Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Egyptian regime's days may be numbered

The popular uprising in Egypt is showing every sign of success. The fact that it has not been crushed so far is a very positive sign for those who hope to see democracy take hold in America's Arab allies. Gwynne Dyer sums it up pretty well:
By 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon (January 28), the protesters in central Cairo were chanting: “Where is the army? Come and see what the police are doing to us. We want the army.” And that is the main question, really: where is the Egyptian army in all this?

Like armies everywhere, even in dictatorships, the Egyptian army does not like to use violence against its own people. It would much rather leave that sort of thing to the police, who are generally quite willing to do it. But in Alexandria, by mid-afternoon on Friday, the police had stopped fighting the protesters and started talking to them. This is how regimes end.

First of all the police realize that they face a genuine popular movement involving all classes and all walks of life, rather than the extremist agitators that the regime’s propaganda says they are fighting. They realize that it would be wrong—and also very unwise—to go on bashing heads in the service of a regime that is likely to disappear quite soon. Best change sides before it is too late.

Then the army, seeing that the game is up, tells the dictator that it is time to get on the plane and go abroad to live with his money. Egypt’s ruler, Hosni Mubarak, was a general before he became president, and he has always made sure that the military were at the head of the queue for money and privileges, but there is no gratitude in politics. They won’t want to be dragged down with him.

All this could happen quite fast, or it could spread out over the next several weeks, but it is probably going to happen. Even autocratic and repressive regimes must have some sort of popular consent, because you cannot hire enough police to compel everybody to obey. They extort that consent through fear: the ordinary citizens’ fear of losing their jobs, their freedom, even their lives. So when people lose their fear, the regime is toast.

From the Georgia Straight. This may well turn out to be the start of a wave of uprisings across the Arab world, much as the uprisings throughout eastern Europe in 1989 heralded the end of Soviet communism. Interestingly, though, the western powers have been a bit leery about endorsing it. Harper, for instance, is described as "cautiously" supporting the protesters, and this cautious support might well not have happened if he hadn't been caught by surprise by the whole issue. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back away from this stance, especially in light of what the Americans are saying:
Ahead of a day that could prove decisive, NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has "come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?" Biden answered: "No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some... of the needs of the people out there."

Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
From the Christian Science Monitor. Funny, I thought the criteria for calling someone a dictator had to do with whether they were responsible to the people, not whether they serve the geopolitical interests of the US. One does wonder, though, how said geopolitical interests will be affected by this, especially if other dominoes in the area (such as Saudi Arabia) start to fall.

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