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If Mubarak Goes Home, Where Does Egypt Go?

Egypt is caught in a crossfire between a political protest by its people and its resolute ruler. The people are opposing corruption, nepotism, poor governance, lack of economic growth, a police state and an autocratic ruler who refuses to give in. The spotlight is on opposition forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and El Baradei on one hand and the Western powers like the US on the other. The people of Egypt have brought about the uprising, but who will bring about democratization? Will it be a systemic change right from the grass-root level upwards or will it have to be enforced from above by an external force like the US? Will Egypt become another Iraq in the name of democratization?

The Arab states have a history of bringing in or allowing Western powers to enter the Middle East to intervene in the region’s problems, and then accusing them of imperialist designs when Arab interests are compromised. The examples are many: Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, etc. In the light of this, why should the people of Egypt want or wait for the US to resolve what is essentially a domestic problem?

The entire protest is focused on the overthrow of Mubarak, but after Mubarak, what? Will corruption, authoritarianism and all other problems end with the end of Mubarak’s regime? Not necessarily. While the anti-Mubarak sentiment is very strong among the Egyptians, the alternatives are few. The only visible point of consensus between the opposing political parties and agencies at the moment is that they are anti-Mubarak. But whether or not they converge on other important policy matters, one cannot say. The demand for a regime change has been made by all the opposition parties, but does that mean a change in the political system as well?

As of now, the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant opposition party, but its central ideology has been the establishment of a Muslim state based on Sharia. Bringing in a theocratic state order would be contradictory to the secular-liberal aspirations of other political parties and groups as well as the people of Egypt who are more concerned with political freedom than implementing Sharia. A strong democratic government requires a strong popular base. The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned in the past and was underground for many years. Whether it has the support of the masses is an unanswered question.

The former head of the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) Mohammed El Baradei, on the other hand, seems to be a one-man force with only the short-term agenda of removing Mubarak. Considering the present socio-economic and political conditions in Egypt, a coalition of such political parties could only further jeopardize the already-troubled stability of the Egyptian political system. In such a case, the choice for Egypt seems to be not between autocracy and democracy, but between autocracy and anarchy.

One of the most important factors that will decide the fate of this revolution is the Egyptian army. Many countries in the Middle East have at some point or the other been ruled by army and army personnel. It is possible that the same might happen in Egypt. So far the Egyptian army has refrained from taking any action against the people, but will it continue to remain non-committal or will it take the leadership of the country into its own hands? Already there have been incidents of violence and riots, both by the people and by the agencies of the ruling regime. If the situation spirals out of control, chances are that the army will take up the political reigns of the nation. And if it does, it is very difficult to say whether it will be a long-term solution for Egypt.

The ideal solution is a gradual, systematic, step-by-step change of regime as well as a change in the political model. Democratic institutions, freedom and continuing the active role of the press and the checks and balances that are a prerequisite to democracy should be in place to ensure the kind of political freedom that the Egyptian people aspire to. The social ills that plague the Egyptian society are more pronounced in an authoritarian regime. Only when the authoritarian regime is deposed, will there be a better chance of rooting out the problems of corruption, nepotism, etc. and controlling the tendency toward authoritarianism. This would not be complete without planned economic reforms parallel to the political reforms, implemented right from the grass-root level upwards to address what is one of the most important causes of the revolution.

However, taking in view the situation as it is building up and all the actors who have a major stake in the future of Egypt, this seems to be very remote. It will be a change of ruler and not a complete change of regime. A lot depends on the role of the army in Egypt. Thus, the alternative options could possibly be a theocratic state, a parliamentary coalition or a military regime. Sooner than later, Mubarak will have to leave office and go but when he does, the people of Egypt who are fighting for a free and liberal state must know where Egypt will go.

Priyanka Chandra is a Research scholar at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email.

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent.The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy