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Egypt: The People Force a "Coup"

 17 February 2011

By Yisarel Ne'eman

There are many who would like to categorize the recent events in Egypt as a revolution.  At the moment this socio-political event does not fit that definition.  Revolutions begin with the ouster of the old regime – one on the verge of collapse.  The old regime is financially, politically and socially corrupt and has lost all moral authority and legitimacy.  In the case of this specific leader and his close confidents, President Mubarak fits the bill; however this is a far cry from the removal of the entire ruling class.

Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman and the ruling clique originate from the military and security forces, a well respected institution in Egypt and the only trusted arbiter over the past three plus weeks of protest.  The police were seen as adversaries and defeated early on, but the army was welcomed as a savior.  Chief of Staff General Tantawi effectively rules from Cairo today even if he is promising more freedoms, talking democracy and said to be organizing for free and open elections.  Whether such will be the case in a half year or so needs to be seen.  In the meantime the situation is much closer to that of a palace coup, even if the players are not genetically related.  Mubarak & Co. were products of the military and although having begun a second career as politicians, Egypt remained very much a praetorian state and continues to do so, the process having begun in 1952 with the Free Officers overthrow of the King Farouk's monarchy.  What Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser began continues until today and lest we forget the revolt began in January of that year, due to economic distress, lack of hope and an intense dislike of the British who ruled in the Canal Zone at the time.  Ironically, the British attack on a police station along the canal was the spark that led to the overthrow of the regime half a year later.  The 2011 demonstrations began on Jan. 25 or Police Day exactly 59 years later but this time the police were identified as the oppressors.

Many of those in the very top political and economic echelons will be forced to flee and lose their property to some form of nationalization but these very wealthy power brokers will be replaced by those just below them on the socio-economic scale.  Tantawi and the high ranking brass can easily move into powerful political positions, at least temporarily.  Economic assets, once nationalized, can years later be sold on the open market in a move towards privatization and capitalization.  Certainly in a declarative manner all the public will have the right to acquire properties, whether these be state infrastructure or private enterprises.  The aspiring upper class and upper middle class will be the only ones able to afford to purchase stock in such companies.  The same ruling class will exist, only the names will change.

Most likely the regime will be forced to give way to more democracy and freedom of speech, if only temporarily.  Much of this depends on whether the new military leaders prefer a quick return to the barracks or are becoming imbued with their new found authority and are considering a long term political career.  Often at the outset the military does not want to rule directly, however with the accompanying powers once in office many generals become adverse to relinquishing authority.  The military is held in very high regard in Egypt, and although Mubarak and associates were discredited, the military suffered no damage and even gained from their intervention as the only institution capable of mediating an end to the "crisis".

Three weeks later the GDP is down billions of dollars and none of Egypt's problems have receded, but rather the opposite, they are now worse.  What has changed is the feeling of hope and the belief that freedom will allow for determination of individual and national destinies.  People power toppled those at the tip of the pyramid and a spirit of liberty is sweeping all.

Yet this scenario took place when Nasser rose to power and consolidated his position by 1954.  The Free Officers throughout the years suppressed the opposition, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Marxists, two groups originally supporting the 1952 revolution.  In particular the Brotherhood took it in the neck with jailings and executions - democracy did not ensue.  At the moment all are supporting the popular revolt, it remains to be seen what the military will do, how much democracy will be allowed and if there will be fully free, open and democratic elections.  Assuming the last option, would the military accept an electoral outcome not in their own interests?

Of course there are differences.  There is Facebook, Twitter and a more educated youth generation.  But that does not make everyone necessarily democratic.  A well educated young army officer may want the present system to persevere while a technology savvy youthful Muslim Brotherhood member will not necessarily support secular democracy – more likely he will seek solutions through Sharia Law.

Technology brought together people faster and more efficiently but in the aftermath of Mubarak's removal the question still remains as to who in the opposition will force major societal change.  Certainly there will be a shift but will the military remain the traditional power broker as it has been for the past six decades?