Friday, February 11, 2011
Egypt embarks on new path, will other Muslim nations now follow?
Early this week, it appeared as though Egyptian President Mubarak would weather the previous 13 days of protests. He had agreed to leave at the end of his term in September, his heir apparent son would not take his place, a Vice President had been appointed, some significant pay raises were announced, a leading protester was released, and restrictions were relaxed on internet use.
By mid week, however, the force of the protests reasserted itself. Vice President Sulemien make some provocative statements verging on threats when urging life to return to normal which were not well accepted. Upon his release, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who had vanished nearly two weeks ago while taking part in early demonstrations then regalvanized the protest movement by calling for Mubarak's immediate departure.
By Thursday, protests were spreading once again to cities beyond Cairo, and scattered strikes at industrial facilities were popping up. Rumors swept the huge Cairo crowd that Mubarak would announce his resignation that evening, but instead, expectation turned to outrage when Mubarak came on state television with a hard line stance saying he would not resign till his term ended.
Friday's crowds of infuriated protesters swelled early after Friday prayers, filling the streets, then showing up at Mubarak's residence and parliament buildings. In the afternoon, Mubarak announced his leaving the capitol for a stay in his summer residence in Sharm el Sheikh, presumably another step to prevent his very presence from acting as a focal point.
It is most likely that sometime in the afternoon, the military leadership came to accept that he was a liability rather than an asset (to their own position), and by the end of the day, Mubarak had resigned. "President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down and has handed power to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces," Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on state radio and television. Within a few hours, Al Arabiya television reported that Egypt's higher military council will sack the cabinet, suspend both houses of parliament and rule with the head of the supreme constitutional court,
One can rejoice with the crowds to see a strongman leave after years of oppression. As one observer noted, it was not Iran leading the movement, nor the Muslim Brotherhood, but a highly diverse mix of common people saying "enough." And while Mubarak provided stability, moderation and pragmatism in foreign affairs, he and his governing elite ruled roughly and enriched themselves immensely.
So ready or not, the next chapter begins. Assuming a calm of sorts will now return, the pedestrian questions surface as to how will the September elections be managed, or will they occur sooner. Who will emerge as potential candidates, and how will the military govern in the interim.
Yet within an hour or two of Mubarak's resignation, statements from Hamas, controlling the Gaza strip between Egypt and Israel, and other Islamic hardliners surfaced, suggesting that in the aftermath of the immediate overthrow by the people, broader religious and geopolitical maneuvering will come hard and fast.
The Hamas statement, issued by spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, declared that this is "the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution." He immediately called the new Egyptian leadership to lift "the siege on Gaza," and open the Rafah crossing to allow boats to enter Gaza. "Gaza is as happy on this day as the Egyptian people, because Mubarak was the main responsible for the siege on Gaza and plotting with the attack against us."
Also within hours, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Habib Mohammed, spoke to a Lebanese television station, stating that "Mubarak's resignation is proof of the fall of the American-Zionist project. Mohammed promised that Egypt is now beginning "a new era."
The fallout of two Arab national protests resulting in leadership change in the first 41 days of the year are unprecedented. There was just cause, and the common people have a reason to rejoice. But the ripples are still spreading.