My colleague Dina El-Gebaly is seeing–live and from the ground, mind you–the birth pangs of a state emerging from a revolution. Clearly, this is a unpredictable and chaotic environment for politics, the economy, and the security of all Egyptians.
Right now, it appears that there is a confluence of three important factors shaping events in Egypt. First, there are figures–those still working in the Egyptian state and those behind the scenes– who have entrenched interests in the old regime. It is in their political and economic benefit that either the old domestic political status quo is restored or that the new state does not deviate much from the old status quo. As Dina suggested, these people are Mubarak loyalists, and they are undermining and aiming to halt significant political change.
Second, the role of the military in the political landscape is still very fluid. The military is by far the central player in Egyptian politics, serving as head of state and directing the reform processes. But it is far from certain that the military is progressive enough to cede political power voluntarily to another individual or group or institution through constitutional guarantees and free and fair elections. Remember, it is usually very difficult to get militaries out of politics and back into the barracks, especially when they have been functioning as a de facto political actor as long as the Egyptian military has. Further, while the military has started to dismantle some of the vestiges of the old authoritarian regime, it has not completely done so (emergency law yet to be lifted, timelines on various promises are vague, Mubarak loyalists still government, and so on). And so at this point, we do not have sufficient information to know if the military truly intends to comply with or block the demands of the January 25th movement. At a minimum, the military will look to protect its commercial and business interests while maintaining some leverage over the Egyptian government.
Third, the protest movement and other anti-Mubarak forces are still disorganized. The youth–the people who were the vital cog in the revolution–believe that they are being sidelined and potentially sold-out by opportunistic elders who latched on to the opposition movement in the revolution’s last days. Even the much-hyped Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is not nearly as cohesive and unified as we believed. Heated debates on a host of issues, which first surfaced during the revolution, has caused fissures in the relationship between the leadership and the rest of the group. In fact, various MB members have publicly declared their intention to form their own political party. So overall, the people-power movement that we see right now is very splintered and weak, unable to assert itself meaningfully into Egyptian politics.
As we know, the Egyptian Revolution created a political vacuum. The above three factors, in combination, have filled and conditioned that vacuum with an unstable and combustible mix of pressures, incentives, and motivations. For all concerned parties, the next step is to think about the ways the Egyptian state can stabilize itself.
The next steps is a subject I am sure we will discuss in detail in the months ahead. For now, one fruitful path to consider is how the people can enhance their role and influence in the state. In short, the people must continue efforts at organizing themselves into effective blocs. Egyptians should look to form political parties that have a foundation in a deep pool of constituents (the youth, labor), and these parties ought to build linkages to each other–both of which should allow each party to be an independent group, with a distinct identity, but also capable of networking with other parties that have similar goals and interests to push their ideas forward. This could serve as a form of collective empowerment, enabling the people to make demands, articulate grievances and interests, and attract supporters from all walks of life–the basics of domestic political power. Furthermore, as the people acquire more political power, they would be better able to spotlight and thwart the re-emergence of the old guard. And they would be in an enhanced position to check the military, should it renege on its promises and commitments (to reform, to give up power, etc.)