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The International Writers Magazine: Democracy in Egypt

Mubarak Steps Down
Marwan Asmar  
As Egyptian President Husni Mubarak stepped down and handed power to the High Military Council to rule the country, people in the streets shouted in jubilation.


The world is once again bewildered and mesmerized, just as it had been when the "Egyptian Revolution" first started 18 days ago on 25 January.  Many states are still needing time to take it all in and see the new democratic formation under a post-Mubarak government.

In these 18 days, the revolutionary politics of the street, the constant rallies and demonstration and shouts of the removal of Mubarak created an intense, heated atmosphere.  Many states registered surprise, excitement, some were upbeat, others flabbergasted and even confused of what is happening in front of their very eyes. The extent and sustenance of the mass popular movement sent shockwaves throughout the world. Indeed unrest has already spread to Algeria.

World leaders, governments, foreign policy-makers from many countries have to think of the coming days, weeks and months as alliances are strengthened, realignments possibly made and Egypt's new world outlook and era is refocused.

Countries all over the world are still comprehending the daily demonstrations of thousands, hundreds of thousands and elsewhere within Egypt millions of people calling for the ouster of Mubarak who has ruled the country through Emergency Laws since 1981.

In an international system of nation-states where it is conventionally recognized that every country guard its sovereignty, Egyptian President, Husni Mubarak, Vice President Omar Sulieman and the Egyptian government expressed dismay at what they called the "global intervention in their affairs".

In the end such dismay was blown in their faces, as Mubarak had to submit to a revolutionary force of nearly 20 million people who registered their anger over the country in just one day, Friday, the "Day of Resignation".  

Statements, comments, utterances of presidents, prime ministers, governments and ministers from the world-over were being made from the United States to Madagascar, but in the end it was the will of the people in Tahrir Square who according to one reporter camped day and night, and in other cities and towns of Egypt.

The United States, Egypt's strongest ally, and annual $1.5 billion aid backer, is for the time being keeping a low profile, leaving it to the street and the army, which has never fired one single bullet against the people in this revolution.

As leader of the world, America under its President Barack Obama and its Secretary of State Hilary Clinton originally felt it necessary to register the strongest protest as they saw the deluge of demonstrators.

At first, and in an almost a "powered, off-the-cuff" response, President Obama and Clinton sought to change US foreign policy through phrases as there must be an "orderly transition", "we pray violence in Egypt would end" and that an "orderly transition must be useful and now."  In a way these must have sent eerie signals that the game was up that the United States was giving up on his regime and his government, only three or four days since the street protests started.

However with the appointment of Omar Sulieman as Vice President, a first-time-ever move since Mubarak himself came to power, and a new Egyptian government, the United States began somewhat to send different set of messages that an orderly transition could mean within a "time framework", which might have been another foreign policy turning point.

However, and with the benefit of hindsight, it now appears these were the soundings of a dying regime, despite the boisterous moves of Husni Mubarak, in first chastising the protestors and then in his promised introductions of constitutional reform, but promising he would not stand as candidate for the presidential election taking place in September, 2011.  It came also within days of him announcing  fundamental changes in his National Democratic Party, and the fact that Jamal Mubarak who was being groomed as his successor was longer the secretary-general of the NDP which meant that he no longer can become the next president of Egypt.

Such utterances prompted the European Union to make its voice heard by issuing a joint statement specifically by Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, stating the deterioration of the situation in Egypt" was of major concern, "condemning the violence" and "calling for  a rapid and orderly transition toward a broadly representative government will allow Egypt to overcome the challenges that it is facing and that this process of transition must start now."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt described what was happening in Egypt as a "demographic tsunami" that can only be met by sustained economic reforms," and "democratic presidential elections later this year".

They were voices of concern heard by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor  Angel Merkel and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou all called that violence stop in reference to earlier pro-Mubarak demonstrators who attacked Tahrir Square protestors, the respect of liberties and right of assembly as well as for a transition to democracy.

It was all international eyes on Mubarak.  That is why he stopped his pro-Mubarak demonstrators, mainly from the 2 million-or-so-strong security apparatuses, and essentially plain clothes security from attacking demonstrators, one day during the so-called "Day of Rage" demonstrations where about 900 anti-regime protestors were badly injured.

This couldn't have looked good to the world and such tactics were stopped.  However the EU maintained a measured response and in continuing reference to state sovereignty and not wanting to infringe on that,  EU Foreign Policy Spokesman Catherine Ashton  stated:

"We've been very clear in everything we said, it's for the Egyptian people and government to move forward together. It's absolutely essential we see the movement necessary for people to feel confident that there is a plan in place."

