Sunday 13 February 2011

Life After Mubarak

Even though I have written twice over the past month about the uprising in Egypt, it is difficult to ignore the tumultuous events that have taken place over the past few days. Mubarak finally gave in to the will of the Egyptian people, and resigned as president late on Friday. This was only after he found the audacity to continue to cling onto power when it was clear that his position was no longer tenable. Mubarak left office as he had ruled for 30 years - thinking firstly of himself, and taking little consideration of what may be best for his people.

Now that he is gone, what happens next? Mubarak ensured that he had no logical successor, and nobody to hand control of Africa's most populous country to. He was so concerned about the possibility of his absolute rule being undermined, that he was not prepared to allow anybody to be close to him. Ultimately, he was shown that even this did not safeguard his position. More of a disaster for Egypt is that no successor or succession plan was put in place. One of the hallmarks of a true leader is that the ensure that they have succession. They should have either a person, or a process to select a person, that can replace them in the event of a disaster or through the logical flow of events. Even though leaders like Mubarak think that they are irreplaceable, cemeteries around the world bear testimony to the fact that nobody is irreplaceable.

The Egyptians are left with military rule as this was Mubarak's only option in view of the vacuum that he has left in his wake. For now, the people are happy - anything is better than Mubarak. It is clear clear, however, that military rule cannot and will not satisfy their demands and expectations in the longer term. Military rule is generally associated with a rule by decree and a distinct lack of democracy. I feel sure that the military rule in Egypt will not be any different. This will only be acceptable if the military government moves quickly to call general elections, and allows itself to be rapidly replaced by a leader and government that is chosen by a majority of the people. The protest movement has made this clear by an announcement of its intention to hold a protest each Friday in Tahrir Square until democratic elections are called.

There are times in life when people know that they don't like what they have, but have no real alternative plan that represents what they DO really want. I have the impression that this is the situation in Egypt. The protest was against Hosni Mubarak, but the protest organisers and opposition movement never came up with an alternative plan to fill the gap once they succeeded in achieving their objectives. This can be compared with protests in a country like Poland which rallied behind Lech Walesa, or in South Africa where Mandela was the man that the opposition wished to see replace the rulers. In Egypt, they had no replacement in mind to be somebody who would represent new Egypt that protesters have been dreaming of. Under these circumstances, the new Egypt may turn out to disappoint those who so fervently fought for it during nearly three weeks in Tahrir Square. People are sometimes advised to be careful what they wish for, as they may get their wishes. I believe that this may turn out to be the case in Egypt.

Democracy has not yet proved itself as a success in the Arab world. Democracy incorporates some principles which have yet to manifest themselves in this region. The main issue with democracy is that it requires those who are defeated to acknowledge that they are in the minority, and to respect the will of the majority. For residents of the Arab Middle East, this point has yet to be successfully implemented. Examples like Iraq and Lebanon come to mind, where violence and murder are the order of the day due to the fact that the minorities cannot accept the will of the majority. Ahmadinejad in Iran went to inordinate lengths to rig the most recent general election to ensure that he was returned to power. Then, he moved to silence the majority in the most brutal manner to secure his term of office. It seems like the only stable governments in the Middle East (except for Israel) are those where the rule is absolute and no opposition is tolerated. In other cases, violence and chaos reign while minority groups attempt to assert their domination. Compare this to the general election in the USA in 2000 when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by a hair's breadth. The Gore camp was not happy with the outcome, and did not agree with the supreme court's ruling which prevented a third count of the votes cast in the deciding state of Florida. The decision was, however, accepted without violence and recriminations. This is the real meaning of democracy.

As much as I know that the people of Egypt have been protesting in favour of democracy for their country, I am yet to be convinced that Egypt is ready for this. It is difficult for me to see how organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda will allow the likes of Mohamed El-Baradei or Amr Moussa to take over rule in Egypt in the event that they are democratically elected as leader. These proved to be destructive forces under the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak, so their activities in a democratic environment are likely to be even more disruptive and destabilising.

Despite all of the negative implications of Mubarak's rule (of which there were more than a few), he did succeed in maintaining stability in Egypt for the duration of his rule. This, in turn, contributed to greater stability in the Middle East during a period which included significant lack of stability in other parts of the region and the world. The importance and significance of Egypt in the region should not be underestimated. Lack of stability in Egypt will clearly have a negative impact across the region, and possibly across the world.

For Israel, this means greater risk which manifests itself in a number of different ways. Any change on her borders, even a change that is ultimately for the better, forces Israel to make internal changes to the way that she handles her security arrangements. After becoming accustomed to certain realities and having put relevant responses in place to handle a particular situation, any change to that situation requires changes to Israel's military activities. This creates risk and uncertainty. In the case of the changes in Egypt, the risk and uncertainty is not limited only to Israel's southern border and the Camp David peace treaty. There is every prospect that the Egyptian border to the Gaza Strip will be opened, allowing free flow of weapons into the strip which presents a huge security risk to Israel. It is not inconceivable that the Egyptian uprising may reach countries such as Jordan and Syria which creates uncertainty along Israel's eastern and northern borders. While Israel is an eager support of democracy and democratic principles (as evidenced by her own system of government), she is forced to view her own security as a higher priority. Until such time as the full impact of the Egyptian revolution is digested and understood, Israel's defence establishment will be on the highest alert.

We will all be watching carefully as Egypt treads the uncertain path towards democracy. We hope that the experiment will prove to be a success, and will contribute towards greater stability in a region that desperately requires security. In particular, the Israeli government will be watching nervously as the new Egypt reveals itself.

No comments: