Will the Army countenance some form of provisional government? Or is too divided to decide what to do yet? In other words, will the parliament remain in the streets or will it move inside a building?

Lastly, the U.S. is not the only country which is probably preparing an “aid package” to the opposition. Iran, Saudi Arabia and maybe even Israel must be considering whom and what to support.  One hopes the president knows what the shape of coming events in Egypt are likely to assume before announcing his satisfaction or dissatisfaction with them in public over the next few days. Charles Lane at the Washington Post says Mubarak’s departure is an opportunity for the president to claim “victory” in the Middle East; that having been dragged kicking and screaming into Egypt, he can now declare himself to have always been completely in control:

The Republicans would be forced to concede that this president had, indeed, fulfilled one of his major campaign promises of 2008: to catalyze a better understanding between the United States and the Muslim world. Obama would even be able to claim victory in a cause — Middle East democracy — that his predecessor articulated but did not irreversibly advance except, possibly, in Iraq.

It will take adjustments in Obama’s thinking: He must embrace democratic change in the Arab world more forcefully than he has in the past, with all the risks that entails. But the rewards could be great, great enough to warrant a major investment of his administration’s time and energy in Egypt over the rest of his term.

But the wheel’s still in spin. If rival “aid packages” converge on Egypt, then it may become the vortex of regional forces, the Spain along the Nile. And there is also the possibility that Mubarak’s departure may mark only the beginning of similar developments elsewhere. This may not end in Cairo, any more than it ended in Tunis. While evoking historical parallels like Spain, we should never forget the Dambusters.

The raid took place on the night of 16/17 May, 1943. The Möhne and Eder Dams were breached and massive damage done, with large areas of flooding, photographed by a Spitfire PR XI of No. 542 Sqn out of RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, the following morning. Unfortunately, 8 out of 19 attacking aircraft were lost. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross, the nation’s highest award; all the other surviving aircrew were decorated. King George VI inspected 617 Sqn (now know as ‘The Dambusters’) at Scampton, and approved their official motto ‘Après moi le déluge’ – ‘After me, the flood’, allegedly used by the French King Louis XV (1710-1774).

Apres moi le deluge. Apres Mubarak, something anyhow.

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