The Egyptian Revolution- continued

30 January, 2011

I’m continuing my analysis of ongoing events in Egypt, as a lot of important stuff continues to occur.

1. Mubarak’s “new government” is very, very telling for a number of reasons. The pick of Omar Suleiman as VP is significant because Mubarak never once picked a VP in his 30-year reign. Picking a VP could be an indication of Mubarak eventually stepping down while allowing the NDP to retain its power. Suleiman is also the head of Egypt’s intelligence service and a military man, fluent in English and generally regarded as highly intelligent. He was also the architect of Egypt’s brutal crackdown on domestic jihadists during the 1990s, and a critical liaison for the United States’ “extraordinary rendition” program- the highly controversial means through which captives apprehended by the CIA were shipped to Egypt for interrogation (read: torture). Suleiman’s pick serves two purposes: first and foremost, it ensures Egypt’s military will enjoy the best seat at the table, as Suleiman will surely be extraordinarily receptive to their interests. Secondly, Suleiman has proven himself to Mubarak’s backers, namely the US and Israel, as someone who won’t rock the boat vis-a-vis the longstanding but unpopular peace with Israel and a reliable partner in US counterterrorism efforts. In the big picture, these may seem like myopic appeals for support, but a large part of American and Israeli foreign policy is based around those two tenets.
2. Much like the regime it wants to bring down, the opposition is making its own case to the military and the international community as to why it’s a better bet than the other guys. Yesterday, Mohamed El-Baredai gave a speech in Cairo’s Tahrir Square calling for the protesters to maintain momentum, and the whole of the opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood, threw their support behind him. El-Baredai, although controversial amongst Egyptian activists for spending years at a time abroad, presents an excellent figure for the opposition: a liberal, highly educated, cosmopolitan Nobel laureate with years of experience in international diplomacy. The Brotherhood’s support of El-Baredai is also a strategic move- it’s meant to demonstrate to Egypt’s army (who have had an uneasy and at times violent relationship with Islamists within its ranks as well as within Egyptian society at large) and the international community that an Islamist takeover of Egypt is unlikely to occur. The opposition’s support of El-Baredai likely is a calculated move that wasn’t developed in a vacuum.
3. The army’s allegiance still remains the single most critical factor in determining Egypt’s future. Earlier today, the army announced that it wouldn’t crack down on protesters during the Feb. 1 “Million Man Marches” in Cairo and Alexandria, citing their legitimate (or “lawful”, depending on whose translation you go by) demands. While it’s encouraging that the army has no intention of replicating Tiannamen Square in Tahrir Square, the critical test will occur if marchers decide to attack the Interior Ministry or the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis. The army no doubt understands that Mubarak is a liability not only to the military’s status but to the nation as a whole. His days are numbered, whether his ouster comes at his own choosing or by the opposition. The military is most likely waiting to see who has the high ground after tomorrow before it acts decisively on behalf of either side.
3. The US continues to find itself in a bad position, although the State Department’s rhetoric has shifted. On Friday, DoS made calls for restraint by both sides- the classic non-response which equals “we haven’t figured out where this is going, so please ask us later.” Now, DoS is calling for a “peaceful transition.” This essentially means that State is preparing for Mubarak’s unscheduled ouster in a matter of days, or for his willing departure from office within the next 10 months. Regardless, it demonstrates that State also recognizes Mubarak’s regime is entering its endgame- the language used is meant to be an equivocal message to the opposition as well as the existing government offering tacit support to whoever wins in exchange for regional stability.
4. One way or another, the end is in sight. It is unlikely that the military will allow a prolonged period of civil conflict to persist, as Egypt has already suffered huge economic losses and an immense loss in stature since this began. I believe that the Egyptians are not irrational zealots who would sacrifice the nation to save the state, and we are fast approaching the point in which a decision must be made.

I have much more to say on these subjects, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll close things off here. Expect more commentary at the end of the day tomorrow. In the meantime- yalla Masr!

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