Window of democracy has likely already shut (and Hillary knocks at Suleiman’s door)

on 30 Comments

It helps to know something about Egypt if you’re writing about it. (I guess). Here’s a really smart piece by Joshua Stacher of Kent State at Foreign Affairs saying that the “democratic window has probably already closed,” that the regime has never broken down, its central institution, the military, remaining as powerful as ever. And now the gov’t is successfully playing the young demonstrators off against the ordinary citizens’ desire for normal times. Some grim excerpts (Thanks to Ibn Tufayl):

If those guiding the transition choose to direct it toward a democratic end, then it will have to include forces that are currently banned in the country, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and individuals who have been tortured or imprisoned, such as Ayman Nour. It will have to include the youth elements from the street organizing committees as well as the irrelevant figures that head the country’s existing opposition parties. Managing such a transition from dictatorship to democracy is a massive challenge even in the best of times. The leader of the transition will therefore determine whether it results in a genuine democracy or continuous authoritarian rule. If that person is General Omar Suleiman, who was sworn in as vice president on January 30, the prospects for democracy are grim…

The protesters have been given an ambiguous choice about this transition. Go home and — perhaps — be invited to the negotiating table later, or continue protesting and be excluded from Suleiman’s negotiations. Some independent figures, such as Amr Moussa and Nabil Fahmy, have broken ranks with the protesters and met with Suleiman. Given that many of these individuals held previous appointments in Mubarak’s Egypt, protesters will likely be skeptical of their intentions as agents of change.

There is no doubt that the post-Mubarak era is afoot, but it is not necessarily a democratic one. The Egyptian military leaders that are governing the country seem content to leave Mubarak in his place so Suleiman can act as the sitting president. Indeed, even leading government officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have begun to direct their concerns to Suleiman’s office. Hence, as the protesters in Tahrir Square — and the non-protesters facing empty refrigerators and wallets at home — have begun to feel the state’s squeeze, the regime has so far maintained its ability to control how the conflict is unfolding.

When the uprising began in Egypt, many linked the events in Tunis and Cairo and declared that 2011 might be the Arab world’s 1989. Instead, 2011 is showing just how durable and adaptable the authoritarian regimes of the Arab world truly are. Faced with real challenges and moments of potential breakdown, Egypt’s military did not hesitate or even break a sweat

30 Responses

  1. Bandolero
    February 7, 2011, 7:05 pm

    It’s Israels dream scenario, that the events unfold like this, but I doubt it is going to happen this way.

    What we see on the ground is the opposite – state media turning around, high ranking party members dropped and the former interior minister charged for murder.

    As my radar of tahrir democracy protesters & the Brotherhood, they are all fully aware, that Suleiman is Israels stooge – as much or even more than Mubarak. It is partly true, that the miltary is in control, but seems to be not the high ranking stooges of Mubarak, but the lower ranks decide for themselves. If it were for Mubarak and Suleiman, the military would have already crashed the protests. But their desire was not met and their orders not executed.

    • CK MacLeod
      February 7, 2011, 8:02 pm

      Knowing may not be enough, for now. Actualizing that knowledge or its implications is something else entirely. You need numbers, organization, leadership, a strategy, a platform, and meaningful popular support. You need a way to split the military against itself – and a lot more. In a classical revolutionary situation, the military is typically a spent and broken force, or openly divided, with significant elements refusing orders or openly siding with the revolutionary forces. Has there been anything beyond a few stray minor news items to suggest anything remotely of the kind in the offing? The account offered in the essay suggests just the opposite: That the military chain of command and discipline, as well as its popular support, remained intact from beginning to end.

      A more mature revolutionary movement might have approached the situation in several different ways, but it takes some breakdown in the forces of order to begin to develop a mature revolutionary movement.

      Maybe in time, or next time, or the time after that – but, again, that’s only one scenario for change, and that it mean that what has been accomplished isn’t significant, and that there might not be other significant things still to accomplish.

    • VR
      February 7, 2011, 8:37 pm

      What must be learned is how to break down the false bond that ties the people to the dictatorship. This is the internal unseen element which has to be dissolved –


      I should go further and say, this is one of the primary and most subtle points to address. If done correctly it can sever the nerve to any counter-revolution. It is why people feel something akin to a dictatorship, or to a system with which they are confounded in a so-called democracy.

