The revolution + 2
Two years ago last week, growing protests against Hosni Mubarak eventually (with a nudge from the military) forced him from power. Here’s a sampling of news and comment from the New York Times of those momentous events, plus contrasts to current commentary and news.
What they thought then:
Uncharted Ground After End of Egypt’s Regime – News Analysis by Anthony Shadid – February, 11 2011
Egypt’s revolution earned many names in 18 days: Revolution of the Youth, of the People, of Anger, of Freedom, of the Hungry, and most poetically, the Revolution of Light. In the end, it was called the January 25 Revolution, the date of the first protest. In that, it was a departure from another revolution, that of July 26, when Gamal Abdel Nasser and fellow officers seized power from a decadent king and mobilized Egypt for wars with Israel. It evolved into something far less ambitious: a mantra of security and stability, in which Egyptians and many Arabs were forced to give up their rights.
Even in his very last days, Mr. Mubarak understood the conflict in those terms; in his last speech to the nation, he spoke of security and stability 10 times. The protesters in Cairo wrecked the regional formula, though their ambitions have yet to offer a paradigm to replace it. “Leaders in the Arab world are weaker now,” said Sadiq al-Azm, a prominent Syrian thinker and writer.
Whatever order emerges will almost certainly be less favorable to Israel and the United States, both symbols to many protesters of Egyptian subservience. It was no coincidence that the most outspoken proponents of Mr. Mubarak’s rule were Israel and Saudi Arabia who, with Egypt, formed the spine of American dominance in the region. Nor will economic reforms of the kind mandated by the International Monetary Fund make headway in a country that blames them for creating a class of crony capitalists.
A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History – by David D. Kirkpatrick and David E. Sanger – February 11, 2011
The White House had been debating the likelihood of a domino effect since youth-driven revolts had toppled President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, even though the American intelligence community and Israel’s intelligence services had estimated that the risk to President Mubarak was low — less than 20 percent, some officials said.
According to senior officials who participated in Mr. Obama’s policy debates, the president took a different view. He made the point early on, a senior official said, that “this was a trend” that could spread to other authoritarian governments in the region, including in Iran. By the end of the 18-day uprising, by a White House count, there were 38 meetings with the president about Egypt. Mr. Obama said that this was a chance to create an alternative to “the Al Qaeda narrative” of Western interference.
American officials had seen no evidence of overtly anti-American or anti-Western sentiment. “When we saw people bringing their children to Tahrir Square, wanting to see history being made, we knew this was something different,” one official said.
Iran Uses Force Against Protests as Region Erupts – Neil MacFarquhar and Alan Cowell – February 14, 2011
The unrest was an acute embarrassment for Iranian leaders, who had sought to portray the toppling of two secular rulers, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as a triumph of popular support for Islam in the Arab world. They had refused permission to Iranian opposition groups seeking to march in solidarity with the Egyptians, and warned journalists and photographers based in the country, with success, not to report on the protests.
Iranian demonstrators portrayed the Arab insurrections as a different kind of triumph. “Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it’s time for Sayyid Ali!” Iranian protesters chanted in Persian on videos posted online that appeared to be from Tehran, referring to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Iranian authorities have shown that they will not hesitate to crush demonstrations with deadly force. Other governments across the Middle East and the Persian Gulf also moved aggressively to stamp out protests on Monday.
Secret Report Ordered by Obama Identified Potential Uprisings – by Mark Landler – February 16, 2011
President Obama ordered his advisers last August to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world, which concluded that without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt, administration officials said Wednesday.
Mr. Obama’s order, known as a Presidential Study Directive, identified likely flashpoints, most notably Egypt, and solicited proposals for how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States, these officials said.
The 18-page classified report, they said, grapples with a problem that has bedeviled the White House’s approach toward Egypt and other countries in recent days: how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.
They did it – Thomas Friedman – February 12, 2011
This could get interesting — for all the region’s autocrats. Egypt’s youthful and resourceful democrats are just getting started. Up to now, the democracy movement in the Arab world was largely confined to the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, which, because it was U.S.-led, has not been able to serve as a model for emulation. If, and it remains a big if, Egypt can now make the transition to democracy, led by its own youth and under the protection of its own armed forces, watch out. The message coming out of Cairo will be: We tried Nasserism; we tried Islamism; and now we’re trying democracy. But not democracy imported from Britain or delivered by America — democracy conceived, gestated and born in Tahrir Square. That will resonate among Arabs — and in Iran.
What Egypt can teach America – Nicholas D. Kristof – February 12, 2011
It’s a new day in the Arab world — and, let’s hope, in American relations to the Arab world. The truth is that the United States has been behind the curve not only in Tunisia and Egypt for the last few weeks, but in the entire Middle East for decades. We supported corrupt autocrats as long as they kept oil flowing and weren’t too aggressive toward Israel. Even in the last month, we sometimes seemed as out of touch with the region’s youth as a Ben Ali or a Mubarak.
