Saturday, January 29, 2011

Big Trouble on the Nile

Just take a second to let 2 simple facts sink in and you might get a sense of just how sick modern Egypt is, all under the watchful eyes of the American hegemon.

1. Ever since the day Husni Mubarak ascended to power a bit more than 29 years ago, the entire country has been under emergency rule. In fact, Emergency Law (under which the constitution has been suspended, many political parties outlawed, and censorship imposed) has been continuously in effect (with one short hiatus) since 1967, going back through the rule of Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar al-Sadat, and his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser. But back then, Egypt was not an American satellite. Back then, of course, Egypt was in the Soviet sphere of influence. Superpowers come and superpowers go, but the last 60 years of Egyptian rule have been predicated on the Egyptian military and the absence of constitutional law, out of which every single modern ruler of Egypt has emerged.

2. Ever since Husni Mubarak ascended to power a bit more than 29 years ago, until today, there has never been a Vice President of Egypt, and no clear line of succession was ever enunciated for Mubarak's Egypt. It kind of made sense for Mubarak to have it this way - keep all the politicians and generals guessing, and make your personal "pragmatic" rule indispensable. Today, fully in keeping with the tradition of modern Egyptian politics, Mubarak grudgingly made a vice-presidential appointment in the form of Omar Suleiman, a military leader and intelligence master spook. Whatever hopes Husni had for grooming his son Gamal for succession probably went down the drain yesterday during a 30-minute phone call with the Oval Office. Suleiman has some kind of international gravitas, and has been Egypt's principle diplomatic contact with the West, with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and with Israel. Unfortunately, every diplomatic deal Suleiman has shepherded, whether it is between Hamas and Israel, or Hamas and the PA, has unraveled. Still, can't blame a guy for trying. Hell, there's even an archive video of Suleiman shaking hands with Israeli Shas leader Eli Yishai in Jerusalem. If Mubarak, in what might be his last days or months in power, wanted to signal international acceptability and strategic continuity for what will come the day after, the appointment of Suleiman makes the outside world breathe a bit easier. But it is unlikely such an appointment will stem the popular domestic clamor for Mubarak's own political departure.

So take a second to assimilate these two simple facts: modern Egypt has known military strongman after military strongman in an environment of massive political repression for six uninterrupted decades, and until today had gone three decades without a Vice President.

I'm reminded of the moment Walter Cronkite shed a tear on American national television for the assassinated Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. The American media mourned the sudden departure of Sadat, characterized as the brave and visionary peacemaker of Camp David, while Egyptians more likely shed tears of joy at the violent departure of another tyrant. In Sadat's place came a cautious but similarly brutal military henchman. There will be those who cry today for the "stalwart American ally in the Middle East" Husni Mubarak, fearing that what is transpiring today in Cairo is more akin to Tehran 1979 than Tunis 2010. I'm no Egypt expert, but I think the glib predictions that the devil you know is certainly better than the devil waiting-in-the-wings are unfounded. The likely outcome of this widespread upheaval, the likes of which Egypt has not seen since the bread riots of  1977 (a much bloodier moment for a far stronger Sadat), will be more military rule in civilian garb. Neither Tehran 1979 nor Tunis 2010, Cairo won't turn to Islamists or to civilian politicians - instead it will turn to its generals for the umpteenth time. The Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak legacy will in all likelihood march on.

1 comment:

  1. It seems now that I got this all wrong in the concluding paragraph