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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality (STRATFOR)

Note: In a previous post titled “Egypt 2011 “People Power”, Philippines Before and After EDSA 1986“, BongV wrote “Egypt is free from Mubarak.. and back to a junta?”. The dust in Egypt has not yet settled down – and without meaningful changes in the constitution (one of the main demands) the Egyptians might find out down the line that not much has changed – much like the Philippines. Indeed 25 years after EDSA 86 – the question still remains, was EDSA really a Revolution?. Inasmuch as we don’t want to rain on Egypt’s parade – given that control has been turned over to a junta poses serious questions about Egypt’s “revolution”. George Freidman, President of STRATFOR adds his thoughts on the matter.

Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality
By George Friedman

On Feb. 11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. A military council was named to govern in his place. On Feb. 11-12, the crowds that had gathered in Tahrir Square celebrated Mubarak’s fall and the triumph of democracy in Egypt. On Feb. 13, the military council abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament, promising a new constitution to be ratified by a referendum and stating that the military would rule for six months, or until the military decides it’s ready to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power. This isn’t incompatible with democratic reform. Organizing elections, political parties and candidates is not something that can be done quickly. If the military is sincere in its intentions, it will have to do these things. The problem is that if the military is insincere it will do exactly the same things. Six months is a long time, passions can subside and promises can be forgotten.

At this point, we simply don’t know what will happen. We do know what has happened. Mubarak is out of office, the military regime remains intact and it is stronger than ever. This is not surprising, given what STRATFOR has said about recent events in Egypt, but the reality of what has happened in the last 72 hours and the interpretation that much of the world has placed on it are startlingly different. Power rests with the regime, not with the crowds. In our view, the crowds never had nearly as much power as many have claimed.

Certainly, there was a large crowd concentrated in a square in Cairo, and there were demonstrations in other cities. But the crowd was limited. It never got to be more than 300,000 people or so in Tahrir Square, and while that’s a lot of people, it is nothing like the crowds that turned out during the 1989 risings in Eastern Europe or the 1979 revolution in Iran. Those were massive social convulsions in which millions came out onto the streets. The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city.

In a genuine revolution, the police and military cannot contain the crowds. In Egypt, the military chose not to confront the demonstrators, not because the military itself was split, but because it agreed with the demonstrators’ core demand: getting rid of Mubarak. And since the military was the essence of the Egyptian regime, it is odd to consider this a revolution.

Mubarak and the Regime

The crowd in Cairo, as telegenic as it was, was the backdrop to the drama, not the main feature. The main drama began months ago when it became apparent that Mubarak intended to make his reform-minded 47-year-old son, Gamal, lacking in military service, president of Egypt. This represented a direct challenge to the regime. In a way, Mubarak was the one trying to overthrow the regime.

The Egyptian regime was founded in a coup led by Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser and modeled after that of Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, basing it on the military. It was intended to be a secular regime with democratic elements, but it would be guaranteed and ultimately controlled by the military. Nasser believed that the military was the most modern and progressive element of Egyptian society and that it had to be given the responsibility and power to modernize Egypt.

While Nasser took off his uniform, the military remained the bulwark of the regime. Each successive president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, while formally elected in elections of varying dubiousness, was an officer in the Egyptian military who had removed his uniform when he entered political life.

Mubarak’s decision to name his son represented a direct challenge to the Egyptian regime. Gamal Mubarak was not a career military officer, nor was he linked to the military’s high command, which had been the real power in the regime. Mubarak’s desire to have his son succeed him appalled and enraged the Egyptian military, the defender of the regime. If he were to be appointed, then the military regime would be replaced by, in essence, a hereditary monarchy — what had ruled Egypt before the military. Large segments of the military had been maneuvering to block Mubarak’s ambitions and, with increasing intensity, wanted to see Mubarak step down in order to pave the way for an orderly succession using the elections scheduled for September, elections designed to affirm the regime by selecting a figure acceptable to the senior military men. Mubarak’s insistence on Gamal and his unwillingness to step down created a crisis for the regime. The military feared the regime could not survive Mubarak’s ambitions.

