It's official: A revolution in Egypt
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned. His vice president, Omar Suleiman, announced Friday that the dictator of 30 years will not complete his current term. Suleiman also said that Mubarak ceded control of Egypt to the military. As I've written about the tumult in Egypt, I've avoided the term "Egyptian revolution." Now, it's not overstatement to use it.
But now, also, the hard part begins.
"This is the beginning; not the end," were the words al Jazeera translated live from sources all over Egypt Friday. Regardless of politics, every Egyptian faces an uncertain political transition. The military has behaved cautiously so far, neither crushing the protests nor forcing Mubarak out quickly. Friday morning, even, its leaders said that they would support Mubarak's perseverance in office until September, at which point the military would guarantee free elections and lift the emergency law -- even as the lower ranks stationed in Cairo's streets seemed to back the protesters who objected to this arrangement. The generals' preference seems to have been to avoid provoking the instability that would follow a bloody crackdown or the hasty removal of a long-entrenched political elite.
Television reports out of Egypt indicate that the military is now embracing the revolution, commencing an ambitious rewrite of the constitution, toppling, as one statement put it, "the whole corrupt system." Mohammed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition leader, is now talking of a transitional government with military and civilian representation that would prepare the country for elections in a year's time.
Will the military make good on its promises? On whom will it call to refashion the country's political structures? Will the generals ultimately prefer a fleeting sense of stability to genuine political reform? What will they do with the thugs who surrounded Mubarak?
Even if the military does everything right, deep divisions among anti-Mubarak forces will emerge. The Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized opposition group, but it's probably -- and one hopes -- not representative of the majority of protesters. Strong, secular leaders haven't established themselves yet. Can functioning, civilian political institutions effectively organize themselves quickly in a country in which civil society has been suppressed for years? If not, will the subsequent political dealing be considered legitimate?
As for America, it has had a good relationship with the Egyptian military. But what influence will it really have to encourage secular democrats in the country? Should it be seen doing so? And what will Egypt's new civilian leadership, assuming it has one soon, think of the United States after years of American cooperation with Mubarak?
It's time to revel in the jubilation of the crowds in Tahrir Square. But there is still danger ahead.
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