It may be seen as a victory for the people, but Egypt's uprising could lead to negative consequences says Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
No one can have failed to have been moved by the sight of the young, educated men and women, demonstrating for a better future recently in Cairo’s Freedom Square. When so many Arab republics allow their presidents to hold onto their positions indefinitely and to groom their sons to take over as though they are monarchs, it’s no wonder that people all over North Africa and the Middle East are demanding change. That said, there is a fine line between freedom and anarchy and, frankly, the images on our television screens point to the latter.
Egypt has become a lawless land. Thugs are torching historic buildings, businesses and shopping centres. Thieves are on the prowl, forcing Egyptian families to barricade themselves into their homes. Foreigners are leaving in droves. The once peaceful Egyptians are beating one another to death. The economy is being decimated by the day.
This is not the Egypt I know and love. Tragically, there may be much worse to come. There’s a saying, “Be careful what you wish for. It may just happen.”
It’s true that the ageing President Mubarak has made mistakes in recent times and has become divorced from needs of the people on the street. Let’s not forget however that he was head of the Air Force that regained Egypt’s dignity during its 1973 conflict with Israel.
As President, he has maintained Egypt’s stability and cemented relations with the international community. He has improved infrastructure, cultivated a climate for foreign investment and presided over a growing economy. That’s why I was disgusted to see Egyptians hanging effigies of their president and waving shoes at his image. Hosni Mubarak, for all his faults, is a patriot and wants to die on the soil of Egypt.
Moreover, he immediately responded to protestors’ demands by sacking his cabinet and promising that neither he nor his son would stand during upcoming presidential elections. For the first time, he appointed a vice-president and instructed his new government to overhaul elements of the constitution, talk to opposition figures and ensure that university graduates find employment.
At the same time, the former Minister of the Interior, responsible for police brutality, along with the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Housing, both of whom are believed to be corrupt, have been barred from leaving the country and their bank accounts frozen.
It is my belief that President Mubarak wasn’t aware that people around him were abusing their power to line their pockets. I blame those closest to him for their cowardice in failing to inform him about the corrupt practices and the police brutality.
He must have been deeply hurt to have suddenly found himself an object of hate. I don’t know whether the makers of the Egyptian movie The President’s Chef had insider knowledge, but the president’s isolation from the real world, orchestrated by his aides, was portrayed in that film.
The initial demands of the core demonstrators have all been fulfilled, but the Facebook/Twitter movement has been hijacked by agenda-led, self-interested individuals and parties – in some cases, sponsored by foreign powers.
The hijackers are nothing more than opportunists seeking power. They are out to humiliate President Mubarak. They want to see him ousted from Egypt and having to look for a country to take him in, like the Shah of Iran and, more recently, Tunisia’s former President Ben Ali. It’s no wonder that Mubarak is rejecting such degrading banishment.
He admitted to ABC News that he was“fed up” of being president, but fears that his exit will send Egypt spiralling into chaos. He wants to complete his term so as to supervise free and fair elections and an orderly hand-over of power.
But the hijackers are refusing even Mubarak’s unprecedented concessions and many insist they will only engage in dialogue with the vice-president when Mubarak has gone. This condition is totally unreasonable when even a sacked employee usually gets one month to clear his desk.
More crucially, Egyptians need time to consider who will come next, when people like El Baradei, who’s lived abroad for 20 years, and the Ghad Party’s Ayman Nour, have little grassroots support. The only organised opposition party is the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which joined the tail end of the demonstrations, and has since played a clever game by announcing it will not field a presidential candidate and is content to coalesce as secularists. This is the current situation, but what will happen further down the road? Those people funding Hamas, have admitted they want Sharia law to be imposed and that they support an Islamic caliphate. They should not be allowed to participate in any election. I am also concerned that Egypt will fall victim to mob rule in the future, now that the crowds have had a taste of success and I’m worried that the entire region will suffer from the domino effect of this contagion.
I’m particularly surprised at the duplicity of the Obama administration which is now insisting on President Mubarak’s swift departure when he has always been Washington’s obliging friend. Mubarak is right to say President Obama doesn’t understand Egypt or the implications of his hasty removal. There is a cautionary lesson to be drawn from Saddam’s ousting. True, he was a strong man, but he united all Iraqis under one flag and ensured strict law and order. Democracy is an admirable goal, but it cannot be instituted in one day in a state that has never known it.
I admire President Obama but the US would be better served if he stayed out of internal Arab politics and concentrated on resolving the problems of those in his own country, many of whom are homeless and living on food stamps, as well as the fall-out from his predecessor’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
We don’t want Egypt to end up like fundamentalist Iran, or Iraq that was once the Cradle of Civilisation and is now the Cradle of Terrorism. And we don’t want Egypt to mirror Lebanon and end-up in a bloody civil war. And we certainly don’t want every government in the region to be held to ransom by the mob.
Finally, I would say this to the Egyptians on the streets: Please go home before you unwittingly destroy your country’s economy, divide its people and tarnish its reputation forever. You’ve had your say, the state has responded and now you should exercise patience. Give your president a chance to restore Egypt’s dignity and stability while it’s still possible to do so. God bless you all.