Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Mubarak out but tyranny lives on

Mubarak's days are numbered. Whether he personally authorised the regime's thugs to attack protesters in Tahrir Square yesterday is neither here or there. He will be booted out by the people and the Americans, but there is no regime change in Egypt.

The army is firmly in charge and its current chiefs all have very strong and deep-rooted links with the US, especially Vice President Omar Sulaiman (72) and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defense (74). The army will have to give some ground to the opposition groups in coming months but there will be no change of policy towards the US or Israel.

Ordinary Egyptians are unlikely to gain much from the fall of Mubarak. Food and fuel prices may be cut and the unemployed may receive some handouts in coming months but political and economic power will remain concentrated in the hands of army and business elite loyal to the US. The army will no doubt yield to opposition demands for a degree of power sharing, to include the Muslim Brotherhood, but will do so only to appease the masses and hypoctritical Western governments with deep pockets.

Real change in Egypt will be painfully slow for the majority. Rebuilding democratic institutions and accountable state machiney takes at least two generations. The army will continue to play on peoples' fears of instability and external threats and wield huge influence over the political system.

Without an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Middle East cannot easily shake off the tyranny of autocracy and theocracy. Egypt's and Syria's regimes thrive on it while desparate Muslim youths sacrifice their lives thinking they can make the world better for their parents and brothers and sisters but succeed only in sowing fear in the minds of the middle classes and Western powers. The spotaneous explosion of anger on the streets of Tunis and Cairo shows that at least young Arabs are not walking zombies and that there is nothing to fear except fear itself. Hopefully this will translate into real, albeit slow, change in the right direction for the region.

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