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article imageOp-Ed: Egypt — Change you can't believe in

By Sean O'Flynn-Magee     Feb 13, 2011 in Politics
The Egyptian protests have been the world's number one headline for the past three weeks. But although change is on everybody's mind, it appears that in Egypt business is set to carry on just as usual.
Let’s get one thing straight. There’s nothing revolutionary going on in Egypt. A revolution is a dramatic and fundamental shift in organized power structures. Egyptian protesters may have courageously defied and dethroned their President but they have done little to begin any sort of structural change. Eventually a new leader will be elected, under the same system and conditions that Mubarak used maintained his authority.
Let’s get another thing straight. No matter how well Islamophobia plays with frightened audiences, the comparisons being drawn between Iran in 1979 and Egypt today are misleading. Yes, both Shah Pahlavi and Hosni Mubarak were unpopular leaders propped up by the United States. But when the Shah abdicated, he left behind a power vacuum, a contested space of leadership that remained open for some nine months until various different groups (labour unions, communists, intelligentsia, clergy, merchants) were brought to heel under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. There is no such vacuum in Egypt at the moment, only a vacated presidency, and, of course, the military.
Egypt’s military, with its long history of crushing dissent through arbitrary arrest and torture, is tasked with overseeing the transition to democracy. It has begun by banning strikes and unions, and suspending the constitution, only promising to lift the ongoing state of emergency when "current circumstances end.”
And while troops have been well-behaved on camera, reports are coming out that they are acting with their usual ruthlessness behind-the-scenes. . It is clear that Egypt’s military marches to the same drum as the United States, which supports it with over one billion dollars in annual funding. As long as the pro-American (pro-Mubarak) military is in control, it is doubtful that anything much in Egypt will change.
Nor are things likely to dramatically change through that nebulous region: the Middle East. Military leaders have already assured the international community that they will honour existing treaties. That means peace with Israel, a willingness to blockade the West Bank, and a secured Suez Canal. And it’s unlikely that Arab dominoes are going to be falling any time soon. Alerted to the threats of mass protest, King Hussein in Jordan, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and Bashar al-Assad in Syria have taken steps to quell dissent (while police have been beating protesters senseless in Algeria).
The fact is that anything happening in Egypt takes place within a much larger regional and geopolitical narrative. And for all the talk of freedom and democracy (familiar, empty words) the Egypt’s role has not changed. The most populous Arab country is a lynch-pin in United States foreign policy, one of two poles (the other is Saudi Arabia) that holds up the proverbial tent of American interests. Losing Mubarak, an American ally, creates challenges but continuing to support him would have been more difficult. Mubarak now joins Mobutu and Noriega (as well as the aforementioned Shah) in the hall of betrayed puppet dictators while American planners look to the future.
Though that future remains somewhat uncertain, you can be sure that whatever clique rises to rule Egypt will be aligned with American interests. Both Mubarak’s anointed successor, Oman Suleiman, and the current de facto leader, Mohamed Hussein Tatani, are US and Israeli allies. Regardless of who emerges as the figurehead, both men will be deeply involved in that process.
And so in a way, the chances of change in Egypt are now lower than ever. As protesters desert Tahrir Square, intoxicated with hope and joy (and even cleaning up the mess as they go), the military looks on, patiently waiting. The unfortunate truth is that now Mubarak has stepped down, the protests have accomplished their goal and so doing, lost their volition. They have achieved the superficial change of removing a dictator but none of the fundamental change necessary to demolish the system that brought him to power. In other words, the king is gone but the monarchy remains.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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