This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 13/02/2011
Egypt is already different from other countries in the region. In the middle of the capital people are celebrating, taking pictures and eating sweets. This scene is not unusual after the military announces the regime will change. It calls for optimism and contemplation in the near future. Here in my head I have many questions regarding the largest Arab state.
We could argue for example: Did President Hosni Mubarak step down two weeks too late? Or was it seven months too early? His exit, in any case, was inevitable since his first speech [during the crisis]. Yet more important than Mubarak is the future of Egypt, who will govern it and how? Because we do not know the answers, we will scrutinize the questions, bearing in mind that there is too much involved to completely cover in this column.
Will it be a comprehensive military rule for several months until the next presidential elections, and is it likely that these will be accompanied by parliamentary elections? This would mean comprehensive changes at all levels of government.
Or, will we see military rule for a few weeks, during which powers will be transferred to an interim civil governance council?
Will the military play the role of the state guarantor, on the grounds that the military institution has been active for half a century, up until the night of Mubarak's exit? Or will we now see the end of the military era, in addition to the collapse of Mubarak's regime?
Will Tahrir Square's protestors continue to be a factor dictating the formula for the coming transitional phase? Will they be resolute? Or are these young Egyptians now tired? How will others deal with the revolution, namely party forces with experience and clear projects?
Will the victors agree and continue along the same course? Or has their common cause ended with the overthrow of Mubarak, and they will now compete in the post-Mubarak era?
Will we see a leader among the youth movement becoming a key player? It was this youth movement that was behind Egypt's revolution, yet the problem is that it is an army of ants, without a clear leader.
In terms of administration, do not forget that the Egyptian state is a huge system of bureaucracy, which usually functions in a semi-autonomous manner. Will it be able to continue without clear leadership? And for how long?
Will the immediate leadership face security problems, now that most figures of the former regime have been overthrown, and how would it deal with such problems if they occurred, especially in remote cities?
Will there be a campaign of revenge? Would the army be able to quell this? Or will they choose to sit in their tanks until matters on the ground are resolved?
Tunisia, to some extent, came out of a difficult situation by transferring power whilst maintaining the structure of the regime. Will the Egyptian leadership choose military rule, civilian, or a mixture of both, to maintain the regime? Or will they leave it to collapse?
Finally, and most importantly, what will be the nature of the forthcoming governing figures, will they be military or civil? Will we see a leader in Cairo who can heal wounds, such as Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa to liberation? Or will we see a divisive figure such as Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution?
Once we know the next leader or leaders, the features of Egypt's crucial phase will begin to emerge. I know that Egypt is not Iran, and that the Mubarak regime was not the Apartheid system, but no one can ignore the enthusiasm of the revolutionary masses, and the impact of individual and collective leadership in such circumstances. All this depends on the personality of the leader, and the extent to which he wants to eradicate the legacy of the past thirty years.
In terms of foreign affairs, will Egypt's compass change direction towards another camp, that of the revolutionaries? Or will it remain with the moderates? We must not forget that Sadat left the Soviet alliance to join the Westerners, in a personal decision, and in doing so changed history.