      • VR
        February 7, 2011, 9:14 pm

        How old is this? Anyone for circuses and bread?

  2. syvanen
    February 7, 2011, 7:37 pm

    What absurd comments there is nothing smart about them. The uprising shook the Egyptian power structure to its core. The fact that it is still standing and may very well survive this insurrection intact with all of its special privileges and disproportionate share of the wealth does not change what happened in the last two weeks. The rebellion may fail. But as of today it is still in play. I hope they do win, but am realistic enough to know that they could very well be crushed. Obviously, the US plan is to procrastinate the uprising to death and just get on with things as normal, maybe something like the very successful peace process strategy to frustrate Palestinian aspirations. But I doubt that it will play out that way.

    One of the things that held back the people from all out rebellion is their love for the army (as opposed to the special police forces represented by Suleiman). If the army ends up crushing the resistance that should serve to clear the cobwebs from the minds of the people — i.e. the army is the enemy and in the future they should act accordingly. To view the army as a monolith is also a fundamental error — the rebellion, from day one, could not succeed without a major split happening inside the army. That is as true today as it was two weeks ago.

    The fact that the regime has survived the initial assault, also probably means that further developments will be playing out in time scale of months and not days like the past two weeks.

    • Colin Murray
      February 7, 2011, 9:51 pm

      To view the army as a monolith is also a fundamental error — the rebellion, from day one, could not succeed without a major split happening inside the army.

      I strongly agree with this statement. One division is between the very upper crust of the Egyptian military who benefit from the current utterly corrupt military-dominated economy and the vast majority who collect tiny paychecks. One thing holding army violence back is inability of military elites to be sure that orders to shoot at protesters would be obeyed by the rest of the military. Shooting protesters was supposed to the the job of interior ministry forces, not the military proper. Also, we should not underestimate Egyptian patriotism.

      Regardless, it looks like Egyptians are joining Palestinians in settling down for a very long civil rights struggle with our Zionist-dominated government supporting murderers, torturers, and thieves on behalf of the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’

    • CK MacLeod
      February 8, 2011, 12:41 am

      Yes, exposing the repressive nature of the militarized state would represent fundamental ideological progress. It seems that such progress is always hard won, and the time scale could be years, not months.

      On the other hand, it is at least conceivable that the military regime is more susceptible to pressure – from its ostensible allies and from the international community as well as from the protesters and sympathizers – and more aware of its own limitations than pessimists like Asst. Prof. Stacher recognize. An alternative interpretation of events is that the regime is continually testing how much it can get away with while it plays for time. The question then would be if concessions can be won sufficient at least to commence a viable reform process while protecting the protesters and other dissident or opposition voices.

  3. Psychopathic god
    February 7, 2011, 7:37 pm

    True, Stacher’s assessment is unemotionally realistic and cooly considers the actions of- and signals sent by- the rulers and the army. (Obama and Clinton have been behind the government all along, playing with them for time not only to let the protesters wear themselves out but also to get US National Guard and air craft carrier in place).

    And the protesters may very well go home and feel deflated.

    But — has all the talk about Iran’s Green movement been forgotten so quickly? Recall, many claimed that Green movement “was not dead it’s just away” — laying low, waiting. . . Maybe, maybe not. My vote’s on the “maybe not” side.
    That doesn’t mean Iran’s reformation movement is dead. I rely on Stephen Kinzer’s assessment of Iranian attitudes toward reformation of Iran’s government —

    1. Iranians are not interested in a revolution, tho the US is interested in attempting to pressure Iranians to revolt & overthrow the Islamic Republic. Conversely, US is not interested in an Egyptian REVOLUTION — the word Washington prefers is “transition.” Transition for Egypt, which is IN US control, revolution for Iran, which is NOT in US control. T

    2. Rather, Kinzer said, Iranians are content to bide their time: Iran is 3000 years old, more or less. A year in the Iranian imagination is not nearly as long as a year in the American, do it now, frame of mind. Egyptians surely did not expect to spend two weeks and walk back home with an overthrown and completely reformed government. Egyptians have a long sense of the passage of time as well.

    3. Iranians have developed over the past thirty years; they are not at the same stage Egypt in the evolution to the shape they want their government to be, they are well beyond it. In Iran, passion is not the driving force any more. In Egypt, passion has just been excited.

    4. Kinzer: “Developing systems of self government takes time. A long time. Iran is working at it.” Egypt is just starting. Iran’s model will show Egypt mistakes to avoid, principles upon which to insist. Win Win.

    5. Egypt is at the very beginning stage of revolution. Even Iran’s 1979 revolution developed over a span of months, perhaps more than a year.

    6. BUT, this is the big factor that Stacher failed to take account of: The Egyptian people have been “blooded.” As the sign on the chest of a protester that Phil displayed yesterday said, “Fear Ends Here.” The Egyptian people have “seen the mountaintop.” It is a long way off, but their eye’s are focused and their vision of dignified self-government will not be denied, however much it may be delayed.

  4. CK MacLeod
    February 7, 2011, 7:48 pm

    The problem with this and similar articles is that it puts forward a premise that its own analysis thoroughly undermines. What evidence is there that any significantly better short-term outcome was ever available? That a real “window” was ever really “open”? At the same time, the advances won during this phase of a popular struggle may be difficult to quantify, but that doesn’t make them any less essential, and there is still opportunity to extend the perimeter of freedom and democracy further, and to bring the next phases of development closer.

  5. BillR
    February 7, 2011, 10:44 pm

    Wow, this may be the first time ever that Phil Weiss is more pessimistic than me (I still heart you Phil). It seems to me that the game is not yet over. I can’t help but think that there exists divisions within the military and that the institution is not as monolithic as the piece you quoted makes it out to be. I believe the biggest weakness of the movement is the lack of any coherent ideology (being “pro-democracy” and “anti-Mubarak” does not constitute an ideology). What this means is that whoever eventually achieves political power out of this crisis will most likely be a disappointment to the majority of Egyptians. But to assume that we are at the endgame and Hillary and Suleiman will win the day is, I think, premature.

  6. Saleema
    February 7, 2011, 11:25 pm

    A history professor at University of Houston explained to me that an uprising that is successful is a “revolution,” otherwise it is called a revolt.

    He says Tunisia didn’t go through a revolution either because the military is intact and the power structure remains the same. What the protests accomplished was a few concessions.

    He said it’s unlikely Egypt will be a successful revolution because the military looks to be intact. There was no major shift in power there.

    His analysis made me sad.

    • slowereastside
      February 8, 2011, 12:03 am

      “A history professor at University of Houston explained to me that an uprising that is successful is a “revolution,” otherwise it is called a revolt.”

      Ask him what you call the first People’s Revolt in the face of 30+ years of fascist oppression. Spain?

      • syvanen
        February 8, 2011, 2:59 am

        an uprising that is successful is a “revolution,” otherwise it is called a revolt.

        That is exactly where the Tharir square people are today. And if they cannot move beyond the “revolt” stage they will experience the crushing defeat stage.

    • Sumud
      February 8, 2011, 6:20 am

      Saleema ~ tell your prof. that Tunisia is still a live event; protests are ongoing and just a day or two ago came news that Ben Ali’s RCD party is to be dismantled altogether.

      It took Tunisians a month to oust Ben Ali and only two weeks have passed in Egypt – where the US and Israel will be interfering a lot more to maintain the regime than they did in Tunisia. Every day or two the regime gives more concessions – if they were so sure of their position they wouldn’t be doing this. They’re on the back foot.

      Meanwhile, Obama is busy writing his legacy, his regime is now openly advocating Mubarak stay in place. This will not be forgotten.

      • Citizen
        February 8, 2011, 7:22 am

        However, Obama went on national tv to answer face to face O Reilly, the Factor. Obama did tell The Factor any new regime would have to include the MB faction; while he characterized the MB as not very influential percentage-wise in Egpt, but most organized currently; and he added that some threads of the total MB cord are anti-American and anti-Israel. Fox talking heads later characterized what Obama said as showing Obama supported the MB, hence showing Obama himself was anti-American, the usual conflation of American & Israeli interests being assumed as reality.

