It’s an old ploy to defuse an uprising that that could turn into a systemic challenge: Change the guy at the top and call it a revolution.
By Stephen Gowans
We shouldn’t diminish the significance of what the 18-day uprising in Tahrir Square accomplished, but at the same time we shouldn’t overstate its significance either. A US-backed autocrat was forced to step down. But Mubarak’s ouster, much as we would like to call it the beginning of a revolution, is far from that. A revolution, properly so called, goes beyond a mere change in political form and those who govern. It transforms institutions and transfers property from one class to another.
Perhaps a revolution will come to Egypt in time, but so far all that has happened is that power has been transferred from Mubarak to Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, a long-standing Mubarak loyalist who is a strident opponent of political change, has consistently resisted social reforms and is derided in Wikileaks cables as a “poodle” to Mubarak. (1) Mubarakism hasn’t ended. Mubarak loyalists and Egypt’s military and business establishment remain firmly in charge. (2)
Firmly in charge behind Egypt’s new military rulers is the United States. The Egyptian military is largely an extension of the Pentagon. The Pentagon provides much of its funding and equipment and trains its top officer corps. For the last 30 years, Washington has injected $35 billion in military aid into Egypt, allowed the country to build 1,000 US M1A1 Abrams tanks on its soil, trained Egypt’s officers at US defense colleges, and carried out major military operations from Egyptian bases. (3)
Will Mubarakism—the repressive rule of a US-backed autocrat–be replaced by a multi-party democracy, in which the engineering of consent, rather than the emergency law and secret police, keep the rabble in line? Perhaps. The White House and the State Department are “already discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties,” (4) seeking to hem in the outcome of whatever free elections follow.
The opening of political space that a liberal democracy affords is indeed preferable to the Mubarak dictatorship, but if that’s all that comes from the Tahrir Square uprising, the yardsticks will hardly have moved significantly forward.
1. Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Egypt’s military leaders face power sharing test”, The New York Times, February 11, 2011.
2. Thomas Walkom, “Cairo coup welcomed (sort of) by the West”, The Toronto Star, February 12, 2011.
3. Elisabeth Bumiller, “Calling for restraint, Pentagon faces test of influence with ally”, The New York Times, January 29, 2011.
4. David E. Sanger, “Obama presses Egypt’s military on democracy”, The New York Times, February 11, 2011.