Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Coup is Complete

In the last few days, while most of the world focused on the popular uprising, the Egyptian military has executed what seems to be a successful coup d'etat. 

Mubarak is a military man, the protege of president Sadat and the former commander of the air force. Given his past, Hosni Mubarak is well respected and to a certain degree, admired by much of Egypt's vast military apparatus. He is well suited to hold the title 'Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces'.

The problem is not with Hosni per se, but with his dynastic aspirations and his son, Gamal. Unlike his father, Gamal spent most of his adult life taking advantage of his connections in the business world. A military man he is not. For this reason, Egypt's mighty military is not keen on the idea of such a transition of power.

The military's favourite choice is General Omar Suleiman, the head of Egypt's powerful 'Mukhabarat' (Military Intelligence/Secret Service). In the last few days, we have seen the culmination of this succession crisis, which has been brewing for several years now, unfold in full force.

Let's look at the anatomy of the coup:

1. Inspired by the recent transition in Tunisia, civil discontent has erupted. 

2. After the civilian authorities and the police have failed to suppress the riots and a wave of looting, rape and murder begun, the military was requested to move in.

3. The military, which has a very special place in the hearts and minds of many Egyptians, did not take sides, but rather arreyed themselves in full force around the halls of power (Presidential Palace, Broadcasting Authority, etc.), vowed to protect the safety and security of Egyptians civilians and to protect national treasures.

4. The military did not attempt to suppress the discontent, but rather declared that they are merely present to keep the peace, not to influence the political situation, but keep the streets safe. Thus maintaining its image as protector of the people.

5. The military's own candidate, Omar Suleiman was appointed by Mubarak as a VP, effectively making him successor to the 'throne'. It should be noted that Mubarak has never designated a VP before.

6. Mubarak assigned Suleiman as chief mediator between himself and the opposition, effectively making him the power broker in the country.

That's where things currently stand. It is reported that Mubarak will soon declare that he will step down after this year's presidential election.

As things stand, Egypt's military is the true winner out of the whole situation. Omar Suleiman will possibly offer democratic reformer El Bardai a senior position such as Prime Minister, with an increased constitutional mandate. Additionally, Suleiman should work towards gradual democratic reforms. Sudden substantial reforms will probably rock the boat and bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

Of course there are many parameters in the equation and Egypt is going to face some tough, unstable times, but if the opposition and the military are willing to work with each other patiently it may be a positive turn after all. First, Suleiman and El Bardai are not likely to rock the boat vis-a-vis Israel and the US. Second, they can stabilize the domestic situation and work towards substantial reforms. Third and foremost, it will provide continuity and stability in the most important state in the Arab world.


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