      • Psychopathic god
        February 8, 2011, 9:54 am

        so maybe sending Jeff Feltman to ‘take care’ of Tunisia was a good thing — Feltman is a good butcher who keeps his thumb on the Israeli scales — he displayed that as US ambassador to Lebanon in 2006 — but it’s not clear that he’s ever been successful at the kind of behind-the-scenes tromp l oeil hi-jinx Israel and US specialize in.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    February 8, 2011, 12:33 am

    RE: “It helps to know something about Egypt if you’re writing about it.” – Weiss
    MY PARTLY FAUX SNARK: Phil is so hopelessly old fashioned! Wakeup and smell the Rupert Murdoch coffee, Phil. Ignorance frees a “journalist” to write what sells best and/or is politically expedient. Go with ‘the flow’, Phil!

  8. VR
    February 8, 2011, 6:05 am

    As long as people keep saying or singing God bless America, God save the queen – the dictator – the system – elites all over the world, there is no future for me and you. The underworld might be bad, but it cannot hold a candle to the over-world – a thief might steal a household or personal good, but this system(s) steals peoples lives –


    “God save the queen
    The fascist regime
    They made you a moron
    Potential H-bomb

    God save the queen
    She ain’t no human being
    There is NO FUTURE
    In England’s dreaming

    Don’t be told what you want
    Don’t be told what you need
    NO FUTURE for you

    God save the queen
    We mean it man
    We love our queen
    God saves

    God save the queen
    ‘Cause tourists are money
    And our figurehead Is not what she seems

    Oh God save history
    God save your mad parade
    Oh Lord God have mercy
    All crimes are paid

    When there’s NO FUTURE
    How can there be sin
    We’re the flowers in the dustbin
    We’re the poison in your human machine
    We’re the FUTURE, your FUTURE

    God save the queen
    We mean it man
    We love our queen
    God saves

    God save the queen
    We mean it man
    And there is NO FUTURE
    In England’s dreaming

    No future, no future,
    No future for you
    No future, no future,
    No future for me

    No future, no future,
    No future for you
    No future, no future For you”

    Every generation sells out the next because they think they really have something and hold on to their pittance, embracing the fabricated delusion till everything of true wealth and substance is gone

    • Citizen
      February 8, 2011, 7:27 am

      The Fox News true believers think Obama is just another evil one who is not proud of his country; and they say he needs to extoll the virtues of historic America and America now. Obviously they do not subscribe to the notion that a true friend is a critical friend. Obviously they dismiss Obama’s constant “patriotic” rhetoric as a sham wrapping of himself in the American flag when anyone can see Obama is really a Muslim, an anti-Semite, anti-Christian, and rascist demon. These true believers also think that taxing the rich is not fair and prevents all Americans from realizing also the American Dream. The fact that the income gap grows like Topsy, and that only 2% of American households have declared gross income over $250,000 a year is seen by them as a testament that real meritocracy is harsh, and only those who work the hardest on their own dime ever make the material holy grail. They are completely ignorant that our tax code is anything but a realization of the free market in action–they see no connection between the bank bailout/Wall St business as usual and Obama’s bent on redistribution of wealth/income. They do not see that the government is viewed as a selective gifter on both sides of the political aisle.

      • Psychopathic god
        February 8, 2011, 9:14 am

        They are completely ignorant that our tax code is anything but a realization of the free market in action–they see no connection between the bank bailout/Wall St business as usual and Obama’s bent on redistribution of wealth/income. They do not see that the government is viewed as a selective gifter on both sides of the political aisle.

        if you have 20 minutes, google Samuel Untermeyer (Untermyer).

