I know that I am not alone when I say that I am amazed. I’m amazed and captivated, really, by the swift and successful revolt against the three-decade regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. A revolt that was led by a group of young, social media-savvy activists.
As the celebration gets underway, I am curious to know what will happen in the coming weeks, when Cairo’s Tahrir Square is no longer filled with people. The top military brass is in control of the country now, after all. So just what will have to happen in Egypt for a new civilian authority to be put into place by the Egyptian people (hopefully sooner rather than later)?
I called scholar Laurie Brand, who is an expert in Middle East politics and culture. Brand is the Robert Grandford Wright Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California and is also the author of Citizens Abroad: Emigration and the State of the Middle East and North Africa.
Check out excerpts from our conversation below, where Brand outlines the necessary steps for seating a new government and a reasonable timetable to do so.
Also, join the discussion by sharing your comments below. What are your thoughts on the revolution in Egypt, and what do you think will happen next?
THOMPSON: What needs to happen now in order for a legitimate civilian authority to be put in place?
BRAND: One of the first steps has got to be a significant amending if not a complete re-drafting of the constitution. The constitution as it currently is gives excessive powers…to the president. And so there needs to be some significant re-working of that. And my guess is that rather than just amending certain aspects of it, which is what Mubarak had promised, there will be a committee of lawyers that will work on a new constitution.
Another very important thing is the lifting of emergency law. In one of the…military communiques that came out very early this morning, our time, the army promised to lift emergency law when circumstances came back to normal. Given that Mubarak has left and we’re going to have some celebration for a while, hopefully the military will then see fit to lift emergency law. That’s critical, because having emergency law in place has been one of the factors that has allowed for so many of the abuses — arrests, holding people incommunicado, torture and so on.
That really needs to be lifted as soon as possible so that we can begin a more fully functioning, free and vibrant press. There has been an opposition press in Egypt, but they’ve been subject to various forms of harassment. To the extent that we have a free and functioning press, that’s also an important building block for the emergence of a more democratic system.
The military has also dissolved parliament. This means that preparations have to be made for new elections. Egypt has electoral rules, so they’re not in a situation like some other countries where elections haven’t been held or records have been destroyed. The basis for holding those elections are there. But there has to be the organization of those elections. There has to be a reasonable kind of a campaigning period.
We don’t know how long the Supreme Council of the military is going to continue to hold power. There’s lots of unknowns. The last statement that they made was much more forceful than either of the previous two. It seems clear that they are not interested in trying to hold onto power; that they have intervened as a way of trying to solve what was a serious crisis and then put Egypt on the road to a different political system. So, I think there’s every reason to be optimistic that this was not just a kind of charade and that they’re going to try to hold onto power. I don’t think that’s in the cards. That’s certainly not the way it looks right now.
But then the question is, who rises? Who comes forward as a potential next president of Egypt? There are anumber of prominent political figures who have been making statements over the last few weeks. There’s also been this incredible energy and emergence of new faces as a result of the demonstrations and the incredible mobilization of people. So, it’s going to be very interesting to see who emerges during this next period as potential leadership, either at the presidential level or as potential parliamentarians and ministers.
THOMPSON: What sort of timetable are we looking at then?
BRAND: We’d be talking about a couple of months before you could think of having a new constitution or a significantly amended constitution in place…
We’d start seeing the assembling of committees to work on these issues very shortly. I would think within the next week or so. Then it depends on how long it takes for them to get these new documents in place. But I would be optimistic that we’re going to see new elections within…no more than six months and perhaps sooner than that.
THOMPSON: On a personal note, Professor Brