We haven’t seen something this fun since Iran in 2009. Man, that was a while ago…
Egyptians, emulating the Tunisian uprising from earlier this year, are protesting failed economic policies, inflation, and government corruption. They call for the removal of President Mubarak after 29 years in power.
So far, they have achieved the replacement of the Presidential Cabinet, but the demonstrators have yet to be satisfied with this outcome.
Similar political protests throughout history have resulted in the use of force against civilians. Mexico in 1968 and Hungary in 1956 being excellent examples of violent government repression of the people.
However, recently the world community has seen a number of relatively peaceful government overthrows. The bloodless coup in Tunisia is the most recent example. Going further back into history, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw relatively little bloodshed, and the same can be said of Poland’s transition and Hungary’s Velvet Revolution.
While there have been some clashes with police forces, the military itself has said that it will not be using force against the protestors, respecting “the rights of the people.” This is good news for the moment, as it rules out Egypt turning into a blood bath.
So what happens next? All signs point to the military wanting to control the security situation to the best of their abilities, which will ameliorate widespread violence. It appears that the people support the military, given the cheers for tanks appearing at protests, and vice versa.
If the military maintains their current stance, we will be watching what would most likely be a peaceful transition to a democratic government. At this point, it would appear that the military’s loyalty lies with the people, but that could but that could change very quickly. Widespread repression is still a rather scary and definite possibility, however unlikely it seems.
Mohamed ElBaradei has emerged as one of the prime leaders of the opposition. He wants to run a transitional democratic government, and has been widely endorsed by many opposition factions to become their negotiator with the present government in facilitating the transition.
Mubarak has avoided conflict with Israel during his tenure, and had been a rare friend of the United States and the West in the Middle East during the Cold War and the current era. Him leaving power may scare the United States, but this is exactly the moment the US has wanted, if you believe the long-running rhetoric of any President since Woodrow Wilson.
The fears that Islamists take over Egypt are overblown where they exist. The largest religiously motivated group is the Muslim Brotherhood, who in the last election won 20% of the seats in Parliament despite being a banned party. The Muslim Brotherhood’s long running rhetoric makes Western analysts fear their ascension to power.
Islamists taking over in Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine have been both major annoyances as well as legitimate threats to the United States. However, ElBaradei has said of the Brotherhood “[they have] nothing to do with the Iranian model, has nothing to do with extremism as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religiously conservative group. They are a minority in Egypt." If El-Baradei’s analysis is correct, there is no reason to fear their inclusion in a democratic government.
Tunisia and Egypt are doing what the United States tried to force Iraq to do in 2003, democratize. Taken with events in Iran in 2009, the Middle East seems to be slowly starting the long process of democratic transition. If the West wants true democracies to flourish in a region long known for political instability, then they’ll have to acknowledge the reality that hardline Islamists will take power.
However, there’s no reason to think that any of these countries is incapable of becoming a secular democracy like Turkey. This has long been the goal of US foreign policy for the region, and will continue to be for some time. Yes, Jihadists will hold office in many of these countries, but that’s part of democracy. Even in the “free world” there are hardliner extreme groups in positions of power that the collective would rather not have. It’s always been part of successful democracies, and always will be.