06 February 2011

Live From Tahrir Square

My college roommate was born in the US and lives in London, but his parents were Egyptian and he still has family in Egypt. On February 2, he flew to Cairo to join the demonstrations. Today he flew back to London. Here is his email from Tahrir Square. He makes one invaluable point that we don't see enough in the media: a dictator is a person, but a dictatorship is an institution. Getting rid of Mubarak would be historic but is not, in and of itself, democracy. If the institutions of dictatorship sacrifice Mubarak to save themselves, nothing permanent has been gained.

Three exhilarating days in Cairo but tomorrow I have to go home to my other life.

It feels like years of history have been written in a super short period. Certainly, a country that had been stuck in a multi-decade statis has been thrust through a time warp where massive and unpredictable changes are coming fast and furious.

Just 12 days ago we weren't sure if the rumors of 90,000 possible attendees at the first demonstration would turn out to be true. I was wondering if they were throwing a big party that nobody would turn up for, again.

Then we had a massive turnout - and then over and over again until the regime's first then-shocker of a concession: the full cabinet dismissal. Then the formerly powerful (and highly feared and loathed) Minister of Interior Habib Adly gets a travel ban and has his personal assets frozen. Boom.

Then a promise by Mubarak not to run or to allow his son to run. In the old world, this was huge. Then today more former ministers under investigation and a shuffle and dismissal of senior party hacks.

However momentous these gains are - they never would have happened in the previous period of stasis - they are fragile and easily reversible. Even while in disarray, the regime is playing a rope-a-dope strategy with the demonstrators, offering one sacrificial lamb after another in order to preserve itself and peel away their coalition.

It seems likely that they may even throw Mubarak himself under the bus.

Even if they do that, the gains of the past 12 days will remain at risk for as long as the continuing government (interim, transitional, or otherwise) is dominated by people like Omar Suleiman other bloody-handed members of the old regime.

Consolidating Egypt's transition to democracy is not just about removing Mubarak.

The leaders of Tahrir posted six additional demands on their massive eight story banner yesterday: repealing the emergency law, amending the constitution, appointing independent trustees for state-owned media, dissolving the sham parliament, accountability for the violence and death, and accountability for the stolen wealth.

These are smart demands. If implemented, they make back sliding or reprisals by the 'new' post Mubarak regime virtually impossible. Stopping now, with Mubarak still in place or nominal changes in the remaining regime members could well be a recipe for the cold arm of reprisals and maybe even a bloodbath.

I hope the rest of the world keeps watching. These dignified people are fighting to restore their people's freedom and they deserve all our attention.


erp said...

They also deserve our support, but in the end, it's very likely the Islamists will take over and impose their will in Egypt and elsewhere in the Moslem world -- just like the Bolsheviks took over the revolution in Russia.

Maybe this time with the help of the electronic media, there will be happy ending.

Harry Eagar said...

Funny, that point is prominent in today's NPR coverage.

An even more critical point, in my opinion, is the necessity for an organization -- a party, club, guerrilla band, sodality, whatever -- to be available to supply the democrats in the new government.

An undifferentiated mob of would-be democrats will never spontaneously organize into a functional democracy.

The MB is about the only nationwide club in Egypt, and it is antidemocratic. Therefore, whatever happens, it won't be democracy.

erp said...

Harry, on that we can agree.

Hey Skipper said...

Therefore, whatever happens, it won't be democracy.

Not as we recognize it, but I bet it won't be what the MB wants, either.

Unless one thinks Arabs are stupid -- I don't -- then they are bound to have taken on board Iran's theocracy and Iraq's communal slaughter.

Which leads to another bet: In the not too distant future, 2010 will be seen when the war on Islamist terrorism was, for all intents and purposes, won.

Susan's Husband said...

I wouldn't go with stupid, but I would bet on ignorance. First there is the general poverty, and second the active effort by most (all?) Arab governments to perpetuate that ignorance, particuarly with regard to external politics. Egypt is still mostly rural and that's where you see a lot of support for the Caliphascists, if not the MB in specific.

Just consider Afghanistan, where the Taliban (who are worse than the Iranian mullahs or the MB in Egypt is likely to be) still have a lot of support.

heagar@aloha.net said...

It's interesting to consider what Muslim Arabs know.

Most seem to accept as accurate reports that Israelis take organs from living Palestinians and sell them.