        -Untermeyer ‘persuaded’ (some say blackmailed) Wilson to
        appoint Brandeis to Supreme Court
        -(Brandeis counselled Wilson to renege on his campaign promises and take US into WWI; in the balance was the Balfour Declaration)

        -Untermeyer was instrumental in creating the US Tax code

        -Untermeyer was a prime mover behind getting US to adopt Federal Reserve

        Untermyer advocated the Zionist liberation movement and was President of the Keren Hayesod, the agency through which the movement was then and still is conducted in America

        “Untermyer publicly called for the political destruction of Germany in 1933. As quoted in the New York Times on Aug. 07, 1933, Untermyer exclaimed: “The Jews of the world now declare a Holy War against Germany. We are now engaged in a sacred conflict against the Germans. And we are going to starve them into surrender. We are going to use a world-wide boycott against them, that will destroy them because they are dependent upon their export business.” Up until 1933, Jews in Palestine as well Hollywood and Germany worked closely with German government authorities in the creation and funding of Palestine, and the movement of German and other European Jews to Palestine.

        If you see similarities between the treatment zionists in US plotted for Germany in 1933 — before Hitler posed a threat to Jews — and the treatment zionists in the US and Israel have carried out against Iran and Arabs, then you should rethink the direction of the threat when Netanyahu says, “It is 1938 . . .” By 1938, Jewish boycott of Germany had pushed the German people and its leaders to the brink of economic ruin. Realize that although concentration camps began in ~1930, Jews were not encamped until 1939. Germany went out of its way to avoid harming Jews from late 1870s to 1939; Untermeyer called for the “destruction of Germany” in 1933. In retaliation, Germany called for a ONE DAY boycott of German Jewish goods — in retaliation for 5 years of zionist, Untermeyer-led, Hollywood-propogandized boycott and demonization of Germany.

        “Accurate scholarship will unearth
        the whole offense . . .”

      • VR
        February 8, 2011, 9:17 am

        Citizen I just don’t know what to say to you or others anymore, when it is clear that it is a systemic issue and the entire process is a joke – not just now, not just a few decade ago, but since its inception. When it is brought up, like I do repeatedly you traverse to some extreme side pointing at it like it is the problem – it is just one manifestation of the whole (tea party, etc.). People seem to cling to some ephemeral dream of what it could – should – ought to be, and it is none of the above, nor was it ever.


        Or, maybe it is better for people to see a broader more objective picture, I recommend that you listen to this all the way through –


        Time to wake up, because if you don’t we will never get to first base, anywhere in the world. Those who know whats best for you like that you point at all of these other factions, as if they are the problem – their not, it is worse than that, it is an entire systemic issue.

      • seafoid
        February 8, 2011, 10:16 am

        Dead right, VR
        The system explains it all

        link to

        “Our political system protects and enriches a fantastically wealthy elite, much of whose money is, as a result of their interesting tax and transfer arrangements, in effect stolen from poorer countries, and poorer citizens of their own countries. Ours is a semi-criminal money-laundering economy, legitimised by the pomp of the lord mayor’s show and multiple layers of defence in government. Politically irrelevant, economically invisible, the rest of us inhabit the margins of the system. Governments ensure that we are thrown enough scraps to keep us quiet, while the ultra-rich get on with the serious business of looting the global economy and crushing attempts to hold them to account.”

        Nader :

        The corporate state moves on. Corporate power has unique characteristics. It is perfectly willing and able to corrupt, regardless of sexual or ethnic preference. It offers equal opportunities to be corrupted or coopted . That’s why it’s very difficult for the civil community, which is affected by principles, nuances, honest disagreements, to confront the monistically commercial corporations. No one says ‘the big debate inside Exxon is whether to go more for oil or solar. That’s why every religion in the world, in their scriptures, issues a warning not to give too much power to the merchant class. The commercial instinct is relentless, consistent, limitless in achieving its goal. It will run rough-shod to destroy, co-opt or dilute civic and spiritual values that stand in its way.

      • seafoid
        February 8, 2011, 10:31 am

        58% of all income growth in the US between the 1976 and 2007 went to the top 1% of the population. The top 0.01% or 15000 households had 1.7% of all income in 1976 and 6.04% by 2007. By 2004 the top 1% of wealth holders in the US held 42% of all financial and real assets, the most unequal distribution since the 1920s. The top 20% held 93% of such assets
        The total wealth of Indian billionaires is more than a fifth of the nation’s GDP, equalled only by Russia.

