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Dr Musa A Keilani: Beginning of a meaningful reform
February 07, 2011
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The world is engrossed with the developments in Egypt that are continuing to unfold in the wake of massive protests demanding the ouster of the regime of Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party (NDP).

A review of the way the regime sought to deal with the crisis is relevant here in order for others to learn lessons from the Egyptian experience. The Cairo regime resorted to the conventional fashion: Use of force and intimidation against the demonstrators coupled with systematic arrest of anyone suspected of being in a position to influence others against the government. It is a safe bet that once the murky webs are cleared, the world would know how many were rounded up and what methods were tried on them in order to weaken and end the revolt.

But then that effort did not have the necessary effect, particularly after the military adopted a position that it would not use force against the anti-regime demonstrators. Again, this was rather predictable, given Washington’s close interaction with the Egyptian armed forces. It was also clear that the US, Egypt’s main source of military gear, both free and paid for, had more influence with Egyptian commanders than the Cairo regime itself.

That was something that the regime had wanted to avoid by resisting many US overtures at revamping the Egyptian military, as clearly evidenced in the documents released by WikiLeaks. However, its success was only partial and Egyptian military commanders were persuaded by the US not to intervene politically (except of course when it suited American interests).

That was when the NDP sprang its loyalists into the game, leading to clashes between the two camps. The determination of the anti-regime demonstrators was growing by the day as many saw their fear of the security forces dripping away.

Then came the conciliatory gestures. Mubarak said he was stepping down in September after serving out his full current term, but his opponents wanted him to quit immediately. That prompted Mubarak’s newly appointed deputy, Omar Suleiman, to give a lengthy interview on state television, where he was indeed asked the right questions but he gave contradictory statements. As far as the anti-regime protesters were concerned, these were hollow and deceptive statements.

They were convinced that the regime was stalling for time, and that once they dispersed from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, their goose was cooked. They expected the regime’s security forces to round them up and create a situation where they would not be in a position to resume their protests. There would have been no reforms, no changes in the status quo except a few cosmetic moves aimed at placating Mubarak’s international critics, mainly US President Barack Obama.

And by the time Mubarak stepped down in September as promised — that was a pledge he could not renege on — the NDP would have only consolidated its grip on power, with the pro-democracy protesters having nothing to show for their campaign. If anything, they would have been crippled so much that it would have become impossible for anyone to even imagine a revival of the campaign for an end to the one-party rule in Egypt that went labelled as democracy.

As far as the NDP leaders were concerned, they knew that implementation of genuine reforms in the country would see the party not only being kicked out of power but also its echelon being punished for their misrule of the country. It was indeed life and death for the party leaders and no wonder they tried to avert a disaster for themselves at whatever cost in order to avert the fate of the Tunisian regime led by long-time strongman Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali. That is why the senior leaders of the party resigned over the weekend.

The promise that last year’s parliamentary election results would be reviewed and those who were deemed to have played foul would be replaced in new polls was at best ludicrous. So was the replacement of the cabinet and sanctions imposed on some of the ministers, including travel bans and freeze of their assets.

No one was naïve enough to accept that the regime was unaware of what the ministers were doing and that it suddenly woke up to the reality when pressured by the anti-government protesters in Cairo.

On the broader front, the entire bureaucracy was stuffed with NDP loyalists and those who professed loyalty to the party if only to secure and keep their jobs. For them, the fall of the regime meant serious questions about their future and survival. The bulk of who put up the bitter resistance to the calls for reform were actually fighting for their own survival. That was indeed how the NDP had planned them to be from the very beginning. It was rather similar to the structure of Iraq under Saddam Hussein. And we saw how the Iraqi structure collapsed like a house of cards once Saddam was removed from power.

It was as if the NDP regime was playing a child’s game, resorting to silly gestures when it was fully aware that the protesters would not settle for anything less than a total collapse of the government beginning with the ouster of Mubarak. That was all Suleiman’s interview on state television was all about. The regime acted as if it was legitimate and was genuinely in control of the affairs of the state, when in reality it knew well that that is the only game it could play.

Well then, that is the way the politics of Egypt was all about and the pro-democracy protesters knew it to be so. And this awareness was what strengthened their resolve not to accept anything less than an immediate beginning of a meaningful reform process away from the clutches of the NDP hawks.

Let us hope that no surprises are waiting round the corner for those camping in Tahrir Square.

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