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Egypt on the brink – of what?

It’s not about Mubarak any more.   For all practical purposes he’s already gone.    The issue now is the succession.   Mubarak has not resigned or been deposed, but the power has already shifted to the most dangerous man in the leadership, Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief and now formally Vice-President, though already assuming the reins of Presidential power in all but name, a man soaked in the black arts of manipulative and dirty politics with all the ruthless self-interest of an Egyptian Mandelson. He is the man who as head of Egyptian intelligence mercilessly crushed Mubarak’s political opponents, torturing many, championed the brutal suppression of the main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood (which contrary to the establishment propaganda is not a militant Islamic group tied to Al-Qaeda),  and is highly regarded in the US and Israel.   But where is all this leading?

The strategy is clear.   Mubarak, if he remains too stubborn to stand down, will be largely ignored as the struggle for the post-Mubarak future is played out elsewhere.   Suleiman’s initial plan was to let the public anger in Tahrir Square burn itself out, with enough military and special forces waiting on the sidelines in case serious violence threatened to bring down the existing order by force.   That has got nowhere.   Nor did the government-induced violence by pro-Mubarak supporters, largely thugs from the security forces, succeed in dislodging the demonstrators from their control of the Square.   So there is no alternative now but to start talks, no doubt through gritted teeth, with the opposition – other political parties, representatives of the demonstrators, and even the Muslim Brotherhood, previously banned for the last 50 years.

This moment is the crux of every revolution.   There remains a yawning gap between Western and Israeli goals in such talks and those fighting for a self-determining democracy.   Western spokesmen repeat their mantra about an ‘orderly transition’, by which they mean the continuation of the existing order with as many of its current members remaining in power as possible and with the fewest concessions they can get away with.   The fighters for a democratic revolution want an end to the existing order and the removal of all the leaders of the ‘ancien regime’, which certainly includes Suleiman.

These views are incompatible, and the outcome of this revolution will depend on how far the leaders of the demonstrators can enforce their demands that the transition should be managed by representatives sympathetic to their aims.   Otherwise an ‘orderly transition’ may well lead after an interval to let tempers cool to the re-imposition of yet another army figure.    The status quo would then survive, though no doubt in some more moderate form, and the US and Israel would have secured their key interests of retaining an Egypt they could do business with and if necessary control.   The stakes for those who believe in freedom and self-determination are indeed extremely high.

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