Understanding Egypt’s Historic Moment

Understanding Egypt’s Historic Moment by Steven Cook, Council of Foreign Relations’s Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies.

The uprising in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak and the military-dominated political system he inherited is shaping up to be a seminal event in the region’s history, ranking with the establishment of Israel, Egypt’s Free Officers’ coup of 1952, and the June 1967 Six Days War. Like these events, the revolution-in-the making has the potential to remake Egyptian and regional politics. Although Mubarak seems to be on the ropes, the outcome of the crisis remains unclear. Mubarak continues to control the coercive apparatus of the state–the military, intelligence services, and what is left of the Ministry of Interior and its forces. It is entirely possible that a stalemate between the large cross section of Egyptian society that has come out into the streets and the state will ensue.

To understand the unfolding events, it is important to take note of the following actors:

· The Armed Forces: Much has been said about the military, especially since troops were deployed to Egyptian streets on Friday evening. The senior commanders are critical actors, but it is worth emphasizing that the military establishment is not necessarily a progressive force. Egypt’s military leaders are the descendants of the Free Officers who built the political system over which Hosni Mubarak now presides and as such are committed to its defense. In addition, Egypt’s officers have benefited materially during Mubarak’s rule, enjoying everything from the procurement of advanced weapons systems to personal enrichment. It is possible that the officers could dump Mubarak to save the regime under new leadership rather than to set the stage for a democratic transition.

· The Muslim Brotherhood: The Brothers have been Mubarak’s bogeyman for three decades. The regime has played on the ghosts of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran to stoke the fears of successive American administrations and, in turn, secure Washington’s generous diplomatic, political, and financial support. Yet the Brotherhood has played a largely secondary role in the current uprising, which is broad-based, encompassing virtually all of Egypt’s political tendencies. Indeed, it is the left and liberals who have been driving current events. And while the Brotherhood remains influential and will likely be a factor if Mubarak goes and there are efforts to establish a civilian coalition government, the Islamists are in some ways compromised. They came late to the demonstrations and have a long history of compromise and accommodation with the Mubarak regime, if only to ensure their survival.

Complete article via Council on Foreign Relations


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