Such a stance was criticized as too timid.  Martin Schulz, the leader of the centre-left in the European parliament said the EU summit should make a clear statement that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's time is up.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, Ashton was right.  Whilst a modicum of understanding was not reached between Sulieman and the people, it was the latter who won through their pressure and sheer physical presence that enabled the Pharoah and the Spinx to leave through another back door.

The Europeans and Americans did not need to play the game of realpolitik for long. They know, and more so of the United States, they had been supporting a dictator who was their friend and guaranteed stability in the area in the face of Islamic fundamentalism.

But with "street power" things became different.  The wheels of the "winds of change" on the Egyptian street had started churning, and they clearly did not want to miss the train by being on the wrong side. Cynics argued this is why they where pandering to the people, with leaders like Obama and Cameron warning the Egyptian authorities to desist from using force against the demonstrators.

For the first time and not more urgent than it is today, it appears the Europeans and Americans are weighing their political interests and questioning their friends and espousing those ideals of democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, good governance, transparency etc.  They couldn't not afford but be with the street.  However, they did stretch their hands to Vice president Omar Sulieman, who had, it turned out to be, now for one day, been officially delegated responsibilities by Husni Mubarak to rule the country together with the installation of a new government headed by Ahmad Shafeeq in the hope they can carry the state till September's presidential elections.

But this didn't last, for the following afternoon of 11 January, 2011, Sulieman announced on television in a brief 20 second statement Mubarak stepped down as president and is appointing the Higher Military Council to rule the country.  

Because of the level of mass demonstrations, the need to appear to support them, and the wish for an "orderly transition", there is a new ball game that must be unveiled soon.

The issue of free elections, which is one of the calls by Western leaders, is also a problem that would certainly bring Islamists in the orbit of political power.  This is something USA has sought to avoid, but there is talk of a power-sharing government in which Islamists would take part in but they promised they would support a liberal administration and not seek a Sharia system of government.

Besides that, there is an international relations aspect to a post-Mubarak regime which has built itself as a rallying point for an axis based on Egypt-Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who act as a bulwark to fundamentalism and radicalism in the region.

Now and in the light of new government down the road, a new role must be conjectured.  While the old axis could continue, a new government in Cairo could be more open minded to the so-called radical group in the Arab world that include Algeria, Syria, possibly Iran and Hezbollah, even if the new emerging government is elected on a pro-democracy ticket. 

The USA and Europe could yet lament a post-Mubarak administration that would suddenly became less enthusiastic about the West which turns to the East, or what is left of it, since Russia and China are much more interested in playing to the tunes of capitalist enterprise and free-market economics rather than of ideologies.

A more nationalist or a national unity government can very easily shift course to Russia, which has been traditionally a "friend" under the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, till they were kicked out under President Anwar Sadat in 1974 when the Americans were invited in their place.

While Nasser pledged non-alignment in the 1950s and 1960s, he was receiving Russian aid and expertise.  If Russia does enter Egypt in a post-Mubarak regime however, it would likely be on different criterions given the fact Russian today is itself under a post-Soviet system structured along capitalist lines. With newly found relations in Egypt, Russia may have an opportune ground for investment and joint enterprises in a fertile country.

The same is the case with China, a country that supports a pronged exporting strategy for its goods and services, regardless of ideology or regime (their support for Mugabe in Zimbabwe a case in point). With an Egyptian population of around 90 million, China is likely to see that country as a huge consumer market for its across-the-board projects, goods and services, catering to different sectors of society.

Europe and the United States would likely see China as a "competitive economic threat" because of the cheapness of the products it can deliver whilst recognizing that 40 percent of Egyptians live at the poverty line. Politically, China has tried to "shield" its population from watching the democracy protests in Egypt, lest its own population would turn around and demand the same thing from their own government in Beijing.

However, because of the geographical proximity between the two countries, such a view is seen as farfetched.  But countries like Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea and North Korea, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and ivory-cost have tried to ignore the daily protests in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt.  However, such scenarios and views are in the distant future for right now the Egyptian people are still basking in their revolution, having got rid of their 30-year-old dictator through non-other than peaceful non-violent demonstration which Obama and many other world leaders have recognized, and is praising.
© Marwan Asmar Feb 12th 2011
Middle East Dominoes
Marwan Asmar

Changes in the political map of the Middle East are imminent and 2011 could well be remembered as the year of political hurricanes.

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