A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is the Game Already Over in Egypt?

Developments since last Friday have produced among at least some Egypt analysts an emerging sense that the military is directing the script; Mubarak is on his way out but the transition, though liberalizing a bit, will be under the military's tutelage and will fall short of the protesters' demands. Among recent treatments are Robert Springborg's NPR commentary, seeing the Army as the winner, or Joshua Stacher at Foreign Affairs, with a somewhat similar argument.

Both men know Egypt very well; Bob Springborg is of my generation of Egypt hands and Josh Stacher comes from the emerging generation of young scholars, but I respect them both and feel that they both are describing the reality as it appears at the moment. I've said all along that the question to be asking is the intention of the Army, not the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the other hand, I'm a historian, not a political scientist, and I know that revolutions are unpredictable things. That the next President of Egypt will not be named Mubarak is now clear. I agree with both articles cited that right now the Army has protected its own enormous perks by pushing Mubarak out the door, and I have no doubt that ‘Omar Suleiman and the General Staff are hoping that they can dampen down the fires. Reopening the banks, returning to something like normality, may persuade enough Egyptians that they've won enough concessions,
to blunt the momentum for further change. But whether those calculations are true is premature to judge, I think. Marc Lynch argues today that the Obama Administration can still press for further change, and that it is too early to write off the possibilities of further success.

I am reminded that everything about this revolt is new. Certainly the Army is trying to consolidate the sort of limited transition envisioned by the analysts. But what has always worked in the past has not been working lately, and I'm not confident we know what happens next. Perhaps I'm a romantic optimist, but I'm not convinced the outcome is yet all that certain.

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