As the revolution enters its third week, a new dynamic evolves that is likely to stay for a while. Two sides are entrenched in their positions with a large space in the middle. On one side, Mubarak has asserted his power over the military, and drew a line in the sand that he is willing to defend until his death (or the death of the 80 million Egyptians): he will not flee the country like Ben-Ali. He wants a graceful exit and to continue to live and die in his homeland. Many, foes and friends alike, have respected him for his persistence. Other than this position, everything else is at the table (even if he doesn’t say that). On the other side, the demonstrators made it clear that they will not vacate Tahrir Square and will continue to demonstrate until he leaves. They have seen more than 5,000 injured and hundreds (numbers not confirmed yet, but getting close to 500), and are not willing to let go of their victory after defeating the vicious Central Security Forces (CSF) and fighting so many battles. They are well organized online, and have a core group that will not budge.
Both sides have tested their power to the limit. Mubarak used his brutal Central Security Forces (more than 250,000 well trained anti-riot police), which was defeated on Friday and disappeared, along with the whole police force, in disgrace. He used the thugs that his National Democratic Party used to deploy to “manage” the elections process, and they were defeated. He used a terror campaign of kidnapping and assassinations by snipers, and it didn’t work. He played the “safety” card, and the “chaos” card and also failed. The only card that is left now is a full-scale massacre by the army, which would lead to a disaster for everyone, including Mubarak and the whole regime. However, he may use this card if his personal safety or exit is endangered.
The protesters have also tested all their cards. They mobilized multiple multi-million demonstrations that spread all over the country. They defeated the CSF and the thugs, and secured the neighborhoods. They mobilized and politicized a broad base of supporters, especially among the middle and upper classes. Despite all this, they failed to topple the regime completely or to remove Mubarak. However, their ability to mobilize multi-million demonstrations remains, especially in the absence of the CSF and with the Internet back in place. They also have the Muslim Brotherhood on their side, with their strong ability to organize and mobilize. The demonstrators made it clear that they will not leave Tahrir square until all their demands are met.
Now both sides have clearly defined the points that they are willing to defend to death. However, between these two positions, the negotiating space is very wide. There are many concessions that the regime can make to appease the demonstrators, but are not willing to make them immediately. However, as the regime comes under pressure, they will make many of these concessions one at a time between now and September, when the President’s term ends. This will be a long period of “micro-concessions”. This has been their style in negotiations over the past two weeks, and also historically in other crises.
Why is the regime acting this way? Most of those at the top have not yet internalized the shift in the balance of power between the regime and the people. The regime doesn’t have much leverage to enforce its will over the people. The only power left is to use the army in a bloody massacre, and that is the last card that they are unlikely to play now (and hopefully ever). Other than that, they really have little leverage. This reality is slowly sinking in people’s mind on both sides, and as this reality sinks, the regime will have to make more and more concessions. However, their limited comprehension of this shift in the balance of power prevents them from making large quick concessions that would resolve the situation completely. This has been Mubarak’s pattern of behavior over the past two weeks, and is likely to continue.
For a while, we will live in a cycle of negotiations, micro-concessions, grid-lock, more negotiations, more concessions, and then another grid-lock (sounds familiar? Yes, think Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, or Hamas-Palestinian Authority negotiations; both orchestrated by the Mubarak-Sulaiman duo). This cycle will continue as long as Mubarak doesn’t attempt to re-consolidate power and get back to the pre-Jan25 situation, and as long as the demonstrators do not try to march to the presidential palace to force his exit. Absence such escalation from either side, we will remain in this cycle for a while, possible till September, where the next presidential elections are scheduled, or any other elections (in case they decide to dissolve the parliament and hold a new elections).
Is this bad? not necessarily. This period of micro-concessions will give a chance to the emerging political powers to organize and articulate their ideas. They will also create a national discourse on where we want the country to go, which is necessary as we consider creating a new modern constitution.
6 February 2011