This is the key point to understand. There is a critical distinction between the regime and Hosni Mubarak. The regime consisted — and consists — of complex institutions centered on the military but also including the civilian bureaucracy controlled by the military. Hosni Mubarak was the leader of the regime, successor to Nasser and Sadat, who over time came to distinguish his interests from those of the regime. He was increasingly seen as a threat to the regime, and the regime turned on him.

The demonstrators never called for the downfall of the regime. They demanded that Mubarak step aside. This was the same demand that was being made by many if not most officers in the military months before the crowds gathered in the streets. The military did not like the spectacle of the crowds, which is not the way the military likes to handle political matters. At the same time, paradoxically, the military welcomed the demonstrations, since they created a crisis that put the question of Mubarak’s future on the table. They gave the military an opportunity to save the regime and preserve its own interests.

The Egyptian military is opaque. It isn’t clear who was reluctant to act and who was eager. We would guess that the people who now make up the ruling military council were reluctant to act. They were of the same generation as Hosni Mubarak, owed their careers to him and were his friends. Younger officers, who had joined the military after 1973 and had trained with the Americans rather than the Soviets, were the likely agitators for blocking Mubarak’s selection of Gamal as his heir, but there were also senior officers publicly expressing reservations. Who was on what side is a guess. What is known is that many in the military opposed Gamal, would not push the issue to a coup, and then staged a coup designed to save the regime after the demonstrations in Cairo were under way.

That is the point. What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime. When it became clear Feb. 10 that Mubarak would not voluntarily step down, the military staged what amounted to a coup to force his resignation. Once he was forced out of office, the military took over the existing regime by creating a military council and taking control of critical ministries. The regime was always centered on the military. What happened on Feb. 11 was that the military took direct control.

Again, as a guess, the older officers, friends of Mubarak, found themselves under pressure from other officers and the United States to act. They finally did, taking the major positions for themselves. The demonstrations were the backdrop for this drama and the justification for the military’s actions, but they were not a revolution in the streets. It was a military coup designed to preserve a military-dominated regime. And that was what the crowds were demanding as well.

Coup and Revolution

We now face the question of whether the coup will turn into a revolution. The demonstrators demanded — and the military has agreed to hold — genuinely democratic elections and to stop repression. It is not clear that the new leaders mean what they have said or were simply saying it to get the crowds to go home. But there are deeper problems in the democratization of Egypt. First, Mubarak’s repression had wrecked civil society. The formation of coherent political parties able to find and run candidates will take a while. Second, the military is deeply enmeshed in running the country. Backing them out of that position, with the best will in the world, will require time. The military bought time Feb. 13, but it is not clear that six months is enough time, and it is not clear that, in the end, the military will want to leave the position it has held for more than half a century.

Of course, there is the feeling, as there was in 2009 with the Tehran demonstrations, that something unheard of has taken place, as U.S. President Barack Obama has implied. It is said to have something to do with Twitter and Facebook. We should recall that, in our time, genuine revolutions that destroyed regimes took place in 1989 and 1979, the latter even before there were PCs. Indeed, such revolutions go back to the 18th century. None of them required smartphones, and all of them were more thorough and profound than what has happened in Egypt so far. This revolution will not be “Twitterized.” The largest number of protesters arrived in Tahrir Square after the Internet was completely shut down.

The new government has promised to honor all foreign commitments, which obviously include the most controversial one in Egypt, the treaty with Israel. During the celebrations the evening of Feb. 11 and morning of Feb. 12, the two chants were about democracy and Palestine. While the regime committed itself to maintaining the treaty with Israel, the crowds in the square seemed to have other thoughts, not yet clearly defined. But then, it is not clear that the demonstrators in the square represent the wishes of 80 million Egyptians. For all the chatter about the Egyptian people demanding democracy, the fact is that hardly anyone participated in the demonstrations, relative to the number of Egyptians there are, and no one really knows how the Egyptian people would vote on this issue.

The Egyptian government is hardly in a position to confront Israel, even if it wanted to. The Egyptian army has mostly American equipment and cannot function if the Americans don’t provide spare parts or contractors to maintain that equipment. There is no Soviet Union vying to replace the United States today. Re-equipping and training a military the size of Egypt’s is measured in decades, not weeks. Egypt is not going to war any time soon. But then the new rulers have declared that all prior treaties — such as with Israel — will remain in effect.

What Was Achieved?

