Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt in a new critical stage

Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

February 10, 2011, Palm Beach Gardens



Today, Mubarak shocked his people by refusing to step down. There had been strong evidence that the hated president was ready to resign. Dictators do not exit gracefully.

The ailing president spoke to a despising audience with a patriarchal tone. As he announced his partial transfer of power to the vice president, his people lost patience, but not discipline. The mood of the crowds swiftly changed from celebration to rage.

Reflecting on the rapidly changing scene in Cairo, Professor Shibly Talhamy made a profound statement on Rachel Maddox‘s MSNBC talk show: If the demonstrators “win peacefully”, this would be “Bin Laden’s nightmare”. If they lose, “it would be our nightmare”. Most Arab analysts view Egypt’s revolution as a powerful pilot for political transformation. Ben Laden believes violence is the way to reform.

The longer a tyrant stays in office, the more he drowns in a world of denial. Mubarak has lived for thirty years in a perceptually sanitized environment which feeds him disinformation to suit his fancy. It is amazing how Mubarak is unable to sense that his time is over. The president’s defiance and demeanor today illustrates the extent to which Arab society has, for generations, let rulers dismiss the collective power of citizens and underestimate their intelligence.

The awakening in Cairo looks irreversible. Egyptians plan tomorrow to be a decisive day for ending the power of Mubarak.

How the army behaves in the next few hours will be critical. The army has been neutral so far. But as the crowds gain confidence, some elements may be provoked. The army, for example, may be tempted to prevent demonstrators to symbolically occupy strategic state institutions. A military crackdown could easily turn into a bloodbath. Should the army use force against demonstrators, it will poison the precious spirit of this revolution.

Egypt depends heavily on tourism. The country cannot wait too long to return to normalcy.

In a day or two, we will know where the military stands. The men in decorated uniforms have to choose between supporting political reform and preservation of a demoralizing status quo.

In the Arab world, officers and generals live a privileged life, do lucrative business and build fortunes. But at this advanced stage of the revolution, the military are not likely to be the spoilers of reform. Currently, all eyes are on the officers as they affect history.

The days of Mubarak are numbered. How graceful will his exist be?

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