Egypt: President Mubarak steps down

11 February 2011

Thus fell another autocratic ruler following the example of Tunisia, after a prolonged period of popular protest. The Egyptian people assembled in large cities, particularly at the symbolic Tahrir Square in Cairo, have brought down President Mubarak’s government, without much bloodshed. The protesters were not going to move, until President Mubarak stood down. It is a remarkable achievement.

It’s possible to argue that it was a coup rather than a popular revolution, since the power has been transferred to the high command of the armed forces. It may have been so, however it was a strange sort of coup in that it was forced on to the army, because of the popular pressure. The army was not going to shoot at the protesters, probably knowing well that sustaining the current regime was not necessarily in its interests. And the regime became unsustainable. The army knew it can survive this regime change, given its necessity and popularity, unlike some of the police forces. President Mubarak absolutely needed the army, the army could do without him. Will the army establish a military dictatorship? Possibly. But would it do so, and would such a regime be sustainable? Probably not. The army will probably try to secure its place in the new constitutional order, however, and hopefully, it won’t dictate the new arrangement.

A more difficult test for Egypt and Egyptians begins now. Until now, there was something to protest against, on which diverse people could agree. From now onwards, something new needs to be created: there will be different visions, pursuing different goals. Removing a disliked figure is not going to solve all the social and economic problems Egypt faces, and creating a political system and a government that command legitimacy in the eyes of the populace is not an easy task.

What kind of Egypt will emerge from the next few transitional months?