Egyptians cheer and the world’s media cheer with them. While one can’t help but wish them well in their days of triumph, I do hope such wild jubilation and celebration are not premature.
Realistically though, just what has been accomplished?
Yes, a 30-year despot has been ousted and at surprisingly little human cost. No bad news there. But, from my vantage point, I see a country that has had dictatorships in one form or another for pretty well all of its long, storied history, and I see little prospect of that changing any time soon.
A month ago, the army was the power behind the throne in Egypt; today the army is the power behind the throne in Egypt. That’s what gives me reason to pause and reflect on whether the people of that country are really any closer to democracy than they ever were. The Egyptian army may guarantee stability and a level of security, but that’s a far cry from what I’ve heard and read the ordinary Egyptian wants. Do they really see the exchange of a Hosni Mubarak dictatorship for military dictatorship as a road to democracy? Perhaps it is, but that certainly has not been the case elsewhere.
And remember the Free Officers Movement of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952. The Free Officers did not intend to install themselves in the Egyptian government, but to establish a parliamentary democracy. After assuming power, Nasser and the Free Officers expected to become “guardians of the people’s interests” while leaving the day-to-day tasks of government to civilians. Sound ominously familiar? Instead, however, the Free Officers Movement led directly to 60 years of uninterrupted dictatorship in Egypt.
When power is secured by a military junta—even ones helped to power by a popular uprising—that power is seldom relinquish by free elections. And, on the rare occasions when that does happen, the military almost always only allows those who will do their bidding to remain in office after a successful election.
I hope for the best for that hapless land, but fear the worst.