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Stylized facts about the revolution in Egypt

January 29th, 2011 · No Comments

Let’s see what it all adds up to..

  1. Without massive violence or a silent regime change with Mubarak out, the protests will not lie down
  2. The situation stands or falls with what the military will do
  3. We will likely know that sooner rather than later
  4. The protesters are keenly aware of this, chanting “the military and the people are one”
  5. Hours delay of Mubarak’s speech is sign of intensive power brokerage with the military, and allowing the military to take positions
  6. Mubarak’s speech came far short of expectations as there were no indications whatsoever that he was going (after 30 years in power). Apparently he thinks he has the support of the military and can ride out the protest
  7. There doesn’t seem to be much of a natural power base for social, economic and political reform that the West, most notably the US, likes to see. More or less liberal political parties are marginal, El Baradei is an outsider who lived abroad
  8. The Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition (with at most 1/3 of the vote) is socially well established and well organized (contrary to any liberal opposition) but no part of the elite and no party to any negotiations
  9. However, do not get too comfortable from that. The Iranian 1979 revolution also started as a social protest against an oppressive regime. Revolutions have a habit of eating their children and the dynamics are extremely unpredictable
  10. So the markets are right to be somewhat scared. The specter of the Suez channel being closed is not an easy one to digest, nor if the piece between Israel and Egypt would disintegrate as a result of some extreme regime change. Worse still if the fire spreads.
  11. Having said that, there is an upshot. What if the revolution in its liberal form actually succeeds and spreads. The neocons vision of a democratic Middle-East could actually be brought about. If it produces economic, political, and social reforms, the region could turn into a more just, more prosperous place which would stabilize, rather than destabilize the region 
  12. We’re bound to be between hope and fear, for some time, with the first crucial test whether the Egyptian army will actually shoot its own population coming pretty soon.
  13. For you InterOil followers, any reminder of how volatile the Middle East can be is good for energy resource plays elsewhere, although negative for markets overall.

Some experts from the Guardian:

Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics

This is the Arab world’s Berlin moment. The authoritarian wall has fallen – and that’s regardless of whether Mubarak survives or not. It goes beyond Mubarak. The barrier of fear has been removed. It is really the beginning of the end of the status quo in the region. The introduction of the military speaks volumes about the failure of the police to suppress the protesters. The military has stepped in and will likely seal any vacuum of authority in the next few weeks. Mubarak is deeply wounded. He is bleeding terribly. We are witnessing the beginning of a new era.

Rosemary Hollis, professor of Middle Eastern policy studies at City University, London

I think it will take a couple of days to organise his [Mubarak’s] departure if it happens. It’s going to be a messy process and there will probably be some bloodshed. I don’t think you’re going to get into a situation where you have almost a war with the army on one side and the people on the other. The army has to decide whether it stands with Mubarak or the people. It’s one of those moments where, as with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, they can come down to individual lieutenants and soldiers to decide whether they fire on the crowd or not. Different soldiers and groups of soldiers may well make different decisions.

In some ways what we’re looking at is what happened in Iran in 1979, but without [Ayatollah] Khomenei. These protests are much more leaderless. As with Tunisia – and with Iran in 1979 – what will probably happen is you get an interim government. The question is what replaces it.

Robin Niblet, director at Chatham House

If Egypt stepped in that direction [of political Islam] implications for Israel and Israel’s security could be very serious indeed.

He [Obama] has to be incredibly careful about the message he sends right now publicly, whatever he says in private. I think the US government in part has to be in very close contact with the Egyptian military, now that they’ve been brought in to this contact by the president.

They are potentially the group that could tell Mubarak to go. It could potentially turn against him … quietly and privately. A new government will have to undertake all of the social, structural changes … so that economic opportunity is not trapped in the hands of so few.

Mark Malloch Brown, former UN deputy secretary general and former junior British foreign minister

[Egypt] has in recent years tried to combine a very limited political space with a much bigger social space, underpinned by a very widespread access to electronic media. That appears to have become the Achilles heel of the regime.

Tags: Opinion