11 February 2011

A New Era In Egypt

"President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of the republic and has assigned the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run the affairs of the country," Suleiman said. "May God help everybody."

While Egyptians applauded themselves for toppling Mubarak, his fate was sealed by the military, whose leaders had promised not to use deadly force to put down the rebellion.

Earlier in the day, Egypt's military chiefs said they would guarantee a transition toward "free and honest" elections. But Suleiman's statement left unsaid how that would work, and who precisely would take charge in the interim.

In a televised statement Friday night, the military pledged that it would not act as a substitute for a "legitimate government" following Mubarak's resignation and would take steps to meet the people's aspirations. Reading the statement, a military spokesman praised Mubarak for his contributions to Egypt and hailed protesters who have died in the anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces includes the top service commanders led by Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, the armed forces chief of staff.

From here.

Thursday night, Mubarak, the 82 year old man who had been dictator of Egypt for thirty-one years pledged to stay in office until regularly scheduled elections in September, something that the Egyptian military had reaffirmed that he would do Friday morning. But, when this, along with Mubarak's appointment of a Vice President after leaving himself without a successor for years, and Mubarak's pledge that his son would not run for President after him fell flat, the military apparently intervened, got the newly appointed Vice President to announce a "resignation," and shipped Mubarak and his wife to a resort as close to the Saudi Arabian border as one can get without leaving the country. Eighteen days of street protests, triggered by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, had secured a new regime. With Mubarak finally gone, the crowds were pleased for once.

Mubarak is gone, not only because the people rose up, but because the Army refused to back him up any longer. When the protests began, police killed several hundred protesters. But, the Army refused to fire on its own people and got the police to back off as well.

Recent Political History In Egypt

Egypt's recent political history can be summed up as follows: Egypt, then a tributary state of England under King Farouk (England became its colonial ruler in 1882 and granted increased independence in stages in 1914, 1922 and 1936) declared independence in 1951. King Farouk was ousted in an uprising in 1952 that left Lt. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser in charge, a position that was ratified in a democratic process thereafter. Under Nasser, from 1958 to 1961, Syria and Egypt were joined in the short lived United Arab Republic from which Syria seceded. Nasser's Vice President, Anwar Sedat replaced him when he died in 1970. Sadat was assassinated from Muslim extremists in the Army in 1981 when he was replaced by Hosni Mubarak who was in turn replaced today. No Egyptian leader in living memory has ever left office voluntarily or via a democratic election.

But, there is good reason to be optimistic and believe that the military junta in Egypt will promptly hold free and fair multi-party elections, that democratically elected representatives will form a civilian government in Egypt, and that Egypt will start to have a Western style parliamentary republic with an Islamic flavor. There is also good reason to expect that in the short term, that the new civilian Egyptian government will be too preoccupied with domestic affairs to consider international military adventures such as threats to Israel.

Eygpt is not the country that it was when Mubarak seized power three decades ago. It has a military more interested in running its business ventures than fighting foreign wars, so long as domestic tranquility can be maintained. Like many nations in the developing world, it has not been so closed that its people are unaware of what kinds of governments and political developments prevail in the larger world, its businesses are actively engaged in foreign trade and millions of Egyptians work abroad where they have experiences that they can relate to friends and family when they come home. Unlike some countries in the region, Egypt has a genuine middle class that gives it economic clout apart from oil revenues. Egypt has lacked free and fair elections, and it has faced strict state of emergency restrictions on political activity for a very long time, but despite those limits, a vigorous civil society has developed. Many of Egypt's senior military officers, through exchanges begun after the Camp David accords in 1979, have spent time in the United States mingling with American military officers. The protests that brought down the regime were facilitated, in part, via Facebook and were triggered by widely available news coverage on networks like Al-Jazzeria, of the uprising in Tunisia.

One party rule may have seemed like a pretty good idea at the time when it became the norm in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere across the non-monarchies of the region. It may even be that truly democratic parliamentary democracy was an unrealistic expectation at that point. One party rule was working in the Soviet Union and China, and it wasn't yet clear that the leaders of the one party states would themselves be entrenched indefinitely. But, by the time that Tunisia set off the current round of democratic uprisings, this form of government had been discredited after decades of experience in newly independent nations around the world. Muslims in Turkey, Albania, Iraq (and before that, Iraqi Kurdistan), Palestine, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Jordan and Iran were all trying to conduct at least partially democratic government with at least intermittent success. Certainly, the notion of a Muslim nation with a parliamentary democracy was no longer considered an oxymoron.

What Next?

The Egyptian Army's best model may be Turkey, where the military sees itself as the guarantor of a secular, democratic state and has been successful more often than not.

I expect that the civilian constitutional order that comes into being in Egypt won't be a very creative one. The Army and civil service will probably continue uninterrupted. The restrictions on civil liberties imposed via "emergency rule" during Mubarak's regime will end. The existing non-democratically selected President and parliament of Egypt will probably remain, but with multi-party democratic elections (modeled on the proportional representation systems found in most of the world rather than the two party single member ditrict system of the United States) and somewhat different respective powers.

What About Israel?

Egypt and Jordan have both committed to making democratic reforms, although the extent of these reforms in each nation is still in flux. This may make the time ripe for rethinking the relationship between the Israel, the Palestinian territory of Gaza, and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, each of which have weak civilian elected self-government.

Revelations from Wikileaks show that Israel is not really interested in a peace deal with the Palestinians, rather than the other way around as conventional wisdom had long held. What Israel does need is a guarantor that the Palestinian territories won't be used as based of operations for attacks against it. Prior to the latest reforms, Israel has relied on Jordan and Egypt to be neutral towards it and prevent undue smuggling across the border, and the monarchy and dictatorship in these nations respectively have not made them very attractive regimes to the Palestinians. But, should Jordan and Egypt become successful functioning democracies, there may be room for a win-win-win solution if the West Bank merges with Jordan and the Gaza Strip merges with Egypt.

Jordan and Egypt both have regimes that are more competent than either of the Palestinian territories, and hence more able to suppress attacks against Israel from those territories than the current regimes in Palestine, and Jordan and Egypt both have more of an interest in doing so than the Palestinian territories standing alone. As democracies that actually work, Palestinians may now find their neighbors more desirable political entities to be a part of than their own marginally democratic and incompetent locally elected governments. Links to these nations would make possible the levels of trade that would allow the West Bank and Gaza to have functioning economies; something that is impossible in embargoed international aid supported states. Also, Jordan may be better able to negotiate Israeli withdrawal from its West Bank settlements and better able to protect that territory from further Israeli encroachment than a semi-sovereign autonomous Palestinian government within Israel. Jordan and Egypt would each gain territory and people, the classic measures of sovereign clout. Also, from an Israeli perspective, while Middle Eastern historical memory may be long, an end to a distinct Palestinian political entity recognized on the international scene may eventually defuse Palestinian nationalism - a generation from now, the children of today's Palestinians may seem themselves as Jordanians and Egyptians respectively.

Some Recent History of Coups

Military coups, which is what the events in Egypt amount to so far, however, characterized, are neck and neck with elections as the most common means by which countries secure new leaders in most of the world. Sometimes they support popular uprisings against dicators, sometimes they suppress democratic governments.

Coups have been the norm for Egypt's neighbors not fortunate enough to have monarchies. Libya's current leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi seized power in a coup in 1969 and is still in power there. Syria's Baath party took power in a 1963 coup, in a regime that installed Hafez al-Assad as President in 1971, a post he continued to hold until his death in 2000 when his son Bashar al-Assad succeeded him and remains in power today. In Sudan, a revolutionary council declared independence and installed Gaafar al-Mimeiry as President until he was replaced in a 1985 coup, followed by a 1986 democratic election, followed by the 1989 coup that installed its current leader General Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir. Algeria won independence in 1962 with a democracy that lasted until a coup in 1965 that installed Houari Boumedienne who ruled until his death in 1978. Demonstrators with Army support backed a coup in Ethiopia that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, with succession handled via coups and uprisings until Ethiopia's first multi-party general elections in 1995. Iraq's King Kaisal was killed in a 1958 coup, after which the Baath party gradually gained control' Saddam Hussein became President as the Baath party leader and ruled Iraq as a dicator from 1979 until 2003 when he was deposed in the U.S. invasion.

Coups aren't so far in the past even in Europe and the developed countries of Asia.

Portugal has a military coup in 1974. Spain has had continous democratic government only since 1977 and had a coup attempt that was put down by King Juan Carlos in 1981. Greece had a coup in 1967 and Cyprus had one in 1974. Turkey had coups in 1960 and 1980 and the military remains a powerful political force there, primarily as a guarantor of secular government. The military attempted to remove Mikhail Gorbachev in a coup in 1991, which was foiled with the help of Boris Yeltsin.

South Korea's initial authoritarian leader, Dr. Sygnman Rhee, installed in 1948 was forced out by an uprising in 1960 which was followed by a 1961 coup that installed General Park Chung Hee who retained power until he was assassinated by the chief of the Korean CIA in 1979 when a military coup installed General Chun Doo Hwan, the head of military intelligence, and he ruled until pro-democracy demonstrations in 1987 pushed him to conduct democratic elections that installed his ally Roh Tae Wood. Chun and Roh were convicted of mutiney, treason and corruption in 1996, after Roh was replaced in a new election in 1993, but were pardoned in 1997.

Indonesia won independence in late 1949 and elected President Sukarno in 1950; he suspended parliament in 1960, made himself President for life in 1963, thwarted an attempted coup in 1965 and was forced out by the Army in 1967 when General Suharto took power and ruled for the next thirty one years. Protestors ousted him in 1998, and his Vice President ran democratic elections that installed a successor in 1999. The new President was impeached for corruption and incompetence in 2001 when Megawati Sukranoputri, the daughter of Sukarno became Indonesia's President. She was replaced by a retired general, Susilo bamabang Yudhoyono in a democratic election in 2004. Indonesia's two successive democratic elections makes it arguably one of the most democratic predominantly Muslim nations in the world.

Bangladesh, after securing independence from Pakistan in 1971 had a coupl in 1975, an unsuccessful coup that caused the death of the incumbent President in 1981, and a military backed caretaker government in 2007, interspersed with democratic elections.

After being separated from India in 1947, Pakistan had a coups in 1977 and 2001 which put president Musharraf in place, after which he ruled until a threat of impeachment by parliament led by his assassinated political opponent's widower (who herself was the daughter of the President who was outsted in the 1977 coup and executed by that regime in 1979) ousted him in 2008.

Of course, the historical record makes clear that many coups, even when fueled by popular uprisings, do end up evolving into new dicatorships, even if ratified in genuine democratic elections the first time around. But, given that the alternative had been a likely transfer of power to Mubarak's son in an emerging monarchy, it is a risk that it is worth Egyptian's effort to take.

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