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Egyptians have chosen, time for the state to accept their choice

The choices facing Egypt are not between dialogue and coup d’état, as the vice president said yesterday, but between a rickety authoritarianism and full vibrant democracy

Hani Shukrallah , Friday 11 Feb 2011
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It totally escapes me what the vice-president was talking about when he issued us with the dire warning that Egypt faced two choices, either “dialogue” or “coup d’état. Trying to make sense of this most ominous statement, one is first of all struck by what coup d’état is supposed to mean in the context of our current reality.


There are two senses in which Gen. Suleiman’s use of the term may be taken, a “nice”, one and a “grim” one, though neither appears to render the statement awfully comprehensible. In the nicer sense, the vice president is telling us that if the army, which is starkly the single power running the country these days, responds to the revolution’s demands and asks Mubarak to step down, this would be tantamount to a coup, which – reading between the lines – would lead to military rule.


The argument, if that’s what it is, fails to convince. A popular revolution has been sweeping the country for the past two weeks, and all indications are that it is gaining momentum, rather than losing steam. For the state to bow to the people’s will, as expressed on streets throughout the country, is not a coup d’état, nor can it, under any legal or moral standard, be deemed as such.


We’re not reinventing the wheel here. It’s happened in Tunisia a few weeks ago, it swept through Eastern Europe in the late 80s, indeed, it’s been happening across the globe from Latin and Central America to south and East Asia. In fact, it has been our long benighted Arab region that seemed to be the exception, standing immune to waves upon waves of democratization, which were making themselves felt everywhere else.


It so happens also that the army, here as in most of the above examples, has been the state body able to step forward and play the role of power broker and guarantor of the transition to democracy.


Neither is the implied threat of military rule very credible. Popular revolutions, I wrote before, do not create military governments, military coups and counter-revolutions do.


Which brings us to the other, darker, possible interpretation of the vice president’s warning: a counter-revolution. Certainly that remains a possibility, but I’m sure the vice president is fully aware that it is becoming more remote with every passing day.


The thing is, we’ve already had one counter-revolution and it has failed miserably, though at a horrible cost. We now have a pretty clear idea of how that counter-revolution was conducted, and the identity of some of those who directed it.


We now know, and I am sure the vice president and the prime minister are equally aware, if not more cognizant of the facts: an alliance of NDP officials and Oligarchs and the interior ministry and Egyptian state TV pursued a deliberate “scorched earth” strategy aimed at sowing fear and panic among the Egyptian people and the international community to show that without the Mubarak regime Egypt would fall into inescapable chaos and destruction.


So that we do not forget, the cynical criminality of this strategy involved the killing of some 300 peacefully protesting citizens and the wounding of thousands, the torching of public buildings, the attempted looting, torching and destruction of the Egyptian Museum, the overnight disappearance of the whole internal security apparatus and the synchronized opening of prison gates around the country, meanwhile letting loose criminal gangs of police agents alongside police and oligarch-run networks of thugs and diverse criminal elements to attack private citizens, public and private property, to murder, torch and loot. This, by the way, is the same “coalition” that was responsible for wholesale rigging of the 2010 and other elections.


The counter-revolution’s last card lay in the madness of the “foreign fingers” in the Egyptian uprising. The police agents and their thuggish friends were sent to infiltrate the “popular committees”, spread misinformation and hysteria about allege Israeli, American, Iranian, Hamas, Hizbullah and all sorts of other foreign conspiracies to foment revolution in the country. Foreigners, including a great many “foreign-looking” Egyptians were exposed to brutal attacks everywhere. The very people who were bemoaning the loss of foreign investment and tourism were willing to ensure that no one elsewhere in the world will even nod our way, possibly for a great many years.


By yesterday, and as Egypt witnessed its largest popular demonstrations ever, involving millions across the country, the counter-revolution looked dead and buried.


This is not to say that a revival of the counter-revolution is impossible. Neither can we as yet totally discount the possibility of a different kind of counter-revolution, as for instance, in having the army at last shoot at the people. Both scenarios are unlikely, however. For its part, the army’s commitment not to resort to violence against the people is now stronger than ever. We’ve even had the vice-president saying that President Mubarak, rather late in the day, has ordered all security forces to refrain from harming the protesters in any way.


It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the axis of evil, mentioned above, will once again resume its activities. After all, we are yet to see any of those responsible for crimes ranging from murder to high treason arrested or prosecuted, despite the repeated promises to do so.


The network remains intact, but there is every indication that it’s done its worst, it has been defeated, physically, as well as exposed. With the police agents and their thugs out of the picture, the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir sq continue to amaze the nation and world by the peaceful, and outstandingly self-disciplined nature of their ongoing revolution.


The vice president is right, however, in saying that Egypt today faced two choices. He still needs to become aware of what these really are, however; for these two choices are none other than to maintain the old authoritarian order, cosmetically pluralized. Or to effect a radical transition to a fully democratic system of government.


Cosmetically treated authoritarianism, we’ve had for the past 30 years. Indeed, that’s what we have had more or less of since the late President Sadat launched his experiment in controlled pluralism way back in 1976. And, if a full scale revolution is any indication, we’ve had enough.


Yes, Mr. Vice-President we are faced with two choices, the people have chosen, it’s time that you accepted their choice.

 

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