11 February 2011
Egypt: This round to people power
About ten minutes ago, Vice President Suleiman announced on Egyptian television that President Mubarak had finally decided to resign and turn power over to a military committee. This followed yesterday's hype and suspense as the American news networks expected Mubarak to announce his resignation that night and crowds gathered in Cairo and Alexandria in celebratory expectation. Mubarak dashed their hopes by reaffirming his intention to finish his term, which would have ended in September, while delegating certain powers to other officials. On U.S. TV, some reporters predicted, and perhaps hoped for, a mob storming the presidential palace, while the more hard-boiled analysts warned that Mubarak may have desired just such an event, since it would give him a pretext for martial law and a violent crackdown on the mass opposition. If so, the people refused to take the bait. They remained non-violent, and their reticence reminded me of something Fouad Ajami said a few days ago. Ajami is an Arab intellectual and a darling of neocons. He identifies the roots of Arab problems in Arab soil and sees no shame in emulating western political institutions. He remains an unrepentant supporter of the invasion of Iraq, but on the Egyptian question he parted company with many neocons, who trembled at the thought of Egyptian democracy from fear of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ajami's only courtesy to the neocons on this occasion was to attribute fear and skepticism to their opposite numbers, the dread "realists." But should neocons question what has happened in Egypt, Ajami noted one very important detail in answer while on television. Here is an uprising against an Arab government -- but where are the suicide bombers? Where are the bombers of any kind? Whatever anyone thinks of the Muslim Brotherhood's intentions or opportunism, here was a movement qualitatively different from the all-too typical insurrection. If the Brotherhood has hijacked it in any way, they have not changed its character; they have not steered the people toward terrorism. For that reason alone, I dare suggest, the Brothers are entitled to more benefit of the doubt, however odious their Islamism seems to an American, than Americans have been so far willing to give them. That goes double, at least, for the Egyptian people as a whole.