Saturday, February 5, 2011

It's All Over....

Never ones to lose heart, Egypt's pro-democracy protesters have called today's rally in Tahrir Square the 'Day of Departure'. And as the crowds gathered after Friday prayers for another push to get President Mubarak to leave office, there was a growing sense that they might be about to get their way.

The army presence is stronger, but reports suggest the soldiers are there to protect the protesters against further attacks from the thugs on horseback who wreaked havoc on Wednesday.

Speaking to the ABC reporter Christiane Amanpour on Thursday, Mubarak said he wished he could go now, but felt bound to stay on to save Egypt descending into chaos and the country falling into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This threat, of course, is nothing new - it's exactly what has kept Mubarak safe in his job in recent years.

As with any other dictator, it is the fear of what will happen without him, as much as any regional peace-keeping favours he can do for the West, that keeps him in power.

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood will almost certainly not be running this secular country the moment Mubarak's plane leaves the tarmac has not stopped the embattled president keeping up the pretence.

Overnight, the New York Times has reported that the White House is still trying to bend Mubarak's arm and make the 'Day of Departure' a reality. Their proposal, according to the NYT, is for Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to "a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military".

So far, the White House has neither denied nor confirmed the report, but it sounds about right.

However, The First Post's commentator Alexander Cockburn has made the point persuasively that the US authorities know Omar Suleiman only too well, and for all the wrong reasons.

As Mubarak's intelligence chief, Suleiman was pivotal to the US torture and rendition programme. On one infamous occasion, when overseeing the torture of Australian national Mamdouh Habib, Suleiman ordered a guard to drag in a shackled Turkistan prisoner and murder him in front of Habib.

At least Suleiman would only be temporary under the Obama plan, until free and fair elections can be organised in September. But that is eight very long months away and the need for change is immediate.

One of the best articles on the unfolding Egyptian story I've read in recent days is by the Arabist Nadim Shehadi, for the Chatham House think tank.

Shehadi makes these two points among others: First, dictators, unlike democratically elected leaders, rely on their legitimacy, which they must maintain all the time. "Once this fallacy is exposed, down goes the regime."
Second, the protests in Egypt and elsewhere are probably a ripple effect that began with the fall of the statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Witnessed on television across the globe, it "broke the taboo of regime change, showing that the mightiest of dictatorships look pathetic after they fall".

It also showed that life can go on when their regimes fall, whatever they might have threatened while in power.  Hence the twitchy behaviour of other leaders in the region in recent days: King Abdullah II of Jordan dismissing his government, the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowing not to stand again after 2013, and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria promising to lift the state of emergency imposed way back in 1992.

Shehadi concludes: "What recent weeks have shown is that the stability of authoritarian regimes is an illusion; once you can contemplate life beyond them, they have already collapsed."

Read more:,news-comment,news-politics,mubarak-and-egypt-dictatorships-end-once-the-illusion-is-broken#ixzz1D4Utbz67

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