Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution: PM Shafiq Ousted

The threat of further massive protests today at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo forced the resignation of Egyptian prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, a close associate of deposed president Hosni Mubarak and, like him, a former air force general. Shafiq was recently on television defending the secret police, which the protest movement wants abolished. The Egyptian military, which likely forced Shafiq out so as to avoid a confrontation with the people, announced the prime minister’s departure on its Facebook page, a homage to the protest movement’s favored medium of communication.

The new prime minister is Essam Sharaf, a former transportation minister who resigned in 2006 and who joined in the protests against Mubarak that began January 25.

Aljazeera English reports on the forced resignation of Shafiq:

Shafiq’s forced resignation follows on that of Tunisia’s Mohamed Ghannouchi, who had also been tainted by having been seen as too close to ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In both Tunisia and Egypt, an initial success of protest movements in forcing out a long-serving dictator has been followed by gradual success in shaping a more neutral, technocratic cabinet that might oversee new parliamentary elections in a fair manner. In both countries, high political figures have been closely tied to mafia-like economic elites who misused their access to government insiders to engage in forms of insider trading and who marginalized outside entrepreneurs. Removing the exponents of a crony government is necessary not only to freer parliamentary politics but also to more social equity.

This process has gone farther in Tunisia, where censorship has been abolished, civil liberties have been restored, at least on paper, and the old crony ruling party has been dissolved.

In Egypt, protesters still want a lifting of emergency laws that suspend the civil liberties in the constitution. They also want the army to release protesters arrested during the movement to oust Mubarak, and they want the secret police to be abolished. They likewise demand accountability and the punishment of government officials who ordered the brutal crackdown on protesters that left hundreds dead.

Of all the protest movements in the Middle East this year, only those of Tunisia and Egypt have effected a change in the character of the political elite and set the nation on a road to open parliamentary elections. Jordanians who want a constitutional monarchy have seen few changes, though they did force the sacking of a hated prime minister. Ali Abdullah Saleh is still in power in Yemen. There have been no significant changes in Bahrain, an absolute monarchy ruled by a Sunni dynasty with a Shiite citizen majority. Oil workers seeking a better deal in Oman have not had their demands met. Iran’s autocratic theocracy responded to fears of a fresh round of protests by arresting opposition leaders. Algeria’s autocratic and corrupt government has so far quelled popular protests.

One big question is what will happen when a new government is elected in Egypt that springs from the ranks of the protest movement. Saleh in Yemen, and Abdullah II in Jordan, had depended on Hosni Mubarak’s warm support. It could be that further change in the region will come this fall, in part because of Egypt’s leading geo-political role (about 1/4 of the Arab population consists of Egyptians).

12 Responses

  1. Of all the protest movements in the Middle East this year, only those of Tunisia and Egypt have effected a change in the character of the political elite and set the nation on a road to open parliamentary elections. Jordanians who want a constitutional monarchy have seen few changes, though they did force the sacking of a hated prime minister.

    I think that both Tunisia and Egypt are on good tracks, however it is way too early to tell whether the protesters will get what they want, or whether their movement won’t be confiscated by a new strong man (this is why I don’t call it yet a revolution, since the older power structure and the army are still there). I think that given the importance of Egypt for the US geostrategy in ME, they are the more at risk. Also if the movement is aspiring to social justice, then they won’t find that in the kind of neoliberalism the US and Western EU countries will be advocating. So you can be sure that they will be submitted to strong pressures coming from these sides.

  2. “In both countries, high political figures have been closely tied to mafia-like economic elites who misused their access to government insiders to engage in forms of insider trading and who marginalized outside entrepreneurs. Removing the exponents of a crony government is necessary not only to freer parliamentary politics but also to more social equity.”

    Maybe we can hope such for such a revolution here in the USA someday!

  3. I just wanted to thank you for your great commentary on what is transpiring in the middle east. As one of my friends from Egypt likes to say, God willing, this will all turn out for the better.

    Joe K.

  4. “Of all the protest movements in the Middle East this year, ”

    You have failed to mention Iraq.

  5. Egypt will not be allowed to fall (from the point of view of Israel and the US). The western powers and Israel will see to it that a government is eventually installed that is fresher and younger. It will make some tentative changes. Nothing, in essence, will be changed. Egypt is too strategically important for Israel. So with Jordan. So with Yemen. In sum, the United States and Israel will allow the old guard to be replaced by a new guard. Nothing of substance will change. If the US and Israel thought that there were a potential for real change, then they would sieze the Suez Canal and all of the Saudi oilfields in one afternoon. Does anyone really believe differently?

