A change is gonna come

Posted on 29 January 2011

I started yesterday with cautious hope. If any day would bring Egyptians out en masse, this would be it. Since the morning, I watched images beamed from Al Jazeera. Central Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other towns and cities, all teeming with many thousands of people all with one message: Mubarak out.

After Tunisia, for the wider Arab world to rise up against the brutal dictators who’ve ruled with such an iron fist, it had to be Egypt first. If Mubarak goes, the rest will follow. But Mubarak will not relinquish power easily or peacefully.

After hours of waiting, he finally spoke late last night. Unsurprisingly he did not acknowledge the protesters grievances directly. Instead he announced that he’d appoint a new government. This is not want the people want and they will not be pacified now. Even the US changed its stance over the day from relatively supportive (to Mubarak) to a more critical position. But it cannot have it both ways and should come out firmly on one side or other.

Israel’s response has been typically muted. It was unprepared and did not expect such a popular uprising on the streets of Egypt. Israel needs Mubarak and will be watching very closely to see what happens. Israel also needs Jordan’s King Abdullah and the rotten PA. If Mubarak is deposed, then the situation in the Middle East alters dramatically, and Israel becomes more vulnerable. It may even have to talk to its “enemies”.

Mubarak will not leave voluntarily, so is there the prospect of a coup d’état to depose him? At the moment, although Egyptians are united in their hatred for Mubarak, there is no one obvious ready or able to take over, right now at least.  Mubarak will use this to his advantage. Although the West fears the Muslim Brotherhood, it is not as powerful and influential as the regime would have us believe.

Support for the Islamists is traditionally found in poor rural communities, and the intellectuals and trade unionists won’t easily align with them politically. But there’s a void to fill and it’s a chaotic situation that shows now sign of calming. Critically, what will the army do? Soldiers on the street are not interfering, as yet, with the demonstrators. Of course, what the senior officers are thinking is not clear. Their allegiance and actions will determine Mubarak’s immediate future.

What happens over the next two or three days will likely set the scene for the long-term future, not only of Egypt but the wider Middle East. Can the Arabs finally throw off the chains of repression that have bound them for so many decades? Today is as much the culmination of over a century of Western interference and control as it is the desire to be rid of Arab authoritarian rulers. A change has already come.

The title is with all respect to Sam Cooke, A change is gonna come

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