President Hasni Mubarak of Egypt thought someone said “sit down” not “step down,” and in an alarming development apparently sat on his pet asp, a poisonous snake best known for taking the life of Cleopatra. Reporters were unsure if the ass biting incident with the snake happened before the press conference convened. Mubarak appeared tired and his face looked like crate paper, as if he had been recently preserved for dead, but his slurring and lethargic speech, while defiant, also was largely unintelligible. These unconfirmed rumors of poisoning were widespread. “Lots of mumbling,” an unnamed Mubarak aid mentioned in passing. “Are you kidding me,” said a military official. “It’s a regular Weekend at Bernie’s around here!”
In a televised address to the Egyptian nation, President Hasni Mubarak is refusing to step down despite weeks of protest that has brought the world’s most populous Muslim country to a virtual standstill. Even though the writing is on the wall that his reign of terror has come to an end, Mubarak’s stubborn refusal puts the personal ambitions of a man before the security and prosperity of an entire people.
His announcement means two things: protestors will continue to resist Mubarak’s decision with even more fierce determination than before, while the military will mobilize to quell more unrest. This will lead to more conflict and violence in the streets of Cairo and around the nation. The ensuing bloodshed will be on the head of Mubarak. His unwillingness to listen to the people of Egypt means effectively that his regime will have to be toppled by violence. Even worse, it could lead to a military coup as the army leadership looks for ways to bring security to Egypt with as little bloodshed as possible.
President Obama should demand the immediate resignation of Mubarak for the sake of keeping the peace, and for the sake of regional stability. The people have spoken. Mubarak must go, and if he does not Egypt faces the real threat of collapsing into political violence, revolution, and military dictatorship if he does not heed their will.
The New York Times, NPR, and the AP are all reporting that President Mubarak will address the nation in what many are anticipating will be his resignation speech and transfer of power to a provisional government ahead of political elections scheduled for the fall. This occurs in the wake of a pubic announcement by the head of the armed forces that the Egyptian Army is prepared to take over the government and ensure law and order during a transition of power.
After 17 days of peaceful protests, street clashes, and strikes, the people of Egypt have spoken to power and, it turns out, transformed their former dictatorship into a fragile democracy. The Middle East will never be the same. What this shows above all else is that the political fate of the Muslims in the Middle East is their own, and they are free to take it.
While many have expressed worry about the potential for Egypt to backslide into anarchy, or develop into a religious dictatorship like Iran, there are strong indications that a broad coalition government will be able to cobble together a democratic union that includes the left-wing workers’ parties and the right-wing Muslim Brotherhood. This is a historic moment for Muslims around the world as well as democratic politics.
Along with Tunisia’s recent ouster of its long-term dictator, as well as the promise of Yemen’s President not to run in reelections, the overturning of Mubarak’s brutal regime means freedom in the Middle East can be achieved without wars of intervention, a lesson the U.S. needs to absorb and motivate changes in its deeply flawed foreign policy in that region and around the world.
Today in Egypt is a historic day for what is, in the end, an inevitability in the Middle East: more democracy as Muslim citizens everywhere, tired of decades of oppression in the wake of post-colonial compromises, upset authoritarian regimes and replace them with what are sure to be shaky coalition governments and troubled politics. But at least it’s democracy in more familiar form.
Egypt has been a largely stable but troubled nation since the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981 by members of the Islamic extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood. The fatwah approving the assassination was issued by the radical cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, a man later convicted in the US for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mubarak was vice-president at the time and injured in the attack, and his regime came under critical international scrutiny in the aftermath of the assassination for human rights violations, including torture of suspected extremists.
Mubarak’s era of political repression in the early 80s also produced the future grand-master flash of global Islamic terrorism, Ayman al-Zawahiri—better known as Osama bin Laden’s right hand man. It is no secret that many of the mujahadeen fighting in Afghanistan, first against the Soviets and later against the US, were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were dislocated from their own country only to wage new wars against the infidels, only now globally.
This is a historic day for democracy because the uprisings in Tunisia and now Egypt are now prompting citizens in all Muslim countries to evaluate the conditions of their political oppression more openly. The consequences of this are uncertain and the forces of reaction will use all of their powers to maintain the status quo, but the fact remains that people are on the streets and this is always a good thing for the spirit of democracy.
After the huge democratic protests swept away the remnants of its decades old authoritarian government Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” has inspired the largest protests in history in other Muslim countries suffering under the choke of dictatorships such as that of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
The protests are sure to inspire other democratic movements across the Middle East to demand government reform, free and fair elections, and more social and economic equity. In Tunisia, the protests were largely sparked by the ongoing economic recession and the lack of jobs. This underscores an important dimension of Middle East politics often lost in the squabbles over what to do about US support for authoritarian regimes such as Mubarak’s, which have played a vital role in sharing intelligence and suppressing global terrorism.
What is great about these protests is the chance they afford for ordinary Muslims in those countries to realign their governments through largely peaceful, democratic protest. This also creates an important opportunity for the US to transform its support of repressive governments in the Middle East in order to accommodate these democratic movements. Both sides can be winners here.
However, the forces of reaction are already gathering, especially in Egypt where the Mubarak regime has enjoyed almost total power for the last 30 years following the assassination of President Sadat in the late 70’s by the Islamic fundamentalist group, The Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters in that country demanding Mubarak’s resignation are being tear-gassed and beaten with truncheons, signaling the cold hard truth that sometimes to win the battle for democracy violence must be met with more resistance.
The democratic protests in Egypt received a boost on Wednesday when Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize returned to Cairo on Thursday. News agencies today are reporting he has placed under house arrest. Now that the democratic movement has a leader with outstanding democratic credentials, there may be a chance to topple the Mubarak regime or reach a power-sharing agreement of some kind.
Here are some pictures from the protests: