Egypt Open Thread

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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35 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Also, is the military just holding off, letting chaos do its thing, before swooping in to take control?

    Before answering that question, I’ll answer the one I wish you had asked.

    I think that we’ve reached a tipping point with regards to transparency in the Middle East (thanks, in no small part, to Al Jazeera (among many others, of course)). Once you get a group of protesters that large and that camped out in front of the government buildings, there’s really nothing that the government can do.

    Ordering a massacre (a la Tiananmen) is only possible in countries that are SO locked down that the media isn’t allowed at all (or, I suppose, has signed off on multiple prior restraint agreements like Eason Jordan did) and so the one card that (I suspect) Mubarak is eyeing that (I suspect) he suspects *MIGHT* keep him in power a while longer is no longer going to work. We’ll see everything happen in real time and the world won’t let such a thing stand.

    Northern Russia? Maybe. North Korea? Maybe. China? Maybe.

    But Al Jazeera changed the game and changed it forever. Allah, or whomever, bless them for it.

    Now the question you’ve asked: I don’t think that the military could pull off a coup *UNLESS* it gave a number of reforms that the people wanted. If they were effectively indistinguishable from Mubarak after the honeymoon period, we’d quickly see a bunch of people in the same square changing similar slogans with only a handful of names changed.

    Which brings us back to the first point.Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    That’s the big question- Egypt is different from Tunisia in having a huge military and security apparatus. They could end this pretty quick and make the difference in whether it ends as an uprising or a revolution. I’m sort of leaning towards thinking this ends with the military putting down the protests and Mubarak having to make some sort of reforms anyway. Whether they’ll be enough to prevent this from happening again in a few years will be up to him. I wish I was as optimistic as most of my Muslim friends about this.Report

  3. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    I was going to write something about this, got mid-way through and figured that most thoughtful readers would have no trouble realizing on their own that this signals neither the vindication nor complete repudiation of that strain of foreign policy that gets called “neo-conservative.” (I use the quotes because I still have yet to figure out just what the hell it has to do with the neoconservatism of the 1970s and 80s, other than trying to read Islamic extremism/Arab dictators we aren’t presently friends with as the equivalent of the USSR. Unless that is the whole link.)

    Somehow I think it’s more likely that the military — or parts of it — just strike a deal with ElBaradei for a role in the new government. But I’m just guessing. My knowledge of Egyptian politics really only spans the period with the Ptolemies were in charge. (Now, if we could find another Ptolemy Philadelphus, I’d be all for it…)

    Sooner or later, Mubarak’s age and health are going to have to factor into his decision-making. I mean, is it worth it for an 82 year-old man who may or may not be in failing health to struggle to hold onto power for a handful of years longer, with no real promise of security for that power and/or international isolation? Or should he just fade away into retirement, maybe on some really pleasant island in the Mediterranean or south Pacific? If I were him, I’d be seriously considering the advantages of the latter. I’m fairly certain his personal physician is advocating for it, probably because of the chance that he gets free room and board on said island.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    Yeah I agree with Jaybird; if you’re a power in your own right you can maybe get away with massive military crushing of demonstrations but with very much media exposure a client state can’t do the same because it has to actually care what other countries think. Also, in an even moderately integrated economy like Egypt has the government actually has people it cares about really pissed when it kills the internet; businesses, bankers and financiers use it now. So shutting down the communications channels isn’t a simple no brainer for Mubarak that it is for say, Iran.
    I also find it ironic that the neocons loathed Al Jazeera with every fiber of their being and now it’s playing a large part in the uprisings in the Middle East.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

      Northie, is this a ‘popular’ uprising or a Islamist thing, what with the Muslim Brotherhood circulating? If it’s ‘popular’ explain why it isn’t a result, in some way through some connections or so, of Bush’s ‘taking democracy to the Middle East’ stratagem?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        Well Bob, it’s an uprising of the populace of Egypt which is largely Islamic. So from that angle any popular uprising in that country would necessarily be an Islamic one.
        As far as I know there have been plenty of popular uprisings against governments before Bush Minor and I’m unaware of anything at all the man did as President that could be credited with making this uprising possible or more possible.Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    It’s an interesting look at the relationship between the police, the military, and the people. I don’t know much about Egypt. Do they have internal security forces, a military, AND local police forces?

    It helps show the importance of a decentralized “policing.”

    If riots broke out, would American city X’s police prioritize crowd control or protecting the citizens? And would that potentially lead to a conflict between, say, a national guard deployment in charge of putting down protests vs. a police department charged with protecting citizens (or do circumstances like these only demonstrate that the police’s goal is to “maintain the peace,” which may or may not mean protecting citizens).Report

    • My recollection is that the forces the Chinese government brought in to clear Tienamin considered themselves as different from the capitalistas as the French see themselves as different from Germans.

      I wonder if there are similar divisions in Egypt?Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      Related question, I understand Egypt has conscription, would conscripts be less willing to open fire?Report

      • Avatar Tony Comstock in reply to Matty says:

        European conscripts have a well-documented history of slaughtering each other as well as civilians in vast numbers an with horrifying enthusiasm. I don’t see why Egyptians would be any different.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tony Comstock says:

          I saw a quote from The Godfather 2 today and google isn’t helping me figure out where I saw it.

          So I’ll just put it here.

          Michael Corleone: I saw a strange thing today. Some rebels were being arrested. One of them pulled the pin on a grenade. He took himself and the captain of the command with him. Now, soldiers are paid to fight; the rebels aren’t.
          Hyman Roth: What does that tell you?
          Michael Corleone: It means they could win.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Matty says:

        I also think locality would be important. If the conscript is from that location, perhaps they might feel more conflicted, but if national guard from state x was sent to occupy state y, I don’t think they would feel as conflicted, especially if the differences were very large, i.e. Mississippi occupying Connecticut or vice versa.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      BBC news is reporting that the army has been less likely to break up crowds and enforce the curfew than police have.Report

  6. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    “Oddly enough— only the last Administration with President Bush and Secretary Condi Rice has ever taken a strong reform position with Mubarak.”—General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey

    http://www.michaelyon-online.com/egypt-eruption.htm

    So like, whatever. I have no idea if McCaffrey’s right or not, but it leaves the question open, in my view.

    Looks like El Baradei can be the figurehead for the army to rally around. In Pakistan and Turkey, the military is trusted, and has stepped in numerous times to shepherd a change in government.Report

    • Avatar Superluminar in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Well we have no evidence as to whether what McCaffrey asserts is correct or not, although I doubt it and, in any case, it didn’t have any noticeable effect ( and isn’t it somewhat amusing that an Administration that was unelected in the first place and began torturing detainees should call others out on these practices?)

      As to Pakistan and Turkey, are you really sure the history of military involvement in those countries has been a good one?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Superluminar says:

        I wouldn’t say so for Pakistan but the military has served the Turks pretty well in their national history.Report

        • Avatar Superluminar in reply to North says:

          I agree that the interventionist history in Pakistan has generally had worse results (and been provoked by considerably more questionable motivations), I’m not sure the Turkish experience has been all that great for e.g. The Kurds or the long-term development of robust democratic institutions. Put more generally, whilst I occasionally wish governments I dislike could be overthrown by the Generals, I think it’s better that we have long-term and commonly agreed to processes for choosing who run the country. Democracy ain’t meant to be easy, sometimes the wrong guys win.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Superluminar says:

            One of the things that I see as most important in *ANY* government is the ability to change it peacefully.

            I’m not in love with Constitutional Republics or Democracies or this, that, or the other as much as I see that the reigns of power change hands easiest under such systems. (Though the transition from Dubya to ‘Bama has not resulted in anywhere near as much change as I had hoped/feared… it makes me suspect that the true reigns of power never changed hands but now I begin to sound like a crazy person.)

            If a country wants to try “Hey, we should be like America for 5 years!” and then, at the end of the 5 years the people say “well, that sucked… let’s try Marxism for 5 years!” and then, at the end of 5 years, they say “holy crap, that didn’t work at all! Let’s try to be Denmark for 5 years!”, then *THAT* is a system of government that I’d be down with. (Assuming, of course, a system where people’s basic human rights are protected, of course… let’s say the first 8 Amendments. And, of course, where the right of exit was allowed for any individual.)

            The problem is that there is no government that governs as well as getting rid of the government feels.

            As such, we need a system where getting rid of the government and trying on a new one is easiest.

            For the most part, that means Republics/Democracies.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Jaybird says:

              Jaybird, just curious–has there ever been a war between two Constitutional Republics or two Democracies? (a real one–not a Saddam democracy, or an Oretega one or a Castro one–you know, the ones when the party in power gets 99% of the vote.)

              I’d say we’ve been quite well-served by our Constitutional Republic form of government. Not even the slightest whiff of a dictatorship or a tyrannical regime has ever befallen the United States. Never. And I’m not talking about the utterly silly “Patriot Act” argument that we’ve morphed into some kind of police state. People who make such asinine claims should take a look at real police states run by real dictators and tyrants.
              For starters: Cuba, Guinea, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, etc. The simple fact of the matter is that we are not inherently superior human beings, rather, that we have been saved by our inherently superior form of government–a Constitutional Republic. What would you like to replace it with?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Heidegger says:

                has there ever been a war between two Constitutional Republics or two Democracies?