Therefore, we face this reality. The Egyptian regime is still there, still controlled by old generals. They are committed to the same foreign policy as the man they forced out of office. They have promised democracy, but it is not clear that they mean it. If they mean it, it is not clear how they would do it, certainly not in a timeframe of a few months. Indeed, this means that the crowds may re-emerge demanding more rapid democratization, depending on who organized the crowds in the first place and what their intentions are now.

It is not that nothing happened in Egypt, and it is not that it isn’t important. It is simply that what happened was not what the media portrayed but a much more complex process, most of it not viewable on TV. Certainly, there was nothing unprecedented in what was achieved or how it was achieved. It is not even clear what was achieved. Nor is it clear that anything that has happened changes Egyptian foreign or domestic policy. It is not even clear that those policies could be changed in practical terms regardless of intent.

The week began with an old soldier running Egypt. It ended with different old soldiers running Egypt with even more formal power than Mubarak had. This has caused worldwide shock and awe. We were killjoys in 2009, when we said the Iranians revolution wasn’t going anywhere. We do not want to be killjoys now, since everyone is so excited and happy. But we should point out that, in spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but it hasn’t yet.

An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation.

Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality is republished with permission of STRATFOR.


Indeed the same question can be asked about the Philippines – was it really a revolution? Or was it a coup d etat by Ramos and Enrile using the EDSA Crowds as cover – Egypt’s playbook is eerily similar.

Twenty five (25) years after EDSA, what has been achieved? A nation of japoks, achoy, achay, pokpoks, punaspwets headed by an incompetent, insensitive pork-barrel loving oligarch scion bankrolled by the oligarchy. Clearly, EDSA 1986 has not delivered its promises. I have a feeling that the Egyptians will be back in the streets by year’s end.

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19 Comments on “Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality (STRATFOR)”

  • Subliminal Messenger wrote on 14 February, 2011, 10:27

    It is neither a coup-de-t’at or a revolution. Lookit, EDSA was a fake revolution, according to Renato Pacifico. People went to EDSA to usisi and tsismis. Lookit again, even the absence of sociologist, Renato Pacifico can tell you if there is a fender bender in Makati, a gaggle of usisi people congreate in EDSAic proportion to witness. WHY IT IS NOT COUP-DE-T’AT? Because if the triumvirate of corrupt “putschists” took the government people will REALLY REVOLUTIONIZE. Why these corrupt triumvirate were afraid? Because the military during fake EDSA revolution was in favor of the people. NOT TO ENRILE. NOT TO RAMOS. NOT TO HONASAN. The military were there for the people. They were toldin’ to fire AND THEY DID. THEY FIRED MARCOS !!!!! So these thyree stooges got the message. They did not hijacked the revolutip0n. They give it to where the people rallied. THE MESSIAh called Cory Aquino.


    Subliminal Messenger Reply:

    2ndly, The Americans were behind the people. Not Ramos. Not Enrile. Not Honasan. But behind Cory Aquino. Because Ramos-Enrile-Honasan are taijnted by corruption. From start to finish. Sure these gooks got their glory. They becamse Senators, as usual, failed coup-de-t’aters in the Philippines always become senators. Even monkeys made it to Presidency.


    Subliminal Messenger Reply:

    3rdly, Ramos-Honsan-Enrile needed to save their asses, assets, queridas and their pater-familias. So they lied low. If they have grabbed the fake revolution, they’d be in trouble. American F-16s were already swooping in ready to napalm everyone by minutest of provcation.


    Subliminal Messenger Reply:

    The Philippine Fake Revolution to Renato Pacifico; People Power to the children of war; Revolution to the politicians; Miracle at EDSA to the church; Power shift to the oligarchs were comical from the start. but it was thrilling. Based on history even Aguinaldo was brought down to his knees, given bribe money in the Pact of Broken Stone to live a lifestyle in Hong-Kong MORE THAN LOZADA CAN THINK OF. And Many thanks to Spanish-American war, American came to route the Spanish Galleon in Americzans brief eurphoria THEY GOT A HUGE HEADACHE WHEN PHILIFINES FALL INTO THEIR LAP. Less than a month after the Spaniards were routed, Aguinaldo declared independence, in less than 8 months FILIPINOS BETRAYED AMERICANS, TURNED AROUND AND STABBED THEM IN THE BACK !!! OF COURSE, AS USUAL. PHILIFINOS CANNOT BE TRUSTED !!!!!!

