By Rafael L. Bardají
Who doesn’t love all’s-well-that-ends-well stories? In order to give more sense to our lives, we have imagined ourselves as the main characters living the sort of dramatic moments that change the world. Hosni Mubarak’s resignation last Friday is one of those situations forced by the demonstrators’ burning desire for freedom. Egypt promises a time of change for everyone in the Middle East, doesn’t it?
It’s undeniable that, without the 18-day old occupation of Tahrir Square, Mubarak would still be enjoying his leadership position. But, it isn’t less true that his fall hasn’t brought, for the moment, a change of regime. In Egypt, there’s no more democracy today than some days ago, before the protests. What we have is a military regime: The Army governs the fate of the country – just as it’s been doing for the last 60 years.
About one week ago, a high official of the Israeli intelligence community said to me: The Egyptian army isn’t against nor in favor of Mubarak, but it cares for the regime – its own. The question is if they’ll decide that Mubarak has become a greater obstacle for the survival of the regime or if, on the contrary, they think that there’ll be no continuity for them without him. If they choose the first option, they’ll replace Mubarak with a junta; if they choose the second option, they’ll shoot against the demonstrators.
Well, after moments of tense confusion, making statements that would end up being anodyne, beaming televised images of the head of the Army, General Tantawi, sporting a grave and stern look during his meeting with the leaders of the armed forces; these people already made a definitive decision late Friday: Mubarak had to go – with all the honors of a military hero, but immediately.
And, although we love to believe that this moment has been possible thanks to a youth movement yearning for freedom and a better life and adroit using Twitter and Internet, the ones who actually made possible Hosni Mubarak’s fall have been the same military who once elevated him to his position of power and who always considered him as one of their own – because that’s what he’s always been and still is.
No one knows what the future will bring. In the press statement announcing Mubarak’s resignation, it was also announced that a military junta would take control of the country – a junta vaguely committed to hold general elections and to engineer the transition to a civilian government. It may be that the vagueness of the plans had to do with the urgency and drama of the moment, but one thing is for sure: They were very careful not to offer a hint of their plans for the coming months.There’s no commitment about a particular date to hold elections and much less about the promised re-establishment of civilian power. What the Egyptian military actually wanted to avoid, of all things, was a chaotic situation.
In other words, the street revolution that we have witnessed live has actually been a military coup. But, every cloud has a silver lining. Domestically, the military is not only a respected institution, but also predictable. Furthermore, Egyptian military bosses are well known by the Israelis and Western countries since they have kept close ties. Not only that, but senior officers know all too well that their equipment as well as their standard of living depend on American aid, which is a factor that tends to condition their decisions. As long as they consider themselves as an institution and not only a collection of specific names and faces, there’s potential for some productive dialogue with those military leaders.
The key here is what we want to do – we, the comfortable Western democrats, satisfied to seeing the world through the eyes of CNN. From now on, should we consider that democracy has already arrived to the Pyramids and go on with our lives, just as we have practically done with Tunisia, already forgotten in the dusty pages of history? Or, on the contrary, do we demand our dear leaders to start a real strategy of democratization in those countries?
Firstly, the sooner we make the Egyptian military understand that international aid will depend on advances towards democratic reforms, the better. Secondly, it’s necessary to clearly understand that, in places where freedom has never resided before, protecting tolerance and coexistence is essential. That is: We must not accept that undemocratic forces, in the name of democracy, be allowed to take advantage of the momentum in order to undermine individual freedoms and any sign of blooming democracy. In this respect, the White House calling for the acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood as just one more group, even at government levels, is an extremely dangerous naïveté that only heralds Lebanon’s same future for Egypt. Lebanon used to be a Christian country that is no more due to the forces of Islamism.
Now is the moment to redouble our attention and to remain vigilant during the process. Not so long ago, there was a real revolution in Lebanon, one that forced Syria’s exit from Lebanon and produced a coalition government. Five years later, partly due to the international community’s fear to chase the murderers of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah is now in power. Two years ago, the streets of Tehran were boiling with indignation because of the electoral fraud coarsely perpetrated by the Ayatollahs; yet Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are still there, attached to power through the use of brutal force.
Democracy in the Middle East requires more than just a friendly chat, beer in hand, in front of the TV set. Democracy is possible and viable, but we must help to midwife it and nurture it there. Let’s do it once and for all.
©2011 Translated by Miryam Lindberg