Watching the fall of Hosni Mubarak's modern Egyptian dynasty has been as thrilling as watching the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Throughout this 18-day reclamation of a country by a brave and extraordinary people I've been both jubilant and pensive. Recent history has seen the fall of the U.S.S.R. and has also witnessed the Shah flee Iran and Marcos high tail it out of the Philippines. The Berlin Wall and the flight of megalomaniac dictators create huge vacuums in countries, if not the world.
What follows, however, is not always America.
Americans always find that surprising. Freedom, they believe, can only mean one thing, as in "how we do it right here, in the good old U S of A."
As a historian I don't know for sure what will unfold in Egypt in the immediate future or what the country will look like in several years. I think I can, however, look at what's happened, what's presently happening and, factoring in some additional information, I think I can make some reasonable predictions or at least suggest key areas of concern that need to be closely watched.
One thing I'm fairly certain will be true is this: Egypt is not going to look like us or the Canadians or the French or the Germans anytime soon.
Let's look at what we do know about Egypt:
1. Who's Running the Show.
Well, we know it's not "the people." For all practical purposes, the reins of power have been transferred to the army.
A 16-member Supreme Military Council took over when Mubarak resigned Friday, February 11th. The Council granted unto itself nearly unlimited powers and confirmed that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was Egypt's new head of state. Tantawi has previously served as Egypt's Defense Minister.
On Sunday, the 13th, the military leaders dissolved the parliament. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were heavily rigged and virtually shut out any oppositional representatives. They also suspended the Egyptian constitution.
However, these actions met two immediate demands of the protesters. At this writing, it appears that the following other demands are still open: dissolution of Mubarak's "caretaker" Cabinet; termination of emergency law and military tribunals, including the release of all political prisoners; the formation of a transitional presidential council consisting of four civilians and one military member, as well as a transitional government to run the country until elections can be held; the creation of a body tasked with drafting a democratic constitution that will ensure human rights; and they have demanded a free media and the formation of political parties.
The Council announced it will rule the government for six months or until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held. It seems this is a rejection of the demand for a transitional presidential council. The Council remains silent about how it intends to proceed with the protester's other demands. It did say, even before Mubarak quit, that a presidential election, first expected to be held in September, would be free and fair. The timing of the election is now uncertain.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq announced the provisional government's (which is really the Supreme Military Council) main concern is returning "security back to the Egyptian citizens."
I don't really know what that means but I do suspect crime has been rampant. Cairo is a huge city and human nature being what it is, I suspect that their criminals are just like our criminals -- meaning they know how to take advantage of total civil unrest. I wasn't surprised to hear the head of the country's famous Antiquities Council, Zaki Hawass, admit that seventeen irreplaceable, priceless objects were stolen from the National Museum during the crisis. I've been sort of wondering about things like that; as I watched events in the public square I wondered what was happening in the alleys and side streets. I'm from Chicago so I think about those things. No doubt there were many other less than stellar activities besides some sticky fingers at the National Museum.
This may be why the Council has begun to break up the party. Clearly, they believe the protesters have made their point, Mubarak has been toppled, and changes are underway. They are saying it is now time for the protesters to go home. There is a need for civil order.
The move by the army to retake Tahrir Square began Saturday night with plain clothes officers spreading the word rather gently that it was time to move on. Later military police moved in and began to pull down tents and disperse the crowds. They were not as neighborly as the undercover cops. People who would not leave were arrested.