Egypt’s newly appointed vice president said Mr. Mubarak has asked him to begin immediate discussions with all “political forces” on constitutional and legislative reforms. Omar Suleiman, a longtime intelligence (head spy) chief and confidant of Mr. Mubarak, did not say what the changes will entail or which groups the government will contact.
What unites the protesters is anger. But anger is an emotion, not a strategy, much less a political agenda. What, really, does “Down With Mubarak” offer the average Egyptian?
If the Brotherhood has its way, Egypt will become a Sunni theocracy modeled on Iran. If the democracy activists have theirs, it’ll be a weak parliamentary system, incapable of exercising authority over the army and a cat’s paw for a Brotherhood that knows its revolutionary history well enough to remember the name of Alexander Kerensky.
Luckily for you, this analysis is becoming plainer by the day to many Egyptians, especially since Mr. ElBaradei, imagining he has the upper hand, stumbled into a political alliance with the Brotherhood. Also increasingly plain is that it’s in your hands to blur the “fine line between freedom and chaos,” as you aptly put it last week, and to give Egyptians a long, hard look at the latter. No, it wasn’t by your cunning design that thousands of violent prisoners made a jailbreak last week. And the decision to take police off the streets was done in the interests of avoiding bloody scenes with protesters.
Yet all the same, the anarchy unleashed on Egyptian streets has played straight into your hands. The demonstrators want a freedom that looks like London or Washington. Your task is to remind them that it’s more likely to look like Baghdad, circa 2006.
No wonder the mood among Cairo’s shopkeepers, many of whom supported the initial demonstrations, is turning sharply in your favor. Those shopkeepers will soon be joined by housewives who want to feel safe in the streets; and tourism workers who want Egypt to remain a safe destination, and everyone else with a stake in a stable environment. You may be 81, but time is still on your side. And patience is rarely a virtue of the young, who now crowd the streets.
So you’re right to order the army not to fire: The last thing you need is to furnish the protesters with a galvanizing event, or the officers with an embittering one. But the analysts who suppose this decision is a sign of weakness fail to appreciate how neatly it serves your purposes. Nearly all Egyptians are agreed that the army is the one “good” institution in the country—competent, mighty and incorruptible.
But just who do they think the army is? You are its commander in chief and the keeper of its interests. Through you, the army controls an estimated 40% of the economy. Through you, retired officers are guaranteed lucrative careers running state-owned companies or getting senior political appointments. Will your officers hazard their perquisites for a hazy notion of popular freedom? Unlikely.
Today will be the moment of truth. Millions are expected to come out into the streets. But what will they do, other than chant slogans? And who will they fight, if the army won’t fight them? And what other buildings will they put to the torch, without further alienating everyone who isn’t in the march?
Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demonstrate in front of an Egyptian army checkpoint in Cairo on Feb. 1. Mubarak’s grip on Egypt looked increasingly tenuous on Tuesday after the army pledged not to confront protesters who converged in Cairo in their tens of thousands to demand an end to his 30-year rule. Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
I am not a Mubarak Supporter, but my analysis
I am not a Mubarak supporter. I hope that Egypt can pull off several miracles and get to a prosperous democracy. However, it is wrong to underestimate the determination of Mubarak. He has survived six assassination attempts. He has run the country for 30 years. His background does not indicate someone who will give up easily.
Also, the army has about 40% of the Egyptian economy.