Saturday, February 19, 2011

Egypt: The battle is won not the war

Published in Daily Sun, February 20th., 2011
M. Serajul Islam

The successful overthrow of President Hosne Mubarak by people’s power was a historic event that neither USA nor Israel anticipated. In fact, Israel did not even welcome it when the movement showed the signs of succeeding. Israel cautioned its allies, particularly the US, while the revolution was being enacted in Egypt about power going to the Muslim Brotherhood. International politics makes even stranger bedfellows than politics itself and Egypt underscored that very effectively. Israel and Saudi Arabia voiced the same concern over the ouster of President Mubarak and the dismantling of his 3 decades old dictatorship.

The United States however was quick to see the events in Egypt better than Israel or Saudi Arabia. It quickly changed sides and forgot completely its long 30 years association with the regime of former President Mubarak. It also ignored the fact that it had revamped the coffers of Mr. Hosne Mubarak and his military with a new US 1.3 billion dollars loan only recently. It looked the other way when his regime flaunted all democratic norms to assure a ridiculous absolute victory to the ruling National Democratic Party in parliamentary elections held in November-December last year as a prelude for a new five years term for Mr. Mubarak or to pass the mantle to his son.

The US cannot be faulted on issue of realism. When President Bush found there was no WMD in Iraq, he did not lose any time to change course and claim that he had taken his country to Iraq for sake of democracy. In Egypt, when President Obama saw the people’s uprising there coming in the wake of successful toppling of Mr. Ben Ali in Tunisia, it took him no time to ask Mr. Mubarak to start packing. That message was strengthened by the President’s aide who advised the former President to start packing “from yesterday”!

The ouster of President Mubarak has been no more than winning a battle. Winning the war is still not even in sight because the path to establishment of democracy has to be through unchartered waters. The final success of the movement was largely the result of the phenomenal strength of networking through the Facebook, Twitter and the mobile technology. . There was the face of youth, the driving force in jelling the people against the regime, but there was no organized leadership, leader or political party involved in the movement, the ingredients necessary for establishing a democratic government in Egypt.

The movement has removed Mr. Hosne Mubarak. Power still remains in the hands of the very military whose loyalty had helped the former dictator consolidate and sustain his absolute power through state terror. The military was repaid by privileges that made it a stakeholder in the oppressive system that Mr. Mubarak built as President of Egypt. Although the military is generally held in respect in Egyptian society, that respect goes for the entire military and not the top brass who have been as guilty of building and sustaining the repressive regime of Mr. Hosne Mubarak as the former President himself.

The Supreme Military Council has since dissolved the parliament and has announced new elections in 6 months time. That is a long time and in between, many things could happen. Left to itself, it would be too much to expect that the military leadership will pave the way for democracy

in Egypt. History itself is against it. Therefore, it is time that those who have influence on the military of Egypt move fast and decisively to play a historic role that the youth of Egypt has not just given the country but to the region.

Two countries are crucial to guide Egypt at this critical juncture, the United States and Israel. While the US has played its opening hand positively in favour of the revolution; Israel has done so negatively. The US’ role in the exit of Mr. Mubarak was vital for it must have been the United States that encouraged Mr. Mubarak’s Generals to desert their patron and ask him to resign that he could not ignore. The US now must use the undeniable influence it has over the country’s military to ensure they keep democracy and the nation’s interest ahead of their personal and institutional ones..

Israel’s role is in a way as important as that of the United States. Israel has been smug under pseudo-democracy and autocratic rule in the region. The rulers in such systems have all these years paid lip service to the cause of Palestine while behind the scene; they have toed the line dictated to them by the United States that has always ensured that it was Israel’s interest that was served first and last.

Although Israel has always made a big issue of its democracy, in fact it has been to Israel’s benefit that democracy has so far not touched the region. Democratic governments in the region have the potential to bring peoples and governments together and when that happens, Israel would have find it very difficult to deny the just rights to Palestine.

The events in Egypt have woken Israel out of that smugness. It is the new reality to which Israel must adjust both for itself and the region. In a way it is also a great opportunity for Israel because the new generation that has spearheaded the democratic revolution is more interested in their future, in jobs and opportunities. It would nevertheless be a major mistake to believe that the new generation would push aside the question of Palestine and pursue just their interests.. They can nevertheless be won over for sustainable peace for Israel if Israel makes moves towards a just and fair solution of the Palestinian problem. It is time that Israel to take note that the new generation is a far stronger force than what they have been used to deal with in denying the Palestinians their rights.

The events in Egypt have given President Obama the opportunity to bring foreign policy into reckoning in his bid for re-election. Surely, voters will be encouraged to vote for him if his administration takes the leading role in ushering democracy in Egypt and the region. It has the power, influence and whatever else is needed for the purpose. Egypt has opened for President Obama not just a better chance for re-election but also to leave his legacy as a statesman and prove that he is truly worth the Nobel Peace Prize given to him , that many had questioned. The US should with wasting time influence the formation of an interim civilian government to keep the military in place.

Most of all the United States must convince Israel that their best bet for peace is in a Middle East where democracy rules and not dictators and autocrats. That peace which is crucial to complete the process of the democratic revolution that Egypt has opened for itself and the region can be established with US and Israel working together for a just solution to the Palestinian problem.

Writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to Egypt and Japan.

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