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Making the mummies dance

By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday February 1, 2011 12:48 AM

Good gray NPR had this interesting item:

Plan To Replace Hosni Mubarak May Be In The Works

Two of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's closest allies, his new vice president, Omar Suleiman, and his defense minister, Hussein Tantawi, are quietly working on a plan under which Mubarak would step down from power, according to a U.S. scholar who has been staying in regular touch with the Egyptian political and military leadership.

"They want to be sure that Mubarak is going to cooperate," said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development and a longtime confidant of Egyptian and Israeli leaders.

The two-part plan, according to Cohen, would involve the immediate removal of 100 members of the Egyptian Parliament whose election this past fall was seen as illegitimate. They would be replaced by 100 candidates who were barred from running in the election or who were defeated because of government meddling in the election process.

A second possible step would be the organization of new parliamentary and presidential elections. The plan, according to Cohen, "requires [Mubarak] to give up his office." Asked whether Mubarak would do that, Cohen answered, "He is getting ready to do so."

This Stephen Cohen (not to be confused with the isonomous Brookings Institution South Asia guy) is an interesting character, a sleek plump catfish at home in some fairly murky waters. Obviously well seen in Israel, and among the neighboring stoogery -- just the sort of sketchy entrepreneurial figure that NPR would go to for "analysis." But even so, perhaps he actually knows whereof he speaks.

It makes a certain amount of sense. The Egyptian uprising seems very focused, so far, on the person of Mubarak. Suppose Mubarak gone; the army still intact -- no conflict between the high command and the mid-level officers, much less the rankers. Does the steam then go out of the uprising? Do people go home and settle down to the status quo under new -- or almost-new, gently-used -- management?

The situation is like Iran in 1979, in some ways but not in others. Like Iran, it's a genuine mass movement. Like Iran, there's not a blessed thing the US can do about it if it really gets the bit between its teeth. Unlike Iran, there's no Khomeini, and no organizational network like his -- as far as I know. The somewhat geriatric Muslim Brotherhood doesn't seem like quite the same breed of cat, and it's been reported, accurately or not I don't know, that they're behind El-Baradei, hardly a transformative figure unless he turns out to be full of surprises.

I'm hedging against disappointment here, obviously.

But a few minutes ago I was watching the Al-Jazeera live feed from Cairo. It was about 7 AM there, and people were already assembling in Tahrir Square for the planned march to the presidential bunker. The fresh dawn light on the homely apartment buildings; the people already up and milling around in the square, wondering what comes next, and realizing that anything could come next; that the old rules don't apply; that the cops are gone, melted into the woodwork, and the streets are theirs, to do with as they will; that what does come next might depend on me or the stranger next to me or somebody who is still on his way after a hurried breakfast. Sunrise, and the freedom of the streets, and the future utterly unknown.

To borrow a phrase from Philip Sidney, I felt my battered sclerotic old heart stirred as with the sound of a trumpet.

Comments (21)



a contrast in official uncle re-action

iran 09
egypt 11

Suppose Mubarak gone; the army still intact -- no conflict between the high command and the mid-level officers, much less the rankers. Does the steam then go out of the uprising?

Considering the reaction to Suleiman, I doubt it.

Your last two paragraphs are wonderful.

By the way, why is it that Firefox knows how to spell Suleiman but not Rhode Island or Barack Obama?

Ask for a million. Get double that. They shame us.

Paul Alexander:

I don't see why we shouldn't trust what this guy has heard through his connections in Egypt just because he has an Israel fetish. It's his interpretations of what he's heard that we should be wary of.


The part about replacing the 100 illegitimately elected parliamentarians with the ones who were bumped off the ticket is admirable trickery -- makes me think that there are still some working brains in Foggy Bottom.

But the whole idea of co-opting a genuine revolution stinks, and seems more and more implausible every day. These people (the people) are proving themselves to be pretty smart, selecting elBaradei to represent them in negotiations (reported yesterday), while challenging the military to take sides by Thursday. Someone in there knows how to conduct a revolution.

On the other hand, the more successful they are, the more scary everything becomes. The stakes are too high for the US and Israel not to intervene.

Perhaps even the Likudniks understand that they cannot fight Hizbollah, Hamas, a border war with Egypt, and the collapse of the Hashemites in Jordan if they pick a fight right now.


By the way, why is it that Firefox knows how to spell Suleiman but not Rhode Island or Barack Obama?

Because Suleiman was magnificent, and Rhode island and Obama are not?