    • Javier,
      Fortunately, not everyone shares your belief in the omnipotence of the USA and its allies. That belief is not only defeatist but wrong. Like Steve Biko said, the greatest weapon the oppressor has is the mind of his victim.

      • I DO NOT believe in the infallibility of the US or her allies. In fact, I am stridenly of the opinion that the US empire has seen her last decade. I am simply analyzing the facts. The US still has the strongest military in the world. She still has interests that she will guard with her every breath. One of those interests is oil..if that is threatened, the US will take action. This is not something I am happy about.

    • Actually, I’d think differently…..

      Perhaps in a hair-splitting, but not insignificant way. Inasmsuch as the NEO-version of classical colonialism has changed the face, if not the eventual substance of things, no such takeover is going to take place in an afternoon (or whatever time frame might otherwise be logistically arranged). There’s more to it than that.

      Neo-colonialism means doing the same old thing, only sub rosa, ostensibly as a outgrowth of the people’s free will, and that takes a more patient guidance. Whatever is desired needs to be guided/legitimized by the “invisible hand”, and today that means the (ostensible) will of the people, as manipulate by Hill & Knowlton, Lincoln, or on-staff visionaries. The Invisible Hand is an awkward metaphor to attempt to manage with the crude lever(s) of formal planning, especially by an informal group with nothing more in common than a shared interest in re-establishing the status quo in a fresh set of clothes. At its most sophisticated and subtle, its what we see in the US, and it is increasingly what is needed to manage the Little Brown People. Hence, your observation.

      That’s why we got the NEO-conservatives; see how this NEO stuff works? A group of Deep Thinkers, many at the U of Chicago, propogate a worldview that leads to an ideology that results in a doctrine that can be opportunistically implemented whenever the proper conditions present themselves. Like a boa constrictor, relentless and consistent in its overriding intent, all things in time will come to them.

      Back in classical Greece, there was an underlying conflict represented by Athenian democracy and Spartan oligarchy. The human condition hasn’t changed much since, except in terms of the sophistication of eyewash used to con people to what’s really going on.

      • Firstly, Mr. Bickle, I admire greatly your lucid, logical prose. It is something that I aspire to in my writing. Do I sense a fellow Aristotelian or Thomist?

        Secondly, I think you missed my point totally. You see, this has nothing to do with ideology, neo conservative or otherwise. The neo conservatives, colonialists, liberals, democrats, or whatever have you, all work (consciously or not) for the same group of special interests. This group constantly plays different social, ideological, religious, and racial factions against one another in order to preserve the status quo. When oil supplies are threatened, you are calling into question the very lubrication of society (if you will pardon the pun). When this happens, the status quo will undergo an extreme shift. When people cant drive to work; when food cant be delivered to major suppliers; when trash cant be taken out, people will forget about all of their superficial ideological divisions and labels in short order. They will demand that their governments take action, as accustomed as they are to thinking of their government as omnipotent. I garuantee you that if Saudi Arabia is threatened, or if there is some Sunni Shia conflict near the oilfields, this will indeed occur. I dont like it..its simply what will happen if the powers that be feel that this scenario is at all feasible. And the people will demand that they do,,

  6. Concluding my argument to both of the gentlemen..

    THERE WILL BE NO REAL CHANGE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. There will be a massive facelift, akin to Stalin shuffling his cabinet. It will be meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Anyone who believes that what is happening now is truely revolutionary, the way that the American Revolution was revolutionary, is deceiving himself. This can be viewed from two sides, as of a coin.

    The first side is the side of the empire. The United States is in its last decade (perhaps 5 years) as a superpower. Her decline will be a slow, torturous one. This will be good news for many around the world. For the time being, however, the US remains powerful because of the residue and credit of her past. As long as she retains any shred of her imperial status, she will continue to fight for control over resources. This leads us to the flip-side…

    The protestors. There is no one idea or concept that unites them. Some from among their ranks are Islamists, some nationalists, some democrats. Some are just young people who are there to be cool. There is no one man who can say “I speak for the protestors.” They may be able to bring down governments, but due to this lack of ideological cohesion (even on one GENERIC idea), they will never be able to govern. HAD there been some ideological unity among the protestors, they would have been crushed by the US.

    In sum…The US is not down yet. She will struggle for her interests. The protestors have no ideological platform. Ergo….hello to the new boss..same as the old boss.

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