Saturday, February 12, 2011

What To Do After Pharaoh Falls

Mubarak's resignation caught me by surprise, big time. Egypt's revolution moved farther, faster, and more peacefully than I would have predicted. I thought Mubarak was digging in. Up until yesterday, I thought one of the major lessons from the protests was that big crowds are not enough. I thought the protesters were going to have to start dismantling the government piece by piece--shut off State TV, capture the Interior Ministry headquarters, and so on. But then, less than 24 hours after offering up some more fake concessions, Mubarak quit in a two-sentence statement read by the Vice President. So maybe a major lesson is: When you think the people's movement is losing steam and the autocrat is digging in, you may be on the verge of victory.

I will have more to say about all this, and things are probably going to continue changing rapidly. For now, here are what I think are the next steps for the democracy movement in Egypt.

1. Prevent an immediate counterrevolution. Counterrevolution could of course come in different forms. One of the Mubarak's deputies, including one of the generals, could force himself into leadership, put the brakes on the democratic reforms and begin a crackdown. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who supposedly has power now during a transitional period, could simply drag its feet forever. This would mean that Mubarak was simply replaced by a handful of his old trusted generals--not much of a change. Less likely would be an outside group, like the Muslim Brotherhood, grabbing power for itself at the expense of everyone else.

To prevent these scenarios, people are going to have to be ready to return to the streets if need be. They will have to keep pressure on the military. The military needs to feel like its interests (which include lots of business connections for top officers) are safest by moving toward a civilian democratic government. The military needs to fear continued revolutionary activity.

It will help for the international attention and pressure to continue. The military will be less likely to drag feet or crack down if it sees that the whole world including its sponsor, the U.S. government, is watching.

2. Build the structures of democracy. The transitional government will have to immediately repeal Egypt's Emergency Law, which is like the Patriot Act on steroids, and other anti-democratic laws. Activists will then have to start building the networks that make up a civil society. Independent trade unions, new political parties, new civic groups, neighborhood councils, all that. The people's movement will have to put down more roots quickly, so that there is a permanent, structural resistance to the drift back toward authoritarianism.

3. Hold free and fair elections. No need to fear groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, if the elections are free and fair. They may end up being anywhere from 10 to 30% of a new parliament. But the best thing that can be done to a sorta scary group is to make it just one more political party with all the rest.

4. Repeat. It would be a mistake to think that the switch from a 30-year tyrant to a parliamentary democracy can be achieved overnight. Mubarak's resignation should be celebrated. But the point of that celebration should be to fuel more demands, more changes, and more activism from the democratic movement. The most powerful force in all of this is going to be the Egyptian people's raised expectations of what is possible. The longer they are willing to work for it, and organize, and turn out in the streets, the better things are going to be.


Camp Papa said...

It's hard to imagine those young people in the square tolerating a fundamentalist Islamic regime. If there is any less than optimum outcome, I would think it more likely that the military doesn't relinquish power to the civilians and just grinds them down. I pray that won't happen and that a real functioning pluralistic democracy grows out of their revolution.

What Pale Blue Dot? said...

There is nearly zero threat of anything resembling "fundamentalist Islam" in Egypt. For one, the only well-formed conservative Muslim group, the oft-feared Brotherhood has been a legitimate, peaceful political party for about 50 years. Two, they only carry a max of about 20% of the electorate. Three, Egypt has a sizable Christian population. This is simply not an issue.

Nevermind that Democracy could CERTAINLY include electing an Islamic government, presuming secularism isn't a requirement. It's by sheer accident that most people in our government happen to be Christian.