A new chapter in the history of the Middle East opened on February 11, 2011 when 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak ended in the face of unprecedented mass uprising against his brutal pro-US regime. The collapse in Egypt took just 18 days of bold protest, inspired by the overthrow of Tunisia's long-standing strongman, President Zein Al Abidin, just weeks before. Ironically, the day Mubarak was toppled from power came precisely 32 years after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, which shook the world in its day and still reverberates.
The forced exit of Mubarak from the presidential palace has sent shock waves to the Arab rulers. From the oil-rich Persian Gulf states in the east to Morocco in the west, pro-U.S. regimes could not help but worry they could see a similar upheaval. If it could happen in only three weeks in Egypt, where Mubarak's lock on power appeared unshakable, it could happen anywhere. Only a month earlier, Tunisia's president Zein Al Abidin was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia in the face of protests.
The success of 'people power' in Egypt is far more significant for Arabs everywhere than its success in Tunisia. Egypt, with 80 million population, is the biggest and most powerful Arab state. The Egyptian example has already electrified public opinion throughout the region where, like Egypt, autocracy, corruption, unemployment, and anti-Israel sentiments prevail.
The victory of the Egyptian people will no doubt stir demands from the region to change their pro-West leadership and change in the US policies. There are pro-US regimes in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states which are likely to be threatened by popular uprisings.
Not surprisingly, several of the region's rulers have made pre-emptive gestures of democratic reform to avert their own protest movements.
Egypt is now under military rule
However, the anti-dictatorial moment is only the first phase of a prolonged struggle toward definitive emancipation of Egypt as the country is now taken over by the army that firmly backed Mubarak for three decades.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Sunday dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution. The last parliamentary elections in November and December were marked by allegations of fraud by the ruling party, which was accused of virtually shutting out the opposition. Throughout his rule, Mubarak ensured control through rigged elections, a constitution his regime wrote, a ruling party that monopolized the levers of state, and a hated police force accused of widespread torture.
The military council said parliamentary and presidential elections will be held, but did not set a timetable. It said it will run the country for six months or until elections can be held. The council also formed a committee to introduce constitutional changes and set rules for a popular referendum to endorse the amendments. The council also asserted the right to proclaim laws.
Egypt is now under military rule. After 18 days of massive demonstrations, Omar Suleiman, the vice-president and former intelligence chief, announced on February 11 that Mubarak has "charged the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to administer Egypt's affairs". That means the terms and timing of Egypt's transition to democracy will be decided by generals: Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's defense minister; Lieutenant-General Sami Hafiz Enan, the chief of the armed forces; Air Marshal Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, the air force chief; Lieutenant General Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen; commander of The Egyptian Air Defence Forces; and Naval Forces Commander in Chief, Vice Admiral Mohab Mohammed Hussein Mamish. Another key member is General Omar Suleiman
Field Marshal Tantawi, 75, who has in the past been reviled by his critics as "Mubarak's poodle," heads the six-member ruling military council. General Omar Suleiman, who was appointed by Mubarak as Vice President on January 28, was widely expected to success him but he resigned as Vice President and became a key member of the ruling military council. Omar Suleiman, widely dubbed by protesters "Sheikh al-Torture", after his performance tossing at least 30,000 people in jail as suspected jihadis, accepting CIA renditions, and torturing the rendered. He is a long-standing favorite of Israel's who spoke daily to the Tel Aviv government via a secret "hotline" to Cairo, according to leaked documents."
Mubarak has left but his so-called state security apparatus with 325,000 Central Security Forces and the 60,000 National Guard, directly under the Interior Ministry, remain intact. Top Generals of the 468,500-strong army have buttressed Mubarak for 30 years while civilian security forces and police were used to brutally suppress anti-government elements.
Roger Hardy, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC, believes that President Mubarak's resignation and his departure from Cairo do not mean that the Egyptian crisis is moving towards an early resolution. On the contrary, Mubarak has simply dumped his dilemmas into the lap of the military top brass.
Egyptians welcomed military rule with a massive display of joy. But many questions remain about what comes next -- and there are strong doubts about whether military rule will lead to the demonstrators' ultimate goal: a credible transition to democracy.
Robert Springborg, a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, suspects that a real constitutional overhaul is not on the military's agenda. The current document heavily centralizes power in a strong president, something he believes top commanders are loath to change.
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