Friday, February 11, 2011

Exit Mubarak

By Roger Cohen from Cairo
This commentary was published in The New York Times on 11/02/2011
The city is erupting. Honking and cheering fill the great metropolis from Tahrir Square to Heliopolis, from the banks of the Nile to the Pyramids. A ground-up leaderless revolution led by young Egyptians has driven Hosni Mubarak, the man who ruled with an iron fist for 30 years, from power.
After all the words and all the contortions and all the behind-the-curve contrivances of an Arab dictator confronted by a movement he could not comprehend, the finale was brief: “Hosni Mubarak has resigned as president of the republic and assigned the governance of the country to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”
The statement was read by an ashen-faced Omar Suleiman, the vice president and longtime henchman of Mubarak to whom power was handed Thursday night before that power passed to the army.
Faced by the communications generation, a movement of Internet-linked 20-something Egyptians demanding the right to speak freely, Mubarak proved himself to the last to be the great non-communicator. Anyone wanting to teach a course in 21st-century politics should begin in Egypt, where the power of real-time flat Web-savvy organizations over ponderous hierarchies has just been illustrated.
What course the Egyptian armed forces will take is unclear, but their sympathy with the cause of the uprising — or at least their determination not to fire on the people and to defend the nation rather than a despot — has been evident from the time of the first big demonstration on Jan. 25. A communiqué issued by the military’s Supreme Council before Mubarak’s resignation said it was “committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people” in pursuit of “a free democratic community.” It spoke of the “honest people who refused corruption.”
At last, it seemed, an Arab people — long trampled-upon, long subjected to the humiliation of non-citizenry in a state without laws — stood front and center. The Arab world has awoken from a long conspiracy-filled slumber induced by aging despots determined to keep their peoples from modernity.
We in the West have often asked ourselves why a Middle East peace was so elusive. Perhaps we should have conceded that the building blocks we were trying to use were rotten to the core and we had been complicit in that rot.
Almost a decade after 9/11, the event that signaled the devastating gulf that had grown up between the West and Islam, this is a day of hope for millions of young Arabs and for the world. Egypt’s revolution comes hard on the heels of Tunisia’s and inevitably poses the question: which wizened specimen from the Arab Jurassic Park is next?
Democracies take time to build, but once built, as Europe illustrates, they do make meaningful peace with one another. To state the obvious — although it’s not obvious to some — there is nothing anti-democratic in the Arab genome.
Mubarak’s Thursday speech, in which he tried to cling to de jure power, was a surreal exercise in political deafness: you don’t say you’re going by listing what you plan to do. As a senior Western diplomat said, “He never understood.”
The U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, has been in regular contact with the Egyptian defense minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, since the uprising began, urging restraint and the pursuit of a democratic transition.
I understand that the Egyptian military, which receives about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. aid, has repeatedly conveyed the importance it attaches to the American relationship and its determination to do nothing that would jeopardize the bond. All that American money — tens of billions over Mubarak’s rule — does appear to buy at least a professional army. The supreme test of the investment now comes.
The revolution was everywhere Friday, seeping out of a packed Tahrir Square like a dam breaking. The presidential palace was besieged, the state television building surrounded. In the Nile Delta and in Upper Egypt, unrest engulfed provincial towns. Until, in the early evening, the end came.
Before Mubarak’s resignation, two possible routes to a free election had been put forward. The first was embodied by Suleiman. It involved cleaving to a terribly flawed constitution conceived for a dictator and revising it along guidelines set by Mubarak in one of his parting acts.
That course always looked hopelessly flawed to me. One problem was the credibility of Suleiman, a security chief responsible for his share of torture and killing. How far could Mubarak be from the scene as long as Suleiman was guiding the process? What sense would it make to submit a revised constitution to a parliament picked in a rigged November election?
Now the way is open to the much better course proposed by the Nobel prize-winning opposition figure, Mohamed ElBaradei: the establishment of a presidential council including a military representative and two respected civilian figures to set in motion the drafting of a new democratic Constitution and free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections within a year.
It’s will be a tough road after almost six decades of dictatorship, but Egyptians have shown the depth of their culture.
Mabruk, Egypt!

No comments:

Post a Comment