This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 05/02/2011
There isn’t a more accurate description of the political situation in Egypt today than that of an earthquake, and we will pass through a post-Mubarak-era whether he resigns or remains in office until the end of his presidential term. However there is a reality taking shape on the ground [in Egypt] and this is something that could impact the world at large.
There is an Arab silence in place [over what is happening in Egypt], except for some allies of Iran who later returned to this silence in fear of what could possiblly happen should the demonstrators in Cairo be successful, and which could affect them by reviving the spirit of protest in Tehran once more. There are also international concerns which are clear to see from the extent of the American confusion in how to deal with what is happening in Egypt; the Americans are extremely concerned by this for it has vital national interests that could be dramatically affected.
Many questions are being asked [with regards to the situation in Egypt and its repercussions], however these can only be responded to with conjecture. Questions such as; which direction is Egypt heading in? Will the efforts of the [Egyptian] youth be hijacked and will we see Egypt being governed by the Muslim Brotherhood? Or will these protests be hijacked by the army, once more, with Egypt moving towards true dictatorship, losing what it has achieved politically, not to mention economically? Or rather, will Egypt drown under the weight of its problems and withdraw into itself for a time? Or will it become a truly democratic country, witnessing political and economic growth, and thereby gaining a genuine regional role once more, dispelling the fears of the country's collapse at the hands of Islamists?
These are all good questions that rob the sleep of those in the region, both friends and enemies, as well as the international community at large, particularly the US. Internationally speaking, these are the first Arab demonstrations that have not seen the burning of Israeli or American flags, or the chanting of international political slogans. This is a national call demanding internationally recognized values, such as justice, democracy, self-rule, and an end to corruption. What is clear is that the West, and particularly the US, is powerless to do anything, for the wave [of popular anger] is greater than they expected, and the winds of change are blowing quicker than Washington's ability to react. This is evident in the large number of statement being issued from Washington, for the US continues to be powerless until now.
Politically speaking much will depend on what happens in post-Mubarak Egypt, especially regarding regional states' foreign policies, particularly those of regional powers. Egypt is a strategic ally of Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf States, not to mention Jordan and other regional countries. Egypt is also a strategic ally of the West. Egypt is very influential [in this regard], even on those regional countries who oppose its [foreign] policies, despite their claims to the contrary. For example, Damascus – as we see it today – would be unable to tolerate a truly democratic Egypt, whilst it also would not be able to tolerate an Egypt under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, as in this case, Damascus would be forced – if it wanted to co-exist with Cairo – to offer significant concessions. The Syrians will also pay the price if Egypt gets engulfed by chaos, for this may lead to disorder that would see Israeli intervention, and this is something that would have dire consequences.
Therefore, the scene is uncertain everywhere that we look, and everything depends upon what will happen in Egypt in the next hours, days, and months. No party is able to influence the situation there – or at least influence it in a positive manner – and the only true influence remains in the hands of Egyptian intellectuals.
Will this transformation occur calmly without the country sliding into the depths of the unknown?