I offer this note with the caution that it could be wrong.

On the other hand . . . 


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The signs lead me in a direction different from those dancing in the street or writing with enthusiasm about a revolution and the onset of democracy in Egypt and elsewhere.


The first step in my route is to recognize that in politics it is much easier to decide against something or someone, than to agree on all the steps necessary to construct a different kind of government.


It was easier to do what brought about the end of Hosni Mubarek''s presidency than it will be to do what is necessary to design and implement a new way of choosing leaders, providing for freedom of expression, rearranging the national economy, social services, and foreign relations.


The military has ruled Egypt since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952. It has not been a typical military government with uniformed officers in every key position. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Husni Mubarak came to the presidency from the military, as did many of the senior personnel in the administrations they headed. And now it is the military leadership whose present or former members have assumed the national leadership. Their first steps have been to promise reform and continuity. Demonstrators have left Tahrir (Liberation Square). The cleaners are sweeping and carting away the debris left behind.


Barack Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu have welcomed the generals'' statements about a democratic civilian transition, as well as their commitment to international obligations, including the peace treaty with Israel.


The Egyptian military has not only been intimately involved with the national leadership since 1952. It is up to its knees or higher in the national economy. According to an analysis produced by the United States military, the Egyptian military is involved in the industries that assemble of military hardware.


"(And) military facilities . . . manufacture a wide variety of products such as washing machines, heaters, clothing, doors, stationary, pharmaceuticals, and microscopes. Most of these products are sold to military personnel through discount military stores, but a significant percentage also reach commercial markets. Profits from these activities are, like military export earnings, off budget. . . 

(There is also a ) broad network of dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry farms, and fish farms. . . . 

The military has also been involved in a significant number of major national infrastructure projects such as construction of power lines, sewers, bridges, overpasses, roads, schools, and installing and maintaining telephone exchanges."
All of which says that many Egyptians have a stake in the military. 

None of which pretends to assess the views at the peak of the current and retired officer corps that supplies much of the leadership of Egyptian politics and economics. Nor should we dare predict how those who may contend for leadership will respond to the protests of recent weeks, or those claiming to lead or influence various sectors of the Egyptian population. 


The western press has been preoccupied with Egypt. We have not heard much about Tunis and Lebanon. It is not clear how protests in Algeria and Jordan will play themselves out. The Palestinians of the West Bank have promised early elections, seemingly to ward off their own protests. The Palestinians of Gaza were quick to say that such decisions are illegitimate on account of Abbas'' continuation in office more than two years beyond the end of his term. 


Those who are nervous see the eventual success of the Muslim Brotherhood or something else that is Islamic, anti-democratic, and anti-western. Others see a flowering of democracy that will spread from Egypt to other countries in the region. Israelis are wondering and worrying about what will happen next door and on all sides. 


I''m inclined to see a continuity of what has been since 1952, perhaps with changes in how the regime presents itself, and some loosening of the constraints about free expression and political opposition. 


It is best to conclude with a caution that we are dealing with a political culture considerably different from our own, with severely limited transparency, that has already responded to internal pressures by ousting a leader who was strong enough a month ago to offer his son as his replacement. 


It might be better. It might be worse. I''d bet that it will resemble what has been.
 

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