January 30, 2011
With Egypt falling into complete chaos during the last few days as a result of a massive popular arising against President Hosni Mubarak the atmosphere is quite tense. The current uprising, if successful, will certainly reserve a name alongside the key uprisings in Egypt’s modern history such as the Urabi revolt of 1882, the Dinshaway incidents of 1906, the 1919 revolution for independence, and the 1952 overthrowing of the monarchy, which ushered in Egypt’s most charismatic and popular leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1971). Since then, Egypt has seen only two leaders: Anwar al-Sadat (1971-1981), who was assassinated, and the current leader Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled undemocratically for the last 30 years. Therefore, if we place this uprising, or intifada, in a historical perspective, it seems likely that the Egyptian people will persevere and Hosni Mubarak’s time is in its last days, and within weeks or months will no longer be Egypt's President.
All knew that Mubarak fell ill during the last year, and despite his age of 83, he has come back resiliently. However, clearly his country is not in a “healthy state” and his people have become fed up with a leader that on one hand spoke as if his country was democratic but on the other hand rigged elections. Where he allowed much more freedom of expression than the other Arab dictators, such as the Assad regime in Syria, the recently ousted Ben-Ali regime in Tunisia, or the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a relevant political voice was left only within the corridors of his corrupt National Democratic Party (the headquarters which were burnt down last Friday evening).
Undoubtedly, Hosni Mubarak can mark successes in his early years of rule with Egypt technologically moving forward and marking great gains in terms of infrastructure. However, the economic gains would remain among a small class of businessmen leading to corruption and a huge lower class suffering from widespread poverty and frustration. This was exacerbated by a population boom which has brought Egypt’s population to over 80 million, with 33% under the age of 15, and my estimation of at least 50% being under 25-30 years of age, with the median age being 24 years old. Meaning, the majority of the population has never known any other leader than Mubarak and his ailing regime.
Internationally speaking, Mubarak placed himself as one of the main clients of the US in the region and has upheld close relations with many of the Arab countries and Israel. In my opinion, no leader in the region has worked harder to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. It needs to mentioned that while many are quick to criticize him and other “moderate” Arab leaders, this is at the expense of equally undemocratic regimes such as Iran (whose oppostion was silenced by Ahmedinejad in the 2009 elections), and Syria. It is for this reason that Israel is certainly concerned about what the future holds; however, let us remember that this uprising has little to do with Egypt’s regional role, and the likely candidates who might take the reins of the state know that first and foremost he will need to work hard at securing major economic reforms.
It seems that if Mubarak stepped down now, transferred the control of the state to the army, or called for new and free elections and removed his candidacy, he could at least save a large part of his bureaucracy, the honor of the army, and to some sense his legacy. Clearly, if he does not act soon he is risking plunging Egypt into a even more chaotic state than it is now and will face violence which his regime will not be able to withstand for an extended period of time.