Ten Thousand and One Arabian Nights

I’ve been procrastinating all day. This is partially because, well, it’s what I do. This week’s excuse is that I’ve been waiting to see what happens in Egypt.

As I wrote last week, the Obama administration can’t seem to get its head out of the desert sand and make a decision about Egypt. Or make a good decision. We did send Frank Wisner over, but he’s passing out the predictable bad advice: hunker down, back newly-appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, wait until September for elections, so the civil society Hosni Mubarak suppressed for ten thousand and one Arabian nights can actually form political parties other than the Muslim Brotherhood.

How is it possible that these boneheads rise to the top of the American policy establishment? I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised; half the politicians in Washington say they don’t believe in evolution or global warming. Our capacity for wooden-headed ignorance of the obvious is astounding.

Here’s the obvious truth about Egypt:

1) Hosni Mubarak is done. (Okay, that’s real obvious, even the papers have tumbled to that.)

2) Omar Suleiman is not an acceptable replacement. (This is one the POTUS still hasn’t figured out). Mr. Suleiman represents the same repressive regime as Mr. Mubarak did. The Egyptian people will not stand for him as president, not even until September, because

3) The police state is broken. For the last three decades, Mr. Mubarak’s goon squads have jailed legitimate political opposition, fanned the flames of Islamic fundamentalism and kept the average Egyptian silent and off the streets. That’s over, because

4) The people have had enough. Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, they took control of the streets and fought the police. Mr. Mubarak pulled the police out and sent the army in. The Egyptian Army, an institution professional and democratic in ways the police never were, refused to interfere with the protests. That means

5) Attempting to send the police back in now, whether by Mr. Mubarak or Mr. Suleiman, will lead to battles and bloodshed. If the army is forced to intervene, it will not be on behalf of the police.

6) The people know this. The biggest obstacle to revolution is always the one in the minds of the people. Once they know they can win (and the Egyptian people know it), the rest is a foregone conclusion.

So what’s going to happen? My prediction (boldly going where no White House has gone before): Mr. Mubarak will pop up in Saudi Arabia or Switzerland. Mr. Suleiman, with assurances from the US and Europe, will declare himself president and call for September elections. He may or may not declare an intent to run in these elections.

It will not be enough. The protests and strikes will continue, the Egyptian economy will remain stalled; Mr. Suleiman will find himself on the horns of the police/army dilemma outlined above.

Things will careen toward crisis and in days or weeks; the army will reluctantly step in and tell Mr. Suleiman to join Mr. Mubarak. A transitional government, with a big role for Mohamed El Baradei, will be formed and it’s on to the September elections.

I’ll admit, this is half prediction, half hope. This is what will happen if things go well. There are a number of other ways this scenario could play out entailing less democracy and more bloodshed.

I hope my first prediction is right.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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