Monday, February 21, 2011

A follow-up report on Egypt

Abu Muqawama, an American analyst, reflects on the difficulties of moving forward:
Politically, it is correct to note that the Egyptian military has more or less been one with the regime since the 1950s when the Free Officers Revolt replaced the monarchy here. But the military is at the same time in a position it has not been in for 40 years, directly involved with the day-to-day politics and decision-making in Egyptian life. Yezid Sayigh concisely and cogently explained the interests of the Egyptian Army after Mubarak in an op-ed that ran in Financial Times a week before Hosni Mubarak stood down as president... I agree with his analysis of the Egyptian military and have further concerns about the seemingly inevitable clash between its interests and the interests of the young revolutionaries on the streets as well as those of everyday Egyptians who have wildly inflated expectations about life after Mubarak.

First, there is a sense you get that many Egyptians honestly feel the only thing standing in between the Egyptian nation and greatness was the sclerotic Mubarak regime. Now that Muabark is gone, the military -- and whatever government that follows -- will naturally struggle to meet those expectations.

Second, the Egyptian people have now witnessed a dramatic display of people power: mass demonstrations effectively removed from power a man who seemed immovably secure in his post just one month ago. The incentives are there for every group of people in Egypt with a grievance (which is to say everyone) to now strike or demonstrate to see, in effect, what they can get. The military is growing increasingly frustrated with these demonstrations and has ordered them to cease. But the incentive structure is all wrong: even if you don't think you'll get anything, why would you not demonstrate right now? The worst case scenario is, you get nothing. But heck, you might get something!

One of the sources of the military's frustration leads to my third concern, which is the fact that even if the people have a valid grievance, there is no real authority to negotiate with at the moment. Egypt needs a transitional government of some sort, but right now, you've got people agitating for higher wages, back pay, and more reforms on the one hand, and a military on the other hand that is not prepared in the least to hear these concerns and act on them.

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