In the midst of frustration, anger, and disappointment after Mubarak’s speech, we need to pause and evaluate where we are and where we are heading. Reading the tea leaves with little facts leaves us only with speculations. Unfortunately, I see a very pessimistic picture that is heading towards more escalation.
First, the core of Mubarak’s speech is that he’s requesting some constitutional changes and delegating his powers to the VP. These changes are significant, and may have been enough to calm the demonstrators days or weeks ago. So far, Mubarak has compromised a lot and met many of the popular demands. However, in the absence of trust and guarantees, these compromises no longer meet the rising demonstrators demands. Mubarak has been consistently late – he’s always 3-5 days behind the events, chasing them rather than shaping them. This is one of the main reasons for the crisis escalating to where we are today.
Second, aside from the substance, the tone of his speech was infuriating. Mubarak has offended pretty much everyone, even many of his supporters. Tomorrow will be a tough day, with millions taking to the street, and the possibility of marching to the presidential palace. If this happens, nobody knows how far things will escalate. I do not even want to speculate on the consequences.
Third, the Army’s “communiqué #1” raises many questions on what is happening within the army. It is obvious that many of the army generals are frustrated and pushing for action against Mubarak, but their arms are tied. One prevailing hypothesis is that the republican guard, which is extremely loyal to the President and controlled by him personally, is preventing any coup by the army against the President. If this is true, then the blunt reality is that Mubarak is holding the country (and the army) hostage using the republican guard, otherwise, he may have been removed long time ago. This raises the risk of army vs. republican guard confrontations, which is another scary thought.
Unfortunately, the way Mubarak has managed the crisis thus far is leading us to a nasty place. His actions are always later and behind the events and he is using the wrong language and discourse to address the demonstrators. The result is an escalation to a new level that is an order of magnitude higher than the previous 17 days. This week, we face four major risks:
- Large casualties in any confrontation between the demonstrators and the army or republican guard, especially in the case of a marsh towards the presidential palace.
- An economic disaster as the country heads towards a full civil disobedience. A full closure of factories, government, transportation, and other services – something that we cannot afford for more than few days.
- Chaos and violence in the streets as the demonstrations take a different size and demographics. Labor unions and government employees are starting to join in masses with their own demands, and their numbers and tactics are different from the current demonstrators.
- The remote scenario of a confrontation between the army and the republican guard.
This is a very pessimistic view, and I hope that I am completely wrong on all counts. However, reading the tea leaves with little facts leaves me only with these speculations.
Amin Elmasry. 10 February 2011.