Egypt: Mubarab Steps Down, Army Steps Up

I’m not thrilled with the turn of events in Egypt. It appears the army put pressure on Mubarak to step down, and has stepped into his role. Military leaders encouraging him to step down might not be entirely illegitimate. As my friend PJ said, they might simply have said, “It’s our job to ensure security and non-violence, and we can’t do that if you stay in power.” But the fact that a military leader has taken the reins of government looks an awful lot like a coup, especially as the Egyptian constitution apparently specifies that the Speaker of the Parliament is next in line for power.

As with Tunisia, we’re still in a wait and see holding pattern, and I think those who celebrate are rejoicing much too soon. Fortunately Egypt’s military is one of the most professional in the Middle East, has conducted itself up to this point in a manner that hasn’t suggested a desire to take power, and has close ties to the U.S. military, allowing us to apply pressure on that route.

On the other hand, power tends to corrupt, and the U.S. could very well decide that our close relationship with Egypt’s military makes them a very desirable “our bastard.”

Cross your fingers if you don’t need to use them for a while, but don’t hold your breath yet.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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9 Responses to Egypt: Mubarab Steps Down, Army Steps Up

  1. Scott Hanley says:

    If the army had any desire to restore order by shooting down protesters, they should have done it before now. I hope that means they’ve thought it through and realize that, since they don’t want to shoot people, their only alternative is to find some level of appeasement. That seems to be the critical variable in an uprising: will the army shoot? It’s what the Communists did in 1956 and didn’t do in 1989. It looks like the Egyptians really don’t want to do it, which leaves them little alternative than to govern more lightly.

  2. AMW says:

    I share your misgivings about the way Mubarak left. Still, I can’t shake my optimism given the conduct of the Egyptian people in all of this. Also, I’ve heard some commentators note that the high level of conscripts in the Egyptian army gives its officer corps less leverage to wield power against the citizenry. I can’t believe it, but we may have just found a libertarian justification for the draft.

    p.s. “Mubarab“? Dr. Hanley, please.

  3. James Hanley says:

    p.s. “Mubarab“? Dr. Hanley, please.

    -10 to me for not proofreading. I can’t even pretend it’s a legitimate transliteration from Arabic, since there are distinct b and k sounds with separate letters in that language (ba and kaf, which look nothing like each other.), and which actually sound precisely like the English b and k. (Note: Arabic has no “p” sound, so in Arabic, Pepsi is written “bebsi.” But in my experience, most people seem to slide it over towards a “p” sound, if not quite all the way there.)

    On the larger issue, I am still cautiously optimistic. I do think the behavior of the military so far has been a very good sign.

    I’ve been thinking about the issue of conscripts. In Washington Rules, former colonel Andrew Bacevich argues that the non-conscript army of the United States has distanced military culture from the citizenry, and believes that’s a bad thing. That seems logical and lends support to AMW’s hypothesis, which is one my friend PJ and I were discussing yesterday. On the other hand, Chinese conscripts gunned down fellow Chinese in Tiananmen square. (Admittedly, I’ve heard that was done by troops from rural areas with a different ethnic background. But I’ve also heard that China mixes its troops pretty thoroughly to prevent strong ethnic identify within particular battalions.)

    I imagine other autocrats in the region are rather pessimistic. One country overthrowing their ruler is an anomaly, two may portend a trend.

  4. Pinky says:

    I think this is “history in the making” which makes things a little difficult for interpretation.
    From what little I know of Egyptian history, it seems to me the people are pretty well westernized. Yet, that may not be so good for our national interests here in the U.S.A. The Brits apparently did a pretty bad number on Egypt a hundred years or so ago. Is all forgiven?

  5. AMW says:

    Note: Arabic has no “p” sound, so in Arabic, Pepsi is written “bebsi.”

    (Modern) Hebrew has a “p,” but no “j” sound and no “ch.” But Israelis like to use English terms for a lot of things, so they spell “jacket” the equivalent of “gacket,” but put a little symbol next to the “g,” a sort of note-to-self on pronunciation. Similarly, they modify the letter for the “ts” sound for “ch.” So in Jerusalem, Colonel Sanders serves up “Kentucky Fried TSicken.”

    I imagine other autocrats in the region are rather pessimistic. One country overthrowing their ruler is an anomaly, two may portend a trend.

    If you had to guess, who would you say would be most likely to be number three on the list? Based on very little knowledge I’d say Algeria.

  6. Scott Hanley says:

    I imagine other autocrats in the region are rather pessimistic.

    That’s one reason I can almost hope that justice is not done and Mubarak gets away with at least some of his billions. I’d love to send the message that retiring from the dictator career isn’t all that bad and fleeing an uprising is still an easy life.

  7. AMW says:

    Interesting thought, Scott, but I suppose it could go both ways. An autocrat of a sufficiently mild stripe may be able to avoid his people’s wrath if he institutes some meaningful reforms. If such an autocrat sees Mubarak/Ben Ali getting what’s coming to them, he’ll probably want to make such reforms to avoid the same fate. An autocrat whose background is sufficiently barbaric probably won’t get off the hook with reform alone, in which case he’ll probably use any means to stay in power if he thinks the cost of his own ouster is too high.

    Most likely there’s a tipping point at which a regime is in balance between being encouraged to reform and encouraged to suppress based on the average treatment of his overthrown counterparts. The question is, how many regimes in the region are on the reform side of that tipping point and how many are on the suppression side. The answer to that question would help us determine what is the optimal fate of Mubarak and Ben Ali given our hopes for the broader Muslim World.

  8. Matty says:

    Well one thing has apparently changed in Tunisia, the issue that started everything. It is now possible to sell things on the street in Tunis* much more easily.

    It occurs to me now that the role of government regulation of a small businessman like Mohamed Bouazizi in what happened could be linked back to libertarianism. Not that I want to tell you what to write about but it honestly only just occured to me.

    *The link is taken from facebook when I was signed in so I don’t know if it will work as a link from here.

  9. James Hanley says:

    I’d say Algeria seems most likely to be third. But of course that comes with caveats, such as they may be no third, these things are unpredictable, etc., etc. But I just don’t foresee anything happening in the Gulf States or Syria, so I’d expect it to be another country in Africa, in anywhere.

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