Saturday, 12 February 2011

As Mubarak departs, questions about what comes next

Posted by chardyboy on Saturday, February 12, 2011 0 comments

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation from office has electrified a nation and sent political shock waves throughout the region.

But while many Egyptians and much of the world cheered the strongman’s fall, the question remains: Does Mr. Mubarak’s departure ensure a transition to democracy, or has it left behind a people who will wake up to a military dictatorship?
Late Friday afternoon, the longest-serving modern ruler in the Arab world left his palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis for his equally palatial home in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. A crowd of several thousand shouted derisively as a pair of military helicopters carrying Mr. Mubarak and his entourage rose into the sky and flew off to the east. “Leave, leave, leave,” the people chanted.
Shortly afterward, Mr. Mubarak’s newly appointed Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, made a brief statement on state television. “In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” Mr. Suleiman said. “He has mandated the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run the state. God is our protector and succour.”
As Egyptians celebrated loudly late into the night, they applauded themselves and the youthful people-power that made it happen as much as they cheered the departure of a despot.
“This is the greatest day in the history of Egypt,” said Ayman Nour, who was let out of jail just long enough in 2005 to challenge Mr. Mubarak in the country’s only relatively open presidential election. “It will not be repeated.”
Not since 1952 has Egypt had such a celebration. At that time, it was King Farouk and British colonialism that were forced to leave.
“I’m just glad I lived to see it,” said Hisham Kassem, who toiled against the regime’s lack of civil liberties for more than two decades – first as chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, then as vice-president of Mr. Nour’s El Ghad party and founding editor of Al-Masry al-Youm, the country’s only independent newspaper.
As people hurried past the parliament buildings on the road leading to Tahrir Square, epicentre of the 18-day revolution, many paused just long enough to shake the hands, hug or even kiss the soldiers who stood beside the tanks and barricades they had manned for the past two weeks.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” they said, for making their liberation possible.
“The people, the army – one hand.” That was the slogan the people shouted all day, in an appeal to the soldiers to remember whose side they were on.
It is a love affair that dates back at least to the 1952 Free Officers rebellion that overthrew the monarchy.
Earlier Friday, an Egyptian preacher, broadcasting from exile in Qatar, told his many followers – both in and out of uniform – that just as the people had stood by the army in 1952, so too should the army stand by the people in 2011, when another excessive monarchy would be overthrown.
But it is worth remembering, noted a Western diplomat, that it was the army that appointed Mr. Mubarak in the first place, just as it appointed Anwar Sadat before him and agreed on the assumption of power by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954.
“All the people have done here is persuade the army that it’s time to change their choice of 29 years ago.”
“The real work begins tomorrow,” said a business consultant who preferred to remain anonymous. “No one knows what the army’s plan for the country is.”
While no clear statement was issued Friday, the Al-Arabiya television network reported that the Supreme Council will sack the cabinet, suspend both houses of parliament and rule with the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country's highest judicial body.
A spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said the ruling body will not be a replacement for a legitimate government.
Mr. Nour said that, through the revolution, the nation had been reborn and the army understood its mission is to prepare for civilian rule.
Trouble, however, could start as early as Saturday, said Karim Alrawi, an Egyptian playwright who returned to Egypt last month to work for the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
That is when the army is likely to ask the protesters of Tahrir Square to vacate the spot in downtown Cairo that they have ruled for the past two weeks.
“The protesters say they won’t leave until the 30-year-old state of emergency law is lifted,” Mr. Alrawi said. “The army says it won’t lift the law until order is restored,” and that means clearing the square.
Someone will have to blink, he said.
“At that point, I think the opposition may split into those who trust the army and those who don’t. It’ll be interesting to see how the army deals with such a test.”
Will the army really accept any outcome of a free and fair election? After all, it has never done so before.
“Yes, I think it will,” Mr. Alrawi said. “This is a very different country from what it was 60 or 30 years ago.”
“Never before have so many Egyptians stood together this way for a cause,” he added. “This can’t easily be ignored.”
And the military also is very different from the military of the past, he said.
“It’s looking to regain the status that was tarnished during the Mubarak years,” he explained.
“I don’t trust the military completely,” Mr. Alrawi said, “but I believe they favour the Turkish model – the drafting of a new constitution enshrining civil society and what we’d call secularism, and establishing the army as the guarantor of that constitution.”
Celebrants in Tahrir Square weren’t ready Friday night to consider the possibility of the army turning against them.
“We trust the army and we trust that this will be a good step,” said Waleed Rashed, a member of the April 6 youth group that figured prominently in the uprising.
“We hope things will be better.” If they are not, he said, Egyptians now know the way to make them so.


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