Change in Egypt

The situation in Egypt post-Mubarak is very fluid. The Egyptian military has dissolved parliament and suspended the Egyptian constitution. This is a partial concession in the face of street power. The military has decided to stay in power for another six months or until the next elections take place. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik will remain the caretaker premier. Mr Shafik seems to be a trusted civilian of the army. It is not yet clear whether Mr Shafik is acceptable to the protestors too, but Egyptian opposition figure, Ayman Nour, said that the military’s statement is a “victory for the revolution”. If the elections take place as planned in September and a civilian government comes to power, the immediate demands of the Egyptian people would be met. Goodwill for the military is still there but if the interim period continues for more than six months, the Egyptians might lose patience with the military just like they did eventually with Mubarak.

The Egyptian military is extremely powerful and has been in power one way or the other since 1952 when it ousted King Farooq in a bloodless coup. The army, through its ups and downs, has been an ally of Israel since the 1979 peace treaty. After Mubarak’s resignation, the military reaffirmed its commitment to all international treaties. Egypt has played a rather conniving role in maintaining peace with Israel at the cost of the Palestinian movement. This move is not very popular with the people of Egypt. What if the protestors on the street now ask the army to change its posture vis-à-vis Israel, especially when it comes to policing the Palestinians on the Gaza border for the Israelis? Chances of a conflict between the army and the people are high under such circumstances. If the military does not want to fall foul of the people, it would be better if it played the role of the ultimate arbiter from behind the scenes and let the democratic process take its course by appointing a civilian acceptable to the people to oversee the transition.

The Israelis and the Americans are obviously happy with the Egyptian military command but the jury is still out if the armed forces would relinquish power so easily. The Egyptian people have shown great resolve and proved to the world that a non-violent movement can also bring about change. The situation can turn bloody if the military does not satisfy the demands of the people. The international community must support the people of Egypt who have lived under a tyrant for the past 30 years and now want their rights.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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