  • palahubug99 wrote on 14 February, 2011, 11:43

    Yes, the military is in charge for the moment in Egypt. Without the military in charge, the country would descend into chaos. So, in the interest of preserving order in the streets, they are temporarily in charge. What will happen down the road? Nobody knows. Elections are promised in September but will this really take place? Some ambitious general might take it upon himself to seize power and suspend free elections indefinitely but speculation is neither here or there. Ultimately, it would take a partnership bet. the army and leaders of the opposition groups to bring about free democratic elections.


  • Hyden Toro wrote on 14 February, 2011, 13:01

    Egypt has always been ruled by Authoritarian Regimes; for the last 5,000 years. From the Paraohs to the Persians to the Greek to the Romans and finally to the French. After which, the late King Farouk came…he was overthrown by a military man named: Nasser. Then, came Sadat and Mubarak.
    Egypt holds the Peace of the Middle East. If Egypt goes to Radical Islam. War with Israel, will be a possibility. Oil Tankers that pass thru Suez Canal will be affected. America and the oil-dependent worlds’ economies will be affected…there is a possibility that a US $300 per barrel of oil, will come sooner than later. So, Filipinos….tighten your belts…We have an incompetent and coward President. I believe he cannot hide with these possibilities anymore…


    kickapoo Reply:

    He cannot hide from these possibilities true. I think he needs to orchestrate more scandals to keep the masa in awe.


  • kyo987 wrote on 14 February, 2011, 15:07

    Can you really call what happened in Egypt as People Power, isn’t people power defined as a peaceful revolution and that revolution was anything but peaceful if the injured news anchors are any indication.


  • Jack wrote on 14 February, 2011, 21:25

    Its a myth that humanity needs a leader to control us. If left to our own devices, we would create a paradise on earth…all wars are started by leaders…I have been to many countries and all were nice people and no one wanted wars or wanted to become presidents. As long as there is a power structure, humanity will always be under tyranny and war and chaos.

    Give us a chance…we need a leaderless society and see how far it goes..we know from last 10,000 years we have tried with leaders and power structure and look how far we have come with war and choas.

    Give us 10 years not more and we will show you how to live on earth without any leaders. Leaderless society is the only way for peace. This is not a pipe dream or hippy movement thought…this could be done…



    ChinoF Reply:

    Leaderless society = anarchy and chaos


    blueredicedtea Reply:

    well not nessesary that anarchy is chaos….or thats what those anarchists said.


    i could be wrong though, because the the meaning is ambiguous.


    Hyden Toro Reply:

    Leaders, authorities, religions, priests, bishops, popes, Imams, ayatollahs, religious leaders, etc…are needed to prevent chaos and anarchy…


  • blueredicedtea wrote on 15 February, 2011, 4:51


    well people power II is even questionable, since erap’s period was not a dictatorship,
    its more like trial by publicity.

    and more rallys….with vacuous results.


  • Kevin Marquez wrote on 15 February, 2011, 5:05

    Kumusta na, ayos pa ba
    Ang buhay natin, kaya pa ba
    Eh kung hinde, paano na
    Ewan mo ba, bahala na?

    Napanood kita sa tv, sumama ka sa rali
    Kasama ang mga madre, pinigilan mga tangke
    Umiiyak ka pa sa harap ng mga sundalo
    Namigay ka pa ng rosas na nabili mo sa kanto

    Dala-dala mo pa, estatwa ni Sto. Nino
    Eskapularyo’t Bibliya, sangkatutak na rosaryo
    At sa gitna ng EDSA, lumuhod ka’t nagdasal pa
    Our Father, Hail Mary from thy bounty thru Christ our Lord amen

    Pebrero, bente-sais nang si Apo ay umalis
    Ngiti mo’y hanggang tenga sa kakatalon, napunit a’ng pantalon mo
    Pero hindi bale, sabi mo, marami naman kameng BALIW/BIKTIMA
    Kahit na amoy pawis, tuloy pa rin ang disco sa kalye

    Nakita kita kahapon, may hila-hilang kariton
    Huminto sa may Robinson, tumanga buong maghapon
    Sikat ka noon sa tibi kase kasama ka doon sa rali
    Pero ngayo’y nag-iisa, naglalakad sa may EDSA

    Ewan mo ba, bahala na
    Bahala na, bahala na

    anu say mo??



