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MEI Commentaries February 14, 2011
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Assertions and opinions in this Policy Insight are solely those of the above-mentioned author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy. 

After Mubarak

By Charles W. Dunne

MEI Scholar
An earlier version of this Commentary first appeared in the American Interest on February 12, 2011.

Charles W. Dunne HeadshotThe shock waves of Hosni Mubarak's resignation have just started to roll across the Middle East, but in Egypt the upheaval has barely begun. The country now embarks on what the protesters in Tahrir square hope will be a transition to a true, civilian-led democracy.   In the meantime, Egypt is headed for a period of military rule in some form, with the ultimate intentions of the armed forces leadership still in doubt.  Will the military act to effect the "genuine transition" now demanded by the Obama Administration and the protesters themselves?  Or will it seek first and foremost to perpetuate some form of authoritarian regime dressed in democratic clothing in order to secure its privileges and increase its power relative to the rest of the state?

Constitutional questions also abound.  Among them is whether the provisions governing elections will remain in force-rules that Carnegie Endowment scholar Nathan Brown noted in Foreign "were designed with one purpose in mind:  to allow the existing leadership to designate the president."  Such an outcome would hobble political parties seeking to field candidates for the presidency, and would likely prove deeply unsatisfactory to the crowds in Tahrir.  The military's suspension of the constitution, dissolution of parliament  and imposition of martial law may have answered some of these questions temporarily-and have been hailed by many of the protesters as necessary steps to get rid of the remnant of the Mubarak regime-but they are bound to resurface as the process of drafting new laws begins.

Worries about Egypt's political future are rife too, especially since no one person or party has truly emerged to speak for the opposition.  The fear among many Arab and Western observers is that the Muslim Brotherhood will leverage its superior organizational capabilities to seize power through the ballot box and turn Egypt into a hostile theocracy dedicated to spreading revolution and negating the peace treaty with Israel.  Then there is the question of Egypt's political prisoners, thousands of whom are still held and tortured by the state.  What will become of them?  And what of Egypt's hated emergency law, which allows detention without charge and would provide a perfect tool for the government to revenge itself upon protest leaders?  The February 11 communiqu� from the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces in which the military appeared to take charge suggested it would be cast aside-but only after the protesters go home.

These uncertainties and the potential effects of the Egyptian revolution elsewhere in the region have set off claxons in many Arab capitals, not to mention Tel Aviv.  No government can be absolutely certain that the winds of change won't blow their way, as Jordan, Yemen, Syria and Algeria have found out.  While some countries possess economic and cultural advantages that may inhibit Egypt-like outpourings of popular anger, no Arab ruler can look upon his "street" quite the same way again.

Read the complete Commentary here.