From 9/11 to 2/11 – Roger Cohen – February 13, 2011
Perhaps the most effective antidote to 9/11 will prove to be 2/11, the day Hosni Mubarak conceded the game was up with his 30-year-old dictatorship and left town under military escort for the beach. We’ve tried invasions of Muslim lands. We’ve tried imposing new systems of government on them. We’ve tried wars on terror. We’ve tried spending billions of dollars. What we haven’t tried is tackling what’s been rotten in the Arab world by helping a homegrown, bottom-up movement for change turn a U.S.-backed police state into a stable democracy. This is the critical opportunity Egypt now presents. Islamist radicalism has thrived on the American double standards evident in strong support for the likes of Mubarak’s regime. It has prospered from the very brutal repression that was supposedly essential to stop the jihadists. And it has benefited from the reduction of tens of millions of Arab citizens to mere objects, shorn of dignity, and so more inclined to seek meaning in absolutist movements of violence.
What we know now:
The Muslim Brotherhood’s 213 year revolution – Eric Trager – February 15, 2013
Thus, Al-Dardery said, the significance of Egypt’s 2011 uprising was that it represented the first opportunity for Egyptians to finally answer collectively, “What is the future of Egypt? Where Egypt should go?” And the Muslim Brotherhood’s successive electoral victories have legitimized its preferred formula, which reconciles “the Islamic tradition with…Euro-American developments.” Al-Dardery traced this approach back to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Islamic thinkers such as Muhammad ‘Abduh and Rashid Rida, as well as Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, who aimed “to take from Europe the best we could, add it to the best traditions we have, and try to create the third alternative.” It bears emphasizing that this “third alternative” takes “Euro-American developments” — specifically western scientific advances and administrative procedures, such as electoral politics — but uses them to advance the Brotherhood’s “Islamic tradition,” which emphasizes “instituting the sharia” and, thereafter, building a “global Islamic state.” This approach makes it different from, say, traditional Salafists, who until recently largely rejected western advancements as illicit “innovations.” But the Brotherhood’s approach ultimately views western values — such as political secularism and pluralism — as imports against which, according to Al-Dardery, Egyptians have been fighting for 213 years.
This is, of course, not what motivated most of the revolutionaries who bravely took to Tahrir Square two years ago, demanding political freedom and touting their ecumenism. But the Islamist organization that seized the revolutionaries’ initial momentum has been fighting a very different battle for nearly a century, and Washington should note that the Brotherhood essentially views Egypt’s revolution as part of an ongoing struggle against western influence and values. One of the Brotherhood’s own spokesmen, after all, said as much in Washington.
Little Princes survive the Arab Spring – Michael Rubin – February
Alas, the Arab Spring may have swept away one generation of dictators but it did not do away with the “Little Prince” phenomenon. David Schenker, perhaps Washington’s most consistently correct Arab affairs analyst, notes the pattern has now re-emerged in Cairo. According to the Associated Press:
Egypt’s aviation minister says the hiring of President Mohammed Morsi’s son to a highly-paid government job was justified, dismissing accusations of nepotism… Omar, one of the president’s five children and a recent university graduate, got the internally-advertised job in a department that usually hires with a starting monthly salary of $5,000. Such a figure is unheard of for new graduates in Egypt, where the starting salary for a government job can be as low as $75.
Clearly, the Muslim Brotherhood is just as corrupt as the regime it replaced, if not more so.
True Belief, Cynical Manipulation, Peer Pressure: How Arab Governments Manage the Israel Issue – By Barry Rubin – February 15, 2013
Islamist Era: Indeed, the rise of revolutionary Islamism put additional Peer Pressure on all Arab regimes. They needed the Israel issue more for Cynical Manipulation and, except for the always moderate Jordanian regime and the Sadat-altered Egyptian one, could not afford to think of peace. The non-Saudi Persian Gulf states were tempted, however, as were the main Lebanese Christian forces. In 2013, support from the UN for the first time made the original two-stage theory seem possible in practice. If Palestine was now an independent state, it could win that status without making concessions or commitments. Using international backing, it could create an entity which—unlike the one existing under the Camp David accords—could eventually be used as a base for attaining total victory. Many Palestinian nationalist leaders were, literally, of two minds. >Simultaneously, they understood better Israel’s strength yet they could not shake the need for True Belief, reinforced both by Cynical Manipulation and Peer Pressure from their own movement and from Hamas. Islamist regimes and groups—notably Hamas and Hizballah as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and of course al-Qaida and other Salafists plus the Iranian Islamist regime—followed the pattern of the early Arab nationalists. Only the lack of Islam had prevented Israel’s extinction but they were going to do the task the proper way.
Plus some headlines:
Concerns over media freedoms in Mursi’s Egypt – Al Arabiya – January 24, 2013
Egyptian Currency Reserves Running Critically Low – Wall Street Journal – February 5, 2013
Protests turn to street clashes across Egypt – AP – February 8, 2013
Official: Funds allocated to diesel subsidies have run out – The Egypt Independent – February 16, 2013 (h/t Eric Trager)
What we knew back then:
Taking A Clear-Eyed Look at the Obama Administration’s Full Two-Year Record on Reform in Egypt – ABC News – February 11, 2011
Perhaps more glaringly, while the Bush administration tried to directly fund civil society in Egypt – pro-democracy groups and the like – the Obama administration changed that policy and cut funding significantly, ending an effort to provide direct funding to democracy groups not “approved” by the Egyptian government, and reduced funding in the budget for programs to promote civil society groups.