  9. Siegfried al-Haq
    February 8, 2011, 8:56 am

    Daily these pessimistic analyses are being upended by events on the ground. As I write again Cairo is filled by protestors in their millions, the same in Alexandria and other cities. Now, for the first time state employees are joining in with corporate identities: university professors and teachers, communication workers, journalists… the latter are now carrying out sit-ins of their own places of employment. The youth in Tahrir continue to exemplify their idealism by the creation of a beautiful commune where class divisions are dissolved, food is shared, music made. Stuffy American academics, even those sympathetic to the revolution, have no idea of what the real conditions are. They gauge events through diplomatic communiques, official pronouncements and press releases. Let’s wait, and allow the events to unfold without rushing to judge or foresee the revolution’s cooptation. I don’t know, you don’t know, none of us knows where the end lies, even the “Egypt specialists”.

    • Citizen
      February 8, 2011, 9:21 am

      Yes, of course, Siegfried, nobody can fully read the tea leaves, however, as in chess, if you recognize the patterns from the study of past games, probabilities can be forseen, and as the moves are made, the outcome becomes more visible. A cheap version of what you say is echoed daily by the FOX talking heads peddling fear (especially the newly ordained bugaboo, the MB), who continually, after giving lip service to the actual complexities, hammer home (to their audience) the old axiom, “Better the enemy you know than the one you don’t know.”

  10. Theo
    February 8, 2011, 9:20 am

    As the days go by I am more and more afraid for the revolution in Egypt.
    Behind the screen the old regime is working very hard together with the USA and Israel on how to keep the power. Sure, they throw a few bones to the protestors, remove a few heads from the ruling party, but basically they stay in power. Mubarak wants to stay until September, because he doesn´t want the same fate as ben Ali, all his property and accounts, the monies he stole over 30 years, being confiscated.
    In my opinion in a real revolution head must roll and I mean this literally. The french made their oppressors a head shorter, the russians lined them up against the wall. Non-violent revolts usually do not succeed, look at the Ukraina orange revolt, the same aparatchics rule the land and took over the
    the state owned properties. The same is in Russia and in all other formerly soviet republics. Egypt will be only free if the people take to arms and take back their country by force and punish their oppressors.
    As we did in 1776.

  11. Avi
    February 8, 2011, 10:32 am


    In the past you were frequently reluctant to accept the extent to which colonialism has affected the region. I wish and I hope that current outside interference by greater powers, in Egypt’s internal affairs, will be instructive and shed a light on the damage colonialism has caused the region over the decades — going as far back as the second half of the 19th century.

    Ongoing events in Egypt illustrate the difficulty many ‘natives’ face in actualizing their dreams of self-determination and freedom. Absent an equal force to counter such empires, the masses can only wish and hope for their persistence and dedication to prevail. But, it is not a sustainable strategy.

  12. seafoid
    February 8, 2011, 12:35 pm

    Say the elite looters win the day and the elite looting continues under Suleiman with the blessing of Israel. It won’t address any of the factors that led to the intifada. Long term it means that the pressure is going to build up more and that the final explosion will be massive.
    On the other hand it is only 2 weeks since yonira and Israeli intelligence said it won’t happen.

  13. petersz
    February 8, 2011, 3:33 pm

    I disagree with this analysis. I think the regime has one fundamental weakness that could be its undoing and that is the nature of its army. The Egyptian army is mostly an army of conscripts who have to serve 3 years and are very poorly paid. There is no way these soldiers are going to fire at protesters any order like that would be refused by the vast majority of them. Once the police fail to stop the protesters in any oppressive regime only the army can be relied upon to act with overwhelming force and brutality as happened in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. But only a highly professional army well trained, highly paid and loyal to the regime can be relied on to do this, something the Egyptian army definitely is not in the lower ranks. The impotence of the Egyptian army was seen recently when a high ranking General tried to persuade the protesters to leave Tahrir square but they just ignored him and howled him down. Of course this is not the same as Tunisia where the regime could be toppled in a few weeks. The Egyptian regime is far more resilient, determined and brutal and will be a much harder nut for the protesters than was the case in Tunisia. They need to stick it out for the long term organize and present a united front as far as possible against the regime.

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