By Manish Madan
I am sick, I am tired … within the same moment, I am pleased but exasperated seeing a stubborn stand-off of an obstinate and retiring Egyptian leadership with their own people. I am well beyond the comprehension of a thirty-year old man who is unable to find some positive reasons for an octogenarian Hosni Mubarak to cling on to the powers and continue ruling the nation against the will of its populace.
Despite my own personal apprehensions, in this piece, my goal is to summarize the events and make an attempt to give you an objective view of the pros and cons regarding the latest crisis in the heart and soul of Arab World.
Let me begin by saying that this unrest in Egypt did not really start two weeks ago. The seeds have been sown many years ago and they started to mature by November 2010 Egyptian elections when Mubarak was elected 'yet again', this time for his sixth term. The news of rampant fraud and abuse is certainly not something unheard of during these elections. Youths felt disappointed.
Months later, Tunisia, a neighboring country, witnesses a political unrest following weeks of anti-government demonstrations and clashes between the citizens and the police. The unrest that was seen widely as a response to her citizens' growing frustration with the then-government not only resulted in ousting its President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali but also caused a ripple effect that in my opinion set the Egyptian youth in a much zealous motion. The youths felt encouraged to demand the rights of their own country by peaceful protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his dictatorial regime. 'People, I am going to Tahrir Square', a facebook message left by a 26-year old Egyptian woman on the social network media spread things like an organic movement, and apparently set the fire snowballing the citizens from one to millions in Tahrir Square.
With the growing public protests and demands of ousting President Mubarak, pressure started mounting from all corners of the country including world leaders and diplomats alike - all asking in one voice, provide Egypt and its people the necessary and long awaited political reform in an all-party inclusive, expedited, peaceful and orderly manner. In a gesture to satisfy the Egyptian people, Hosni Mubarak publicly announced his intent to neither seek re-election at the September vote nor promote his son, Gamal Mubarak the once presumptive heir to lead the national politics. However, these statements could not satisfy the angry Egyptians and many intellectuals, scholars, and journalist criticized Mubarak's moves as too little, too late … with a further emphasis that he will not be able to stay in office for another eight more months!
Amidst the entire ongoing political crisis that Egypt is witnessing, there are many pros and cons emerging from it. First, let us view some of the cons before we talk about the pros. High instability in the region in terms of safety and security of Egyptians, and the tourist present in the country; oppression of people and press; not allowing them to practice the fundamental foundations of any democratic nation - freedom of speech and right to organize themselves in a peaceful manner. At least 10 people have been killed during violent clashes at Tahrir Square, and over 800 causalities reported by Egyptian health minister ever since the protest began on Jan 25, 2011.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Egypt recorded an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent as of 2010. The numbers for 2011 are yet to be seen, however one may safely assume this rate to be on edge given the ongoing crisis. As of February 2010, according to Economic Development Minister Osman Mohamed Osman, Egypt's economy reported its fastest growth in more than a year, boosted by tourism, construction and manufacturing. However to no one's surprise, one may yet again safely assert potential loss in tourism industry amidst the crisis. As per the latest figures, the violence had led to about one million tourists leaving the country in the past week costing Egypt at least $1bn in lost revenue.
Further, Egypt is known for its world heritage from with their magnificent pyramids to the phenomenal mummies. This political disaster also instigated a few mal-intended people to break into Egypt's national museum, and destroy the mummies. Thus depriving Egyptians and the world of a window into ancient civilization!
The question to President Mubarak and his regime is that “Is your leadership indeed so vital for the country at this moment that it can even out all the losses the country is facing?” Perhaps no one other than the man in dock himself can answer this best. All one can say is that the leadership should not have their selfish motives to keep the powers and let the country run her into ruins and put its grand repertoire at risk.
At the risk of contradicting my own thoughts, I might as well share that there are a few legislative issues that people must be aware of while calling for President Mubarak's immediate resignation. Under the Egyptian constitution, if the President resigns, new election must take place within 60 days. This leaves us with another question if Egyptians are ready for a new election? Are they ready to vote for an unknown leader to lead the nation, or at the cost of removing President Mubarak, they will not even mind putting another bad apple to fill the most coveted spot? Another question will be if it is logistically possible to conduct elections within this short time frame given the current crisis. Once again, these answers are best known to the people currently in power or political pundits, neither of which I claim to be. Mind you, I do not endorse President Mubarak to stay on being the President for long but I suspect the current scenario calls for each step to be taken with utmost caution that calls for - 'a long sighted vision instead of a short sighted victory'.
Having said that, in good faith and in order to repair his damaged Presidential legacy what Hosni Mubarak can do is first, announce a specific time frame of his resignation and stick to it. Secondly, keeping the several interest groups in loop, create a constitutional committee entrusted to amend the present Egyptian constitution. This shall allow the upcoming elections to take place under the new constitution that treats all political parties alike and provide a fair play to each one of them during elections. Thirdly, to assure their citizens and the world of the political reforms at the grassroots level, invite the foreign representatives to monitor a free and fair elections.
Transitional democracy can be a challenging phase for any country, and so will it be for Egypt. Creating new jobs, economy back on track, and restoring citizens' faith in its government can be a few tasks that shall lie ahead of the country and its emerging leadership.
Amidst this political upheaval in Egypt, there are many positives to take away as well. First, pro-democracy awakening in the middle east - the ripple effects are such that within days, it prompted Jordanian King to dismiss his government and appointing a new prime minister with orders to implement “genuine political reform”; it provoked Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to announce an end to his three-decade rule when his current term expires in 2013. Second, youth power of organizing - these events have given a new voice to the youth of any country perhaps. Politics may never have the same place in society as it used to have decades earlier.
Third, power of social media - there is no question about the power in communication in day to day life, and when that communication becomes a click away from not one to one but rather one to many, it unleashes a whole new dimension of communication. A successful example of what we saw during the past few weeks where social media such as facebook and twitter served as pigeons of past century carrying critical messages to relay from one port to another.
Finally, the power of peaceful protest - with the Egyptians determined to protest in a peaceful manner, firm to witness an unfolding of a new Egypt, the D-day will not be far. Borrowing from May Kay Ash, I shall conclude by sending a message to the demonstrators, “When you reach an obstacle, turn it into an opportunity. You have the choice. You can overcome and be a winner, or you can allow it to overcome you and be a loser. The choice is yours and yours alone. Refuse to throw in the towel.”
Each one of us here awaits for a new dawn in the heart and soul of the Arab world - witness a new Egypt unfolding.
Manish Madan, Ph.D. is a graduate student in Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.
This article was printed in the February 13, 2011 - February 26, 2011 edition.