So Egypt's President Mubarak has finally gone. The old man's final throw turned out to be yesterday’s stubborn speech, failing to turn the tide of protest against him, and – more importantly – failing to convince Egypt’s Army that he could cling onto power. It seems safe to speculate that the Army provided the final push. The protesters are still shouting in the streets, as they have been for weeks, but it is the Army that has held the country together. First its jets and helicopters overflew Cairo’s main square, letting Egyptians know who held the power. In the end it was the Army that decided enough was enough. Note that it is the Army’s council of generals – and not Mubarak’s deputy Omar Suleiman – that seem to be assuming power – at least according to the press reports. Egypt’s Army – US equipped, Africa’s biggest, and the tenth largest armed force globally – now calls the shots.
In many ways this is a relief. The Army is a very popular institution in Egypt, counts for stability, opposes the radicals in the Muslim Brotherhood, and has strong links to the US and other allies. Protestors drew rude slogans on tanks, but its role has been largely that of police in recent weeks, ever since it vowed not to fight with the protesters. It can use that popular goodwill to buy some stability and avoid any ugly scenes for now. Then it’s up to the generals to decide what to do next.
Who will hold lasting power in Egypt could now go one of a few ways:
- a military junta led by the generals, no better than before, but providing some stability (for now);
- a weak coalition government, with the Muslim Brotherhood in – probably violent – opposition;
- a stronger coalition government but dominated by the extremist, anti-Israeli Muslim Brotherhood.
The latter option is not something the Army will want, and probably an option that it will not allow to happen. If the Brotherhood did get into power, they might also get their hands on the country’s treasury and its armoury: potentially helping to fund and arm all the other nasty elements of Arab politics.
In such a scenario the big risk is that Israeli hawks then start launching air strikes left, right and centre. That could easily happen if Israelis start thinking they’ve been forced into a corner and need to act before things get worse – not forgetting Iran. Then we could see a real Jihad.
Overall, when considering future Middle Eastern bloodbaths, Mubarak wasn’t so bad, right?
The source for the title picture for this post can be found online here.