On Friday, February 11, 2011 at approximately 6:00pm local time, the newly appointed Vice President of the Egyptian nation addressed the people, announcing that after 18 days of protests and thirty years of authoritarian rule that
“President Hosni Mubarak has waived the office of president”
This, understandably, sparked a wave of jubilation, with an Al-Jazeera English correspondent reporting that at three in the morning, the celebrations in Tahrir were still going strong. Even as I was writing this, well over 30 hours after the announcement was made, I received a skype call from one of my Egyptian professors, who couldn’t stop smiling and saying how amazing what they accomplished was.
Well, it is hard to argue with that. Three weeks ago, Mubarak was an untouchable fixture in Middle Eastern politics, and now, thanks to a leaderless popular uprising, he is fleeing the country in disgrace. What is less obvious though is what this means for the future of the country. While hopes are obviously high, with Dr. Nehad Heliel, the director of the C.V. Starr-Middlebury School in the Middle East at Alexandria University, declaring that
“For the first time in my life I WILL ELECT MY PRESIDENT-I WILL ELECT AND MY VOICE WILL BE HEARD.”
This, however, is far from guaranteed at this point. Rather than being the end of the struggle, the stepping down of Mubarak is only the beginning.
When he abdicated, Mubarak handed power over to the Supreme Military Council. The Council had vowed that they would “lift the state of emergency once the current situation ends; adjudicate electoral challenges and the resulting procedures; introduce necessary legislative amendments; and hold free and fair presidential elections under the agreed constitutional amendments.” It may be important to note though that this statement was issued before Mubarak actually left office. Now that they are actually in charge though, it’s time to see if their actions match the rhetoric.
Some are fearful of what it means to have a military take over. I was speaking to Khalid Darwish, a recent graduate from Alexandria University’s College of Law, during the speeches made by Mubarak and Suleiman on February 10, when it was expected that Mubarak was going to announce his departure, and he was personally relieved that the then president was holding on. He said
“I think that we should work with them to fix the country and [in] November we will have our new president, a civilian. I swear if Mubarak stepped down now, the military will take over [and] it will be like 1952,”
referencing when the military ousted the British backed monarchy and replaced it with the regime that continued until just yesterday. Maugi Barsoum, a student of French Literature in Cairo, while excited to see the man who had been president her entire life step down, is also apprehensive, writing that
“He’s gone and no one knows what the future has for Egypt…Time for PRAYERS!”
There are fears circulating throughout the Western media of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover to a new military regime, with a different face. The former seems to me to just be the reporters falling back on the Islamist boogeyman to fill air time, as the group played only a minor role in the protests and a Brotherhood spokesman is still insisting that they will not be fielding a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. The latter, may actually be worth worrying about.
The army inspires a great deal of trust in the people and played a mediating role throughout the weeks of chaos, which bodes well. Military service is mandatory for young men in Egypt and with a standing force of about 2 million soldiers you would be hard pressed to find a family without ties to the services. This is a group that the opposition leaders might actually be willing to negotiate with. The flip side of that this Supreme Military Council consists largely of old school generals trained in the days of the USSR. Of particular concern Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the 75 year old Chairman of the Council and long time Mubarak loyalist.
For what it’s worth, I am cautiously optimistic. It seems to me that the people of Egypt have rediscovered their dignity as a nation. Managing to get Mubarak to step down seems to have caused a fundamental shift in how they view their nation. While private homes were always immaculate, people never really seemed to care much about public spaces, simply throwing trash in the streets and allowing the outsides of buildings to fall into disarray, if they bothered to finish them at all. But now, people organizing and volunteering to clean up the clashes left behind, even going so far as collecting trash and scrubbing down the streets. As Ahmed Tarek al-Coptain, a public relations officer in Scotiabank in Cairo stated
“Love you Egypt. [I am] proud to be Egyptian from now on.”
I think that we need to give the Egyptian people some credit. They are elated at how far they have come, but they are perfectly aware of how much there is left to do. I have a hard time seeing them settle for a theocracy, a military dictatorship, or a continuation of the corruption that has been a trademark of the bureaucracy without one hell of a fight. I leave you now with one final quote, this time from Mahmoud Gebriel, a medical student at Alexandria University, which I am hoping is representative of the popular sentiment in Egypt:
“Let’s celebrate now and tomorrow [we] will rebuild our country…it’s the real work now.”
Written by Stephanie Wiseman, a student from the George Washington University, who was studying abroad at the C.V. Starr-Middlebury School in the Middle East at Alexandria University when the revolution started.