                Does the war of 1812 count? How about Mr. Lincoln’s War?

                What would you like to replace it with?

                A Constitutional Republic that respects the rights of individuals. (Insert rant about police powers including the Patriot Act here.)Report

              • Avatar gregiank in reply to Jaybird says:

                1812 and the civil war don’t count, we didn’t have any mcdonalds yet.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird–no, War of 1812 doesn’t count–Britain was a Constitutional Monarchy and did not resemble a democracy no matter what kind of definition you were to apply. The War Between the States most certainly does not count because it was never recognized as a sovereign democracy nor was it recognized by any powers or states as an independent state. If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think President Davis was ever elected–he was appointed by representatives–these reps were in fact, “free males” which means 65% of all males had no representation whatsoever.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Heidegger says:

                Forgot to ask: What kind of government does Antarctica have? Now there’s a continent ripe for a revolution. I’ve heard all those seals and penguins can get quite unruly, especially the Emperor and Rockhopper penguins. And just forget it, should you be unfortunate enough to have one of those albatrosses around your neck–they don’t give up easily!Report

              • Avatar Matty in reply to Heidegger says:

                Since you ask the nearest thing to an Antarctic government has a website here .Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Matty says:

                Thanks so much for the reply, Matty!
                When it comes to war, I guess it’s safe to put Antarctica in the “neutral” category as well as not possessing any weapons of mass destruction. Although those tricky Russkies could have buried nukes deep into the polar ice. I’m curious–do you think Antarctica has any population? I know scientists come and go throughout the year, but does anyone actually live there? Does Antarctica have their own flag? I’ll have research this when I get back. Thanks again.Report

              • Avatar Matty in reply to Heidegger says:

                I don’t think there are any permanent inhabitants of Antarctica but if there were I still doubt they would form much of a ‘native’ population.

                My understanding of the situation is it’s too fishing cold to just wander in and set up on your own. If you are in Antarctica you would be either on a base owned by a nation outside Antarctica or part of an expedition sent by a nation outside Antarctica and would be subject to the sending government not to any local authority. The treaty system I linked to is about international relations between those nations that have bases in Antarctica and like most international law doesn’t really reach down to individuals.

                Think of the bases/expeditions as like ships in open ocean. There are agreements on what to do in dealing with other ships but essentially each captain will answer to his superiors back home not to any local sea government.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Superluminar says:

            Oh I’m not going to sing high praise to military coups or anything like that. But history is harsh and when you compare Turkey; kept pretty much strictly secular via Ataturk’s disciples in the military; to her impoverished peers on the Mediterranean there is a strong contrast. In principle I oppose the very idea of coups. But I still think that historically things could have gone worse for Turkey than what happened.
            That said I think the era of artificially enforced secularism in Turkey is past and while I find Erdogan’s government unpleasant I feel that it’s probably necessary if for no other reason than for Turkey’s secular parties to finally get their homework done in the political wilderness and learn to win elections and persuade voters.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Ioz puts it all in perspective here:

    whoisioz.blogspot.com/2011/01/piece-of-middle-east.htmlReport

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The Egyptian Army said that it would not use force:

    news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Egyptian-Army-We-Wont-Use-Force-Against-Protesters/Article/201103415919803Report

  9. Avatar Kolohe says:

    A medium term problem is even if Murbarak were to leave the country in the next hour, it will take years to undo the sclerosis in the economy that creates the 20% unemployment & whatever % under employment. I fear the embryonic stab at real political pluralism will be aborted in the lack of patience to take the time that’s required to undo this economic status quo. Unless, however, the ‘provisional’ government is smart enough to let the ‘shadow’ economy prosper – and co-opt it later. Though, it’s problematic, if not impossible, for provisional governments to do this, because they generally need all the taxes they can get their hands on, and of course, a shadow economy by definition pays no taxes)

    A short term problem is people are starting to run out of food and fuel because Egypt’s entire transportation & banking systems have ground to a near halt.

    It may be a good idea to keep a few AOL CD’s in the (repurposed) Y2K bunker with the beans and the bullets. Apparently, an important way of getting around the internet shutdown was through dial-up connections.

    Stolen from a private twitter stream, which in turn stole it from a public twitter stream-
    “Shut down the internet, and guess what? Everyone under thirty has nothing better to do *but* to go out in the streets”Report

  10. Avatar Matty says:

    I imagine you already know but just in case anyone is getting their news from the league, Mubarak made a speech last night offering to retire at the election in September and calling for constiutional change.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/02/president-hosni-mubarak-egypt-speechReport