It appears that the Egyptian army — the power behind Hosni Mubarak’s throne, and almost certainly the final arbiter in the process of naming his replacement — has decided it’s time for the protests to end and for the next chapter in this story to begin in earnest. From McClatchy Newspapers:
Besieged by two weeks of protests, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s regime has offered once-unthinkable political concessions and started negotiations with its fiercest adversaries.
Some things in Egypt, however, don’t change so quickly.
The Egyptian military has rounded up scores of human rights activists, protest organizers and journalists in recent days without formal charges, according to watchdog groups and accounts by the detainees. While most arrests have been brief — lasting fewer than 24 hours — experts say they’re a sign that the regime’s notorious tradition of extrajudicial detentions is continuing even as Mubarak appears to be on his way out of power.
Arbitrary arrests by police forces are among Egyptians’ bitterest and longest running complaints against their government, which gives security services sweeping powers under a state of emergency that’s been in place almost nonstop since 1967.
The perpetrators of the latest arrests, however, are Egyptian army soldiers, deployed on the streets for the first time in more than two decades after the police all but disappeared following clashes with protesters on Jan. 25. The man most likely to lead the transition to a post-Mubarak era, Vice President Omar Suleiman, is Mubarak’s longtime intelligence chief.
(H/t: Hot Air)
For those hoping for even a somewhat democratic government in Egypt, headed by moderates rather than clerics, this may be the best outcome out of those that are also realistic. Generations of Egyptians have been raised and educated (or not) in a country without a lively political opposition or a civil society that had the freedom to develop potential national leaders concerned with enhancing the people’s liberties. There’s no sign that the Egyptian Mandela, or Aquino, or Attaturk, or Washington, is about to walk through the door (as I’ve written before, Mohamed ElBaradei isn’t that guy).
But, if the army is still calling the shots, we might not get the Egyptian Khomeini. In the interim, that probably maintains the status quo in the region regarding Israel. And anyway, replacing Mubarak with the Muslim Brotherhood probably wasn’t what led the Egyptian youths in Tahrir Square to risk their lives and livelihoods.
It won’t be an ideal outcome — it probably wasn’t going to be in any event. The most likely result of a government that is most dependent on the army is more of what Egyptians experienced under Mubarak.
But it may be an outcome that, from an American perspective, allows us to keep intact some of our strategic interests while using our influence there in the future to do more than prop up a dictator. Now is the time for the Obama administration to make clear to Suleiman and the Egyptian army that we are adding the development of true democratic institutions to the list of conditions for their receiving American aid.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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