Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt: Stability in Exchange for Compromises

By Mohammad el-Ashab
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 13/02/2011

It was quite astonishing to see President Hosni Mubarak praise the uprising of the street that continued to demand his head, even when he gave up all of his prerogatives and handed them to his deputy, Omar Suleiman. Perhaps it was the first time in the history of uprisings that turn into revolutions where a regime went beyond forgiveness, to arrive at expressing understanding and support.

It was enough to cement the belief that the raging public in Tahrir Square had entered a state of confrontation and hostility vis-à-vis this regime, to begin negotiating over stability with a series of compromises that were not possible at first. This time, control over timing was lost, to the degree that the boldest of reform initiatives were categorized as useless.

Perhaps it was a veteran military official who said that merely pointing at Mubarak’s medal-strewn chest would be rejected, realizing that pointing a finger could lead to being pushed over, then brought down. The pilot Hosni Mubarak failed to notice that the weapon of bringing down his plane would come from the virtual world of the internet, which made a dream into a reality, in a manner that resembled a most unexpected scenario. However, recognizing the legitimacy of the demands of the street was insufficient to deter the crowds that edged toward burning everything in their path. Step by step, the regime retreated, even though the simplest military principles indicate that evacuating Tahrir Square would be a prelude to a defeat, if no alternative strategy was devised.

The source of the problem is that the method of negotiations was unequal. Those camped out in Tahrir Square were helped by the fact that they had no leaders, no symbols, and no calculations. Even those who rode the wave were leaving a margin for reconsidering any results they would achieve. Everyone was a prisoner to the street: the ruling elite, the partisans of the revolution, and the military, which stood in the middle, preserving its reputation and safeguarding its position, without bearing any scars or other criticism.

This was a different kind of revolution. It did away with the notion of the individual hero, just as it was able to exert its control over everyone. Meanwhile, the regime that was forced to negotiate with the protestors was unable to rid itself of the traditional manner of managing conflict. Nothing can defeat regular armies in wars more than a guerrilla war. Nothing can encircle regimes more than the occupation of the street, which leaves no room for maneuver.

From the outset, the polarization was unnatural. The army was protecting the demonstrators, and the revolution wanted to bring down the regime. All of the civil and military institutions were a part of this regime, which entered intensive care in the final defeat. The president resorted to acknowledging the legitimacy of the revolutionary demands, while it was obvious that he had been unable to carry them out earlier, when a fragile stability was looming on the horizon. He could have taken the initiative to reduce some of the excess weight of the ruling National Democracy Party, which had grown in relation to its exploitation of power. It was possible for him to discuss amending the Constitution and setting a limit to all of the dangers. Good governance is the art of anticipating events and not falling pretty to them, which leaves no room for catching one’s breath.

What befell the Egyptian regime, to see it forget itself and let itself be cornered? Egypt is still itself, and its capabilities to achieve the aspirations will not be increased by the revolution; financial obligations cannot be rolled back even more. Socio-economic problems cannot be solved with a magic wand. However, there are always solutions for problems, no matter how intractable they may be. Among the most achievable is the matter of having integrity, the justice of equal opportunity, and the symbolism of participation in decision-making, even though the choice in Egypt is one of worse and even worse.

No one noticed the issue of patience running out. Egypt was concerned about its role, which involves strategic motives. It has offered much to the Arab world, while forgetting to take care of its own concerns. However, the angry street did not notice this role, which was obscured by socio-economic problems. Now, attention must be paid to the concerns of the public, which is seeking dignity, while leaving behind roles that have become too difficult to re-assume, since concepts, and developments, have changed on the ground.

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