Sunday, January 30, 2011

Analysis of the Egyptian Revolution

     Egyptians are revolting against the regime of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, who had been Vice President, became President of Egypt after the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 by Islamists, during which Mubarak was wounded.

     Mubarak’s rule is a continuation of the dictatorial regime founded when Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the king nearly six decades ago. Nasser was more tyrannical than Mubarak, Sadat less. Mubarak has long feared that if he loosened authority, the Islamists would assassinate him like they did Sadat, or that he would lose power to the Islamists like the Shah of Iran did in 1979 after the Americans had urged him to liberalize his country.

     A number of factors have combined to threaten Mubarak’s regime. Egyptians, understandably, have grown intolerant of nearly thirty years of oppression and resented his apparent grooming of his son to succeed him, as if he were a pharaoh. The rise of the internet has increased the Egyptian people’s contact with foreigners and allowed the opposition to collaborate. But the recent overthrow of Tunisia’s leader is what precipitated the Egypt revolution and the anti-government protests elsewhere in the Arab world, as Arabs have demanded freedom and democratization, such as they have observed around the world, including even in Iraq, the recent authoritarian trend notwithstanding.

     The geopolitical stakes are high. Egypt, the most populous Arab state, has been an ally of the United States in fighting international terrorism and keeping peace with Israel. It was the first Arab state to recognize Israel in 1979 and has blocked arms shipments to Hamas-controlled Gaza across the Egyptian border. Egypt is also of strategic importance because of the Suez Canal. It is a large recipient of U.S. military aid. However, Mubarak is a dictator whom the U.S. has been encouraging under its last two Administrations to liberalize.

     The fear among some Egyptians and many in the West is that the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition organization, will seize power if Mubarak does not liberalize sufficiently to mollify the populace. The Brotherhood, which wants to implement Islamic law, inspired the Hamas and al-Qaeada terrorist organizations.

     It is noteworthy that there has been oppression in particular toward the Coptic Christians, who represent about 10% of Egypt’s population, as well as attacks by Islamists. The Coptic Pope discouraged Copts from participating in the revolution, out of an understandable fear of a worse outcome, but some of them are seizing the opportunity to overthrow the dictatorship, according to the Catholic News Agency. They hope to claim a stake in power by not allowing the Islamists all the credit for the overthrow.

     The best outcome for Egypt is either an immediate resignation by Mubarak or an announcement by him that he will not seek reelection in the elections scheduled for September, which he will finally allow to be free and fair, in contrast to the rigged ones held previously, and that the Islamists do not seize power. The Egyptian dictator recently named a Vice President for the first time. The Vice President or the military might be preferable new leaders, or even Muhammad al-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Peace Prize-winner who has made himself the leader of the opposition. The Americans are right to urge an orderly transition.

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