NIGHTWATCH on Egypt: Five Epiphanies

08 Wild Cards, Ethics

Egypt: Today was the day of Epiphany. In Tahrir Square, the atmosphere changed from euphoria to fear in less than 24 hours. The anti-government demonstrators were outnumbered and surrounded by pro-Mubarak supporters, trapped. They discovered that Army tolerance of their street displays also extended to the pro-Mubarak activists. The Army showed that it was strictly neutral, supporting neither side. Soldiers said they had no orders to move. This was the first epiphany.

There were four others.

The second epiphany was that the anti-government demonstrators were, in fact, not an outpouring of universal opposition to the Mubarak regime.

Many everyday people will be harmed by the end of the Mubarak administration. Mubarak extended and expanded the patronage state. The prospect of its disruption, even, would harm tens of millions of Egyptians. The Western media narrative of a nationwide uprising for increased political freedom derived from the activism of 250,000 people in Tahrir Square has proven to be flawed if not outright false, a story for entertainment news.

The youth of Cairo do not like Mubarak, but no news service has explored just what they prefer. Nor have any attempted to learn what the other 80 million Egyptians prefer. Mubarak apparently knew that when he refused to step down.

One press report stated that the incongruous images of men on horses and camels riding through Tahrir Square showed irate workers from the pyramids whose livelihood depended on tourism, which the demonstrators had wrecked. Actually, that account is more credible than that of a nationwide uprising for voting rights based on the actions of the youth of Cairo.

The third epiphany is that Mubarak has flushed out his opposition. Readers may be confident that the secret police have photographic images of every protestor in Tahrir Square. That is no longer a technological challenge.

The fourth epiphany is that pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak activists both look to the Army to stabilize the situation. The Army got what it wanted from Mubarak and is now living up to its promises and responsibilities. It is in control now.

The Army and the Ministry of Defense called on the anti-Mubarak activists to leave the Square, early on 2 February. The open source reports indicate the violent, pro-Mubarak men showed up in force when the anti-government demonstrators ignored the Army's orders. They still labored under the misperception that Army inaction was Army sympathy or support.

The fifth epiphany is that the Army has not sided with the anti-government demonstrators. It appears the Army tolerated and used the demonstrations to ensure no dynastic succession. Every Egyptian leader since 1952 has been a military officer. The Army's action protected that precedent. The Army all along appears to have acted in pursuit of its own parochial interests, which are negative towards Gamal Mubarak as the next president, but positive towards letting Hosni Mubarak serve to the end of his term of office.

One well informed, Brilliant Reader suggested that the next leader of Egypt will be announced this week, after Friday prayers. He is the Chief of the Armed Forces Staff.

What seems to have happened. A crackdown by pro-government proxy forces and secret police occurred on 2 February. The Army got what it wanted and will now proceed to clear Tahrir Square. Having satisfied the Army on the issue of succession, Mubarak has found a line he can hold so that he will make no further concessions.

Everything now depends on the actions of the army. In the NightWatch instability analysis, the onset of violence, precisely like that seen today, indicates a convergence towards power sharing. The government is attempting to prevent any further transfer of power to the opposition.

The opposition has been swelled by the infusion of power. It has obtained international legitimacy, because el Baradei is its spokesman. It is trying to hold its ground. It does not have legitimacy in Egypt necessarily and might not even be pro-democratic, despite the uncritical adulation of the American press. Some significant elements of the opposition are pro-Sharia, anti-US and anti-Israel.

The violence means that the pro- and anti-Mubarak entities are converging. Convergence is always violent because both sides seek to use force to achieve political dominance. Neither wants to share power.

If the Army stays neutral, some form of power sharing will be negotiated by el Baradei and Vice President General Omar Suleiman because the regime will have lost its guns. If not, the Army will clear the Square, indicating the guns remain loyal to the President.

The NightWatch prediction is the Army will clear the Square before Friday prayers. If that occurs, it will confirm that the Army has taken control of the government but is keeping Mubarak as a figurehead.

If that does not take place, the next phase of unrest will occur in which the uprising evolves into a movement for systemic change, also known as revolution. The Army collapses and every one from the Mubarak era runs for the exits.

Egypt-US: For the record. An Egyptian official remarked on 2 February that there is a contradiction in U.S. demands for both an orderly transition of government and for President Mubarak to step down immediately, The Associated Press reported. The official also said that Mubarak's decision not to seek re-election in September was not a result of pressure from the United States.

Comment: No matter the outcome in Egypt, Egyptian leaders will not trust the US. They will take US incentives, but they will never consider the US a reliable ally, paraphrasing an Israeli Ambassador today.


Phi Beta Iota: All of the above is most thoughtful and worthy of reflection.  It is with sadness that we reflect on the raw bottom line: the USA is an inconsistent unreliable force for democracy–it equivocates and its foreign assistance programs as well as its military-industrial complex are lack integrity in the holistic sense of the word.  The Army in Egypt is the force to be reckoned with in part because the guns and the cash come from the USA.  If the USA were to be a moral force, a peaceful force, implementing Ambassador Mark Palmer's ideas on eliminating all 44 dictators, it would be a force for good.  Madeline Albright got it right in her memoires: our government consists of gerbils on wheels completely lacking in strategic intelligence or fundamental ethics.  Good people trapped in a very ignorant dysfunctional bureaucracy in which American values and the public interest have been completely isolated from the ways and ends pursued by the government “in our name.”

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