Egypt remains convulsed by massive popular protests after President Hosni Mubarak sought in vain to appease the opposition. The police have melted into crowds or holed up at risk for their lives and the once-feared Interior Ministry is under siege. Army troops on the streets of Cairo reportedly have bonded with the massive crowds and appear to be respected, in contrast to the thuggish police. President Mubarak, who dismissed his cabinet yesterday, today appointed a vice president for the first time in his 30-year rule, Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
The army, which always has been the backbone of the regime, remains the single most coherent force in the country and will attempt to restore order and help create a new political superstructure. Negotiations probably are underway to ease the passage of the unpopular President out of the country, if only as a contingency plan. The protesters are unlikely to accept the attempted handoff of power to Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s close ally, and will continue agitating for a new government to fulfill their demands for freedom, democracy, increased subsidies for Egypt’s huge population of poor and unemployed citizens, and a myriad of other demands.
No government will be able to satisfy the pent up demands in all these areas, particularly if the rule of law is not restored quickly. And then the question will be what law? The Muslim Brotherhood is sure to insist on imposition of the Sharia and the jostling for power in post-Mubarak Egypt, which has already begun, will intensify. The demands for increased government subsidies, continued disorder and an uncertain political situation will set back Egypt’s economy, discourage foreign investment and make it harder to finance Egypt’s huge national debt.
Such economic trends, higher food prices and a backlash against the Mubarak regime’s backers, particularly the United States, will help create a super-charged atmosphere that will favor radicals, especially Islamists, over moderates. When the revolution starts devouring its children, the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to emerge on top.
To help the Egyptian people build a more hopeful future, the United States can do little but to encourage a quick restoration of political calm, reduce loss of life and a peaceful transition that would improve the chances for the establishment of a free and prosperous Egypt. And once a new government emerges, Washington should continue its aid only if that government respects the rights of its own citizens. Only such a government could be a true ally in the war against Islamist terrorism.
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