WAMC Dec. 1, 2011
Dr. Steven A Leibo is the Sage Colleges’ Professor of International History & Politics
“On Egypt’s On Going Revolution”
One of the most curious aspects of watching international news these days has been monitoring coverage Egypt, which of course has certainly been an emotional roller coaster for those hoping to see a freer Egypt emerge out of the drama of the larger Arab Spring.
And of course of late we have seen a lot of discouragement given that less than a year after seeing Egypt’s long time dictator Hosni Mubarak driven from power those calling for democracy are back again in the now internationally famous Tahrir Square as yet another Egyptian general refuses to stand down. Yes, refused to step down even as enthusiasm about the election process that began just this week leads some to nervously speculate on the likely victory of the Islamic parties. Anxiously acting as if an Iranian style theocracy were likely to emerge under the leadership of Egypt’s home grown Muslim Brotherhood.
But from the perspective of this long time student of international developments it seems like there was way too much enthusiasm last January and far too much discouragement now. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to be especially optimistic these days. In some ways more optimistic than a year ago because despite all the drama of those exciting days last January when those that hoped for a democratic future for Egypt quite prematurely proclaimed a revolution that had not yet happened.
After all, this time last year too many were enthusiastically celebrating the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year dictatorship Without noticing it was only the top of the pyramid of a sixty year dictatorship dominated by the Egyptian Army. Indeed, far too many naïvely saw the Egyptian army as siding with those interested in a more democratic Egypt rather than committed to remaining the ultimate arbiters of the establishment.
An establishment that begun with Nasser, passed on to Sadat and then finally Mubarak, a largely military regime that dominated the economy and ultimately the politics regardless of which former military officer ran it. A military establishment that was only too willing to jettison Mubarak it’s most recent and frequently out of touch leader. And then skillfully assumed the leadership of a revolutionary movement that never quite understood that the Army itself was the true establishment so many had hoped to overthrow.
And given that confusion it is not surprising that so many have been so disappointed of late, returning physically or emotionally to Tahrir square. But while this commentator was not nearly as impressed as some last January. I was in many ways pleased with the partial nature of the victory. For the history of true revolutionary collapse is not a good one. For more often than not they spawn new regimes even more repressive than those they replace, for complete revolutionary collapses tend to bring to the fore leadership styles and intellectual skills that do not complement democracies needs; needs for negotiation and compromise.
Rather it is the loudest and often the most physically violent who often succeed with the Bourbon kings replaced by the likes of Robespierre, the Tsar by the Russian Communists and Cuba’s Batista by Castro. And of course Iran’s shah by the Ayatollahs.
No real transitions from dictatorships, when they have been successful, have tended to emerge when older regimes did not quite fall from power but progressively and slowly lost power to newly invigorated opposition groups, even as a more influential civil society grew over time. Situations where though the tug of war and confrontation and negotiation certainly exists but when neither side sees the battle as a completely zero sum game; A potential loss — an existential threat to existence itself.
Rather it has been the slower failures of dictatorships that has often allowed much more successful democracies to emerge In a smoother and demonstrably more successful flow from dictatorship to democracy as we have seen from Taiwan to South Korea and Indonesia. A path that from the perspective of this commentator Egypt still has an especially good chance of staying on.