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Egypt: The Army’s In Control. What Next?

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Just Fired Hos. Anyone Want To Be Prez?

In hindsight, Mubarak was done the moment the police lost control. Mubarak could only truly count on the police, and when his attempt to use them to retake the square fell flat a couple of weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before he looked to the Army for protection.

Suleiman wasn’t going to allow Mubarak to take the whole shooting party down, but Hosni begged for time, and Suleiman agreed to try and wait out the demonstrators. The demonstrators responded by realizing they were being penned in the square, regrouped, reinforced and threatened to break out.

After rumors (sourced perhaps from the US but also maybe internally) started to swell that Mubarak was on his way built on the streets, Suleiman told Mubarak to obfuscate and confuse in one last vain attempt to keep him in power, but the demonstrators were having none of it. As the mood turned ugly, there were only two ways to return the country to stablility, fire on the crowd or sacrifice Mubarak.

And so he went.  It all happened, very, very fast.

The Army has bought some time. The protesters have their scalp and the hope is that they’ll go home. The Army’s plan is probably to stack the cards so the transition to democracy is as much in their favor as possible. They also know that now Mubarak has gone, and discussions about the future shape of Egypt are about to begin, the protests, stunning so far in their leaderlessness, are going to need some, but quick.

The Army no doubt relishes the idea of dealing with some US-educated Google executive who lived in the UAE, weeps in public and is married to an American, now being the voice of the Democratic movement. He’d last five minutes, and he’s wisely reluctant to take the reins. They’re even keener on El-Baradei, long time secular resident of Geneva, who’s failed to get the crowd behind him to any meaningful degree and totally lacks a power base. He’s probably the puppet of choice, but it’s unlikely he’s got the chops. So who else is there that’s not the Brotherhood? The answer has to be a fat capitalist member of the business elite. Again, the Army is probably licking its collective camouflaged lips at that one. A technocratic dose of neo-liberalism is probably not quite what the Egyptian street has in mind when they showed up in Tahrir Square.

A full on military takeover is not viable or seen as legitimate (except in an out and out emergency ) so ultimately the Army is going to have to choose a ‘leader’ that is not Suleiman – who has already announced he’s stepping down in favor of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces deal (a name that’s right out of the Military Coup Hall of Fame).

Clearly, Army control is short term, and that’s the way they want it. The last thing the military needs is to actually be responsible for running a poverty-stricken country that survives on tourism, baksheesh and government largesse. Fixing the monumental social and economic problems the nation faces is not in the Army’s manual and never has been. No, they’d rather have some other sucker on the hook for that. And what better way to give that poor schmo legitimacy than to have him, you know, elected by the people.

So what does the Army actually want? Simply put, it wants what it has now. It wants nothing to change. It enjoys tremendous wealth, privilege and power, gets to play with brand new toys like F-16s and M-1 tanks, which, incidentally, don’t actually have to be risked on the field of war. It’s loved by the people and because of the peace with Israel, it can get on with the edifying and decidedly less lethal business of making gobs of money for its officer class through massive involvement in every level of Egyptian economic society. What’s not to like?

And what about the Protesters? What do they want? Well, we’re about to find out that beyond the sacrifice of Mubarak, the various groups in Tahrir Square have precious little in common. But one thing they all want is for stuff to change (in their own very special ways). Of course any change of any kind is exactly what the Army doesn’t want.  Beyond that, there are probably as many visions or Egypt’s future as there are mobile cellphone charging stations in Tahrir Square. And each of the ideas is as charged and potentially dangerous too.

Does the bourgeois elite want Sharia? No way. Does the urban poor want the elite’s economic control and privileges to be maintained? No. Do and old and young see eye to eye? Nope. And guess who knows all that better than anyone? Suleiman and the “Supreme Council”. He’ll exploit those new divisions for all their worth so that the democracy that emerges is weak and fragmented, like the one in Pakistan.

The reason is simple. An ongoing plurality is a disaster for Army power. Divisions are far better, and in a place like Egypt, likely to stifle serious attempts at the very change that Army doesn’t want. I mean, if a plurality called for the peace with Israel to be rescinded, they’d have to go back on a war footing. That would be bad, and what would be even worse is the idea that the military budget could be sacrificed to say, make people’s lives better.

The elephant in the room is Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood knows that economic disaster is its number one ally. The more a national infrastructure breaks down, the more Islam can fill the void. The MB’s offshoot in Gaza, Hamas, plays that card to perfection, as does the Hizbollah in Lebanon, providing its very own “socio-religious contract.”  Egypt isn’t much better off than Gaza, if at all.  That’s good news for the MB but only as long as it doesn’t actually ‘run’ anything with a government seal over its door.

So the MB doesn’t really want power, for the same reason that the Army doesn’t want it. They don’t want to be on the hook, simply because if they were, they’d have to do something. And that’s not easy in a nation like Egypt which is an economic basket case waiting to happen. The last thing the Islamists want is responsibility for that, because it might put a crimp in their popularity. They’d rather pick up the pieces with their Islamic social services after the secular leaders have messed things up. Then they can blame the elite, Israel, as well as the West, and invoke Allah in one fell swoop.

Indeed, staying out of power is probably the only way to keep the MB together. If they won democratic power, they’d have to appease the Egyptian elite and Army which decidedly don’t want Sharia, which would put an end to any upbeat economic prospects in Egypt with all the attendant problems that would cause.  There would also be one other minor problem. If the Brotherhood led a government, their own radical elements would most probably splinter because the beloved Islamic caliphate was taking too long to be forged in the cradle of the Arab world.

Last but not least, spare a thought for the rest of the world.

The authoritarian Arab regimes are all deeply unhappy about developments. At least the oil states can buy off the population. But if that doesn’t work, they do have a problem.

Then there’s the Chinese. That pesky Internet deal certainly worked magic in Egypt, and inflation is on the rise in China big time. Are the cards aligning for a new Tiananmen?

And there’s the West, full of the joys of Spring now that democracy is flowering in Cairo. Except that they don’t like the idea of real democracy, because it’s possible that once the Egyptian people don’t get the economic changes they seek in six weeks flat, they’ll once again turn on their time-honored enemy, the Jews, and demand, democratically, of course, that the peace is rescinded. The last thing the US wants is for its Egyptian Army allies to turn on the Israelis using US hardware. But at the same time, they do not want Pakistan on Israel’s doorstep and have to be seen to be doing the right thing. It’s a most vexing situation for old Barackslider.

All in all, pontificators like Thereisnoplan are having a whale of the time Egypt-watching.


Written by coolrebel

February 11, 2011 at 3:47 am

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