As glad as I am that Hosni Mubarak is gone, and as happy as I am for the Egyptian people, I can’t help but think that the road to democracy is still long and perilous, riddled with potholes, and – hardest of all – unmarked with signage. Yes, Mubarak has fled, and good riddance. What about Vice President Omar Suleiman, the CIA’s go-to guy for extraordinary rendition? So far his role is unclear, but at least he did not take the reins from Mubarak. And thank God, because he is a torturer. The fact that he’s “our” torturer makes it sicker, not better. But though Suleiman is still on the scene, he’s not running the show. Power is held by a military council.
What comes next? I have zero expertise on Egypt; I’ve just been reading and trying to learn from those who do. But at least two people with a real clue see reason for hope.
Paul Amar at Jadaliyya argues that the military council favors stability. He sees a merging of the military with “national capitalism” in opposition to the neo-liberal cronyism espoused by Mubarak. Amar is reasonably optimistic that the sheer amount of energy in the youth movement, in the internationalists and pro-democracy forces, will prove tempting to the military leaders, opening possibilities for real democracy.
KufiGirl, an American Ph.D. student now in Boston with experience living in Egypt, explains that the army’s leadership was by far the least-bad option. It avoided a Tiananmen-style bloodbath while removing Mubarak from power and clearing the way for new leadership untainted by association with the old regime. KufiGirl makes the important point that in most military coups, the army actively seeks and seizes power. That’s not what happened in Egypt. The army had leadership thrust upon it with the consent of the people. Like Amar, she, too, is hopeful:
Most importantly, the Supreme Council is a group, not a person, and it has no political ambitions the way a single individual would. They announced this morning that they would be meeting the demonstrators’ demands, including the formation of a transitional government and holding free elections to form a civilian government. They also said they will honor all existing international treaties, including peace with Israel. Of course these may be modified by whatever new government comes in, but it’s a positive sign for now because it shows the military understands its place isn’t to be making political decisions.
It’s still a long road to true democracy, which is so much more than just “free and fair elections.” After 30 years of brutal repression, civil society will need a chance to grow and flourish in Egypt. That doesn’t happen overnight. But the Egyptian people are demanding real democracy. They deserve democracy. I am humbled and inspired by the words of this protester, who spoke on camera in the early days of the uprising, when every outcome – including the worst – was still possible.
I wonder how many of us US-Americans would be so brave, so willing to risk all, in defense of democracy? I honestly don’t know if I could do it. But we are not called upon to risk our lives in Tahrir Square. We face no real danger if we protest the gutting of civil liberties and the coddling of dictators like Mubarak. The rule of law is under siege in the U.S., but it is still intact enough that we can defend it loudly and without fear of reprisal. Shame on us if we instead choose silence.
Update, 2/13/11, 7:45 p.m.: Corrected to note that KufiGirl is not Egyptian but has spent time living there – thanks, KufiGirl, for the correction in comments!