Thoughts on Why this Regime is on its Deathbed
I wrote these comments in connection with a very interesting thread on the Facebook page of another friend which seemed to suggest that the regime was in charge and would be able to wear out the demonstrators. Here is why I think that narrative is wrong:
There has been very little class/social analysis of this revolution with the exception of a couple of articles by Paul Amar that appear on jadaliyya.com, which in general is an excellent source of analysis. One of these articles, which he posted yesterday, is “Why Egypt’s Progressives Win.” The other is “Why Mubarak Is Out.” My view from the very beginning of this crisis is that the regime, although it has many cards to play, they were all losing hands, and thus it has depended largely on bluffs from the beginning.
The reality is that the Egyptian state is not an ideological state; it is a state whose elites are bound together largely for the purpose of extracting rents for the people. The police were the primary line of defense of their privileges and they were used largely to convince people of the futility of challenging the regime, and then used specifically to terrorize and brutalize anyone who had the temerity to challenge it. Using strategies of overwhelming any sign of dissent, e.g., sending out a 1,000 policemen to surround any demonstration, even if it had only 100 demonstrators, the basic strategy was to convince Egyptians that it would be impossible to mobilize against the regime and thus render them passive subjects who acquiesced to the regime’s demands.
That was why the demonstrations on Jan. 25 were so revolutionary. If you have not seen the amazing video of Asmaa Mahfouz on YouTube imploring people to show up on Jan. 25, it is difficult to understand how decisive that day was. For the first time in the Mubarak era, Egyptians were able to mobilize substantial numbers of people to march publicly in opposition to the regime. I think that resulted in a decisive breakthrough: the people effectively called the regime’s bluff. The regime unleashed the police on Jan. 28, but the size of the demonstrations overwhelmed them. No doubt, too, one has to wonder about the commitments of the rank and file policemen and low-ranking officers who were responsible for suppressing those demonstrations: was it ever really plausible that a police force composed of 1.5 million persons in a state like Egypt’s had sufficient will to engage in killing on the scale that would have been necessary to convince what was now several million Egyptians to go back to their homes and give up their demands?
The next bluff the regime played was the idea of an inevitable “civil war” between demonstrators and pro-Mubarak supporters. The meme of “civil war” was of course almost entirely the product of the regime’s own mercenary forces — hired thugs — attacking Egyptian protesters and foreign journalists, producing some of the most discrediting scenes imaginable (the infamous horse and camel attack, for example), at least from the regime’s perspective.
Having beaten back the regime’s thugs, and forcing the army to protect them from those thugs, the regime’s next strategy was to convince the still-majority of Egyptians who were not demonstrating that the government had in fact given up, that it had accepted their demands, and that the demonstrators were unreasonably demanding the government to fall when preservation of the government was the only way to effect the very reforms they demanded. That’s where we stood as of the Sunday.
Since then, two very important things have happened. First, Wael Ghoneim was released and gave a very powerful and emotional interview on a private Egyptian satellite channel whose viewers were precisely those fence-sitters who were inclined to believe that the government should be given a chance to implement “reform.” Second, the spirit of the revolution has spread to other corrupt institutions in Egypt of which, sadly, there are many. But yesterday, for example, the Faculty of Law of Cairo University issued a statement officially endorsing the Revolution and its dean and teaching staff went to Tahrir; university professors from all over Cairo from other faculties also joined the demonstrators at Tahrir. Al-Ahram online (English) reported the spread of strikes in several important state-owned firms, obviously protesting their pathetically low wages, but also the corrupt leadership of these companies who are inevitably cronies, directly or indirectly, of the Mubarak regime. More shocking, al-Ahram, the most important government newspaper, has completely turned on the regime, and while it is not clear to me exactly how this happened, it was a combination of the poor working conditions, the fact that an Egyptian journalist (working for a government newspaper, ironically enough) appeared to have been intentionally shot on Jan. 28 (he later died a couple of days ago), and that they were being forced to publish the crudest kinds of anti-opposition propaganda.
A friend of mine who teaches comp lit in the US and with whom I have spent considerable time in Egypt, wrote to me yesterday saying “Last night I thought I’d check what kind of propaganda al-Ahram is spewing, or whether it is even saying anything about the revolution. Unbelievably, I found that every article article and opinion piece I read was eviscerating the regime. I never thought I’d see the day when something like this could happen. I think something like this really means the regime is coming to an end, even if it keeps standing in the short term.” This is exactly correct. The regime has lost its ability to manipulate virtually any element of civil society to come to its defense. Even leading figures of the NDP have resigned, e.g., Mustafa Fiqqi, who had been the chair of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of the Egyptian parliament and an ally of Gamal Mubarak, with accusations that NDP thugs are trying to intimidate him for lack of loyalty.
So, given all these revolutionary developments, the regime has no card left to play except the threat of a coup. But what does such a threat mean when a military regime is already in place? The imposition of martial law directly? But the Egyptian Army will not be willing to govern Egypt directly. I doubt that it wishes to or that it has the means. It would certainly cut into its profits if it attempted to do so. So now, Suleiman is back to the same dilemma: having given up their fear, he can only suppress the people using massive force, but can the army be relied on to supply it? Pretty unlikely in my opinion. So, this is a long way of saying: a coup at this stage seems to be an empty threat, and sooner rather than later, but probably later given the psychological profile of the old men running this regime, they are going to step down.