Paul Alexander:

senecal, I don't think that there is a real direction to the revolution, rather a path of least resistance and a protest that caught the government off guard. Most importantly is the response of the military, who are the ones who have given the stamp of legitimacy to all of this. This does nothing to take away from the amazing display of bravery and pure expression of solidarity and resistance, just that if the military had decided to come down on the side of Mubarak instead of those in the streets who knows how this would have all played out. At the end of the day, elBaradei or whoever takes control of the government will be at the mercy of the military, who is not going to allow anyone to take power that might risk having Uncle Sam take away his $1.3 billion in aid money.

"Do people go home and settle down to the status quo under new -- or almost-new, gently-used -- management? "

Only if the new management figures out a way to feed the people, and that can only happen by taking a chunk out of the profits of the elites.

My own call is no.


Paul: you make a good point; the upper military has real interests here, which naturally tilt them toward the US. However, now you are giving incredible savvy to them, for judging early on that Mubarrak was finished, and their best strategy was to strike a pose of neutrality and later become guardians of the transition.

I dont know. They (top brass) would still have to sell their position to the people, who seem to have an uncanny ear for empty promises.

I would bet that the people won't be easily fobbed off, but that's not taking account of US actions, which already seem to be going in the direction of provoking violence so that safety seems to lie in renewed repression.


We need to have a better notion of just how much reform
Uncle could tolerate and. How little reform he can live with as well
A crack down seems counter productive as the army pledge suggests
So the squeeze on mubie and or his replacements

Its fear of real revolution that drives reform in these situations
Yes failed revolutions bring on repression but reforms that pre et revolutions
Have a narrow path between the rocks and the reef
To maximize even the reforms vanguard elements must find the path for themselves equally narrow
That keeps them in the mass movement and yet threatens the reformers
Leaning toward strategic compromise

Or, just wait out the revolution, get the signal from the President, and send in jackboots to break up the now hungry and mostly unarmed people.

See Al Jazeera for the beginning of the counterstrike.

Paul Alexander:

I don't ascribe any savviness to the military. I don't know their reasons for not having taken action, only that they haven't. It could be for any number of reasons, from political to the personal. Maybe the top generals were sick of the way Mubarak talked down to them and decided to let him twist in the wind a little. I do know that they're continued privileges are reliant on the largesse of the US and I doubt they would do anything to upset that arrangement. I'm sure they've been having parallel negotiations with US officials, as has Mubarak and his gang.

As for the people on the street, I think that while it's true they have an ear for empty promises, this isn't an entirely new skilled they've just developed. Rather, one that's been made moot by the police state Mubarak's instituted. And I think that if and when the military decides to move, most people aren't going to risk their lives or the livelihoods of their families, although I'm sure there are quite a few that will.


This whole event is unprecedented, incomparable, so it's foolish to make guesses about the determination or the tactical intelligence of the Egyptian people. However, we can guess pretty confidently about possible US and Israeli responses, and currently it looks like they are going in the direction of counter-revolution, creating violence to justify repression and doing everything to avoid granting actual power to the people.

Paul Alexander:

Well I think that expecting them to continue this revolution should the military begin to try to bring "order" is a "guess about the determination or the tactical intelligence of the Egyptian people". I don't ascribe any sort of group tactical thinking to those on the ground,each person will react to the situation based on their own personal inclinations, and most people don't like getting shot at. I think that's an undeniable fact. I also realize that there are plenty of counter examples of people standing up to those with guns and I remain cautiously hopeful this may be one of those times.

Michael Hureaux:

What's most interesting at this moment is the complete incapacity of the professional classes of this country to stand up, take accountability for the quality of "world leadership" they have engendered, and give unconditional support to the mass movement in Egypt. Contrast this to the unconditional support the same class forces gave the Catholic saint Walesa during Solidarity thirty years ago. Nobody ever went broke overestimating the ability of the invester classes to sell out democracy. 100 years of Reagan, indeed.


Paul: I think we're on the same page. I don't want to discount the courage of the people ahead of time. However, I can see the outlines of the US response, and it's discouraging. A very simplistic comparison here might be Honduras. Obviously the Egyptian people are more organized, more conscious, more determined than the Honduran people, but -- the stakes for the US (and Israel) are much higher too, by orders of magnitude.
So, I'm with MH -- American citizens are going to have even more shame to live with.

Paul Alexander:

According to Gibbs, the US has decided Mubarak has to go. And it seems like Mubarak doesn't want to play along as evidenced by his sending in the goons. I don't think those in the US government know what they want.


I don't think those in the US government know what they want.

I think it's pretty clear what the US Government wants. They want the protests to end and they would like a transition that does not fundamentally threaten Israel or the United States. The idea that Mubarek and his secret police thugs are going rogue now, simply because their actions are at odds with Gibbs or Clinton's official statement seems pretty unlikely. If more people die or the museum is looted, it will be because the United States wants it that way, I expect.

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