    ChinoF Reply:

    Appropriate song for the this time!

    And here’s what you can call media and our politicians:
    Banal na Aso! Santong Kabayo!
    Natatawa ako! Ee hee hee hee


  • kickapoo wrote on 15 February, 2011, 5:36

    EDSA people power is more like a big Marketing Congress to me. Every perceivable marketing tactics were present:

    1. The consistent color scheme of Yellow
    2. Symbolic sign in the form of The “L” laban sign
    3. Theme songs “Magkaisa” and “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo”
    4. Unifying imagery: nuns+soliders…..actors and celebrities walking together…
    5. Duality: good+bad….oppressor+liberator
    6: And tag lines: “Filipinos are worth dying for..” or whatever…

    Now take this Marketing template and apply it to your campaign and youll have a very effective brand communication…Oh wait, they used this template when Pnoy ran for president right?

    1. Yellow color everywhere. Celebrities wearing yellow shirts with black philippine map, or reverse. Sagip-kapamilya volunteers wearing yellow shirts, distributing goods placed in yellow plastic bags…newspersons wearing yellow blazers…etc..

    2. Yes, the ever present Laban sign, even Mar Roxas would flash this when he gave way to Pnoy for the presidential candidacy.

    3. Who would forget PNOYS TVads wtih him rapping.

    4. The unifying imagery of celebrities walking together in support of PNOY

    5. The duality. Pnoy as the good person, them (GMA) as the bad.

    6. And an amazing tagline :Walang mahirap kung walang korap”

    But this time around, they even up the ante by adding more subliminal messaging… “3 stars and the sun” concept which was already established by Francism for his apparel, were taken by Liberal party since they have a reverse configuration on their logo(two stars on top, one star below, sun on the middle) , they used this reverse format to print on thousands of jejemon t shirts

    What would you expect from an oligarch with bottomless funds…Of course they can afford the services of advertising giants with the likes of Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi and yeah Campaigns & Grey.

    My point? If people power is genuine, you really dont have to use marketing ploys…You dont have to “convince” people to buy your “product”…


    Hyden Toro Reply:

    Did you not know that these Politicians hire Advertising People to formulate strategies to delude and deceive people? It cost them multi-million pesos. However, once elected; their investments are returned by “kurakots”…So, the never-ending scandals, are here to stay. As long, as we bite what they are selling…Stupid Filipinos…


  • anon wrote on 15 February, 2011, 5:59

    the only way to make big and easy money in the philippines is to make politics a family business so marketing a brand or product to a largely naive and uneducated electorate is a key component

    ninoy created the brand
    cory expanded the brand
    p-noy will bankrupt the brand
    kris aquino will bury the brand.

    politicians fear free information and the power of technology.

    only when this happens is there a chance of change otherwise all in power simply want to retain the status quo without being questioned.

    here there is no intellect, debate or organised opposition and a timid media so corruption as usual.

    and it is becoming clear p-noy is not as squeaky clean as the marketeers like to portray.

    at best a facilitator of corruption and at worst a knowing accomplice.
    time will tell which.


  • pugot wrote on 16 February, 2011, 9:30

    As long as the middle class and the poor remain stupid and afraid of the corrupt oligarchs, nothing will change. So, the best thing to do is just play along the evil system which will be intact until the end of the world. Just don’t steal to the point of being noticed. Do it discretely and behind the scenes. Otherwise the idiotic population will humiliate and boo you but eventually forgive you after a couple of years. Then you can play the stealing game again.

    If you’re part of the oligarchy ruling class, life will be heaven in the Philippines populated by numbskulls. If you happen to be one of the millions of non-thinking zombies who complain but do nothing, too bad. Life sucks. EDSA Revolution? Toppled the Marcoses and their cronies? Aren’t they back? Along with the billions they stole? Who’s the idiot? The thieves or the people? The people of course. It’s nice to be rich and corrupt in the Philippines. You’re untouchable….FOR LIFE.


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