The poetical trappings of the revolution in downtown Cairo are the meat and potatoes of great literature. It evinces Chekhov’s rule: If, in the first act, you place a gun on the stage, by the last act it must be fired. If, in building a city, you include “Tahrir (Liberation) Square,” eventually it will house a revolution. It is a struggle of barricades already written by Victor Hugo in “Les Miserables.” It is a clash of archetypes.
But while Tahrir has become the spiritual fulcrum of the revolution, the struggle will not be won by tearing up sidewalks. The pillars of the regime — the army, the bureaucracy and the businessmen — must be persuaded to support a new system.
The Internet has come back to Cairo, and with it Cairo Scholars — the e-mail list for expats in Cairo — has roared back to life. One post describes the road to the airport — lined with tanks at 50-meter intervals to protect the fleeing foreigners. Rebukes bury a passive defense of the pro-Mubarak supporters. The administrator began to search for spies, lest posts with more sensitive information pass under the eyes of intelligence services.
Another poster — pointing out how quiet most of Cairo actually is — wrote, “This isn’t Somalia. This is Egypt and the unspoken pact seems to be: so long as you stay out of the fray (i.e., their biznass) you’ll be left alone (i.e., to your own bidnass).”
In my column on Monday I wrote that the priority must not be to remove Mubarak, but rather to address the protesters’ grievances: political liberties, a humane and decent government, less corruption and more economic opportunities. Those must remain the destination, but Mubarak cannot be part of the transition.
The underhanded attack on the protests was reprehensible. Withdrawing the police from the entire country and shutting down basic vital services such as banks and transportation in a game of hardball demonstrates that Mubarak values his own power over the continued stability of his country.
But Mubarak is not alone; he represents a ruling cadre of bureaucrats, businessmen and security types who stand to lose enormously from a regime change. Frankly, these people have stolen, lied and killed under Mubarak’s aegis. These are the ranks attacking the protesters. They will continue to fight not because they prefer dictatorship, but because they think their lives are on the line.
Our government carries enormous influence from a long and close relationship with Egypt. It can help make a deal that protects Mubarak’s people, one that will keep the focus on building a new society and off of revenge. It can broker an arrangement that will prevent the security forces from starting an Iraq-style Ba’athist insurgency and one which will put Egypt on the path of South Africa, not Lebanon.
There is a partner capable of handling the transition. Mubarak lost control when he put the military in the streets because, unlike in “Les Mis,” they refused to attack the protesters. Drawn from a more educated, better off tranche of conscripts than the members of the police and paramilitary Central Security Forces, Egypt’s military looks down on the Ministry of the Interior and its thuggery.
Furthermore, the Egyptian military has not put down mass rioting since 1977. They are unwilling and probably unable to control the crowds in Cairo. At the same time, they have strong ties with America, and tight relations with Egypt’s business class. While they will continue to be a powerful force in the country, they will not want to be in charge.
A deal can safely dismantle Mubarak’s regime. Our government can make one with the military, and it can make one today.
We would not have won our own revolution without the help of the French. Now the Egyptians need us.
Our country has enormous strategic interests at risk with the fall of this government. Mubarak has kept Islamists at bay, kept the Suez Canal open and provided a foundation of support and stability for the Middle East over the last 30 years. Losing Mubarak imperils all of that.
But we also have moral interests.
Mubarak no longer represents the camp of order. If we are to be uncertain of the outcome, let us at least be certain of our ideals. Mubarak must go.
Nicolas Kemper is a senior in Pierson College.