Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
By Ben W. Heineman Jr.
Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Note: This commentary first appeared on TheAtlantic.com.
The economy was an important cause of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow. The Mubarak regime failed to deal with poverty (20 percent of the population), unemployment (more than 10 percent), lack of opportunity for a bulging youth cohort (90 percent of the unemployed were between 15-24), inflation (about 12 percent in total consumer prices, with food higher), and widespread corruption.
Since Mubarak’s departure, in February, the Egyptian economy has significantly worsened, with the military leaders failing to address the burgeoning issues. Read more
By Richard Clarke
Sitting on the sidelines as students and workers poured into Tahrir Square for the initial demonstrations that ultimately brought down Hosni Mubarak were the well organized cells of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, known in Arabic as the brothers, or the Ikhwan. Their leadership decided to hold back and see what developed in the protests. Why?
Among the many reasons considered by the Ikhwan leaders was probably the simple fact that the protesters in the square were not their people. Many of the protesters were secular democrats, some were even Coptic Christians. A large number were women. The Ikhwan has always stood for an Islamic religious state, where the government would enforce strict interpretations of Islamic law, not a place for secularists, Christians, or activist women. For decades their view of democracy had been as one possible means to gain power, but in the sense that the Algerian Islamists viewed elections: “one man, one vote, one time.” Read more
By Monica Duffy Toft
With news of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepping down, the key question becomes “who will govern Egypt?” Although Mubarak has handed power over to the military, there is still the possibility that other actors, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), could step in to fill the vacuum. The central question is: If the MB comes to power in Egypt or even becomes a major player, what will its position be on the transformation of the political system in Egypt? Is it a force for democracy or a force for authoritarianism? In essence, will the MB foster a conservative Islamic vision for Egypt?
The evidence is mixed, but on balance I predict the MB will be a force for democratic change. What is my evidence? I have two sorts. The first regards the MB itself and the second is the role of religious actors in politics more generally. Read more
By Nicholas Burns
Today’s dramatic events in Cairo and the departure of Hosni Mubarak from power may bring to a close the first stage in what is nothing short of a revolution in Egypt’s politics and society.
What have we learned from these extraordinary last eighteen days? I can think of five immediate lessons worth thinking about.
Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on February 11, 2011. (Photo by Ramy Raoof)
First, People Power achieved this victory. For those of us who have lived in Egypt, what was always most impressive about that fascinating but impoverished country was the energy, optimism and resourcefulness of a people who had been dominated by royal and military rulers for the last century. Their idealism, passion and steadfastness during the last eighteen days overcame all of the power, privilege and cynicism of the government and overwhelmed it in the end. The role of Facebook, Twitter, Al Jazeera and CNN in magnifying the voices and faces from Tahrir Square was breathtaking and surely indicative of a new brand of politics in this still new century. Read more
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns has followed up his Feb. 3 blog post on Egypt on Power & Policy with a contribution to an online forum on Foreign Policy.com. Burns says President Obama is skillfully walking a dangerous diplomatic tightrope as he works for democratic change while avoiding chaos in the region.
Burns, who was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008 before joining the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School, participated in a roundtable forum hosted by FP that called on some of the top thinkers on US policy-making in the Middle East, including Elliot Abrams, Thomas Pickering and Aaron David Miller. Read more
Graham Allison weighs potential alternative futures for Egypt in an assessment of the potential implications for the United States in the turmoil engulfing its largest Arab ally.
In a contribution to a virtual panel of experts on The Mark, a Canadian online forum, Allison says the aspirations of those taking part in such uprisings don’t always dictate the outcome. Just think of the Iranian and Russian revolutions.
Protestors from Al Azhar University gathered in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on February 1, 2011. (Iman Mosaad photo)
Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, says it is highly unlikely that any successor government in Egypt would seek to disrupt the flow of oil to the United States. However, other events in the region might do so, especially if the revolts prove contagious and spread to countries such as Saudi Arabia. Read more
By Nicholas Burns
The people’s rebellion in Egypt is the most daunting and dangerous foreign policy test of the Obama Presidency. And, it got a lot harder on Wednesday. Shocking violence by pro-Mubarak armed gangs against largely peaceful protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square raised the stakes both for an embattled Hosni Mubarak and for the U.S. government.
The attacks appear to be the first strike in a counter-offensive by Egyptian security forces to take back the streets of Cairo and reverse the momentum of the reformers who, until Wednesday, appeared on the verge of unseating Mubarak after thirty years in power. Watching the discipline and uniformity of the pro-Mubarak forces in Cairo on Wednesday led many around the world, myself included, to suspect that they were acting in concert with security forces or were part of the security establishment themselves. Whoever they were, they have turned this crisis in a new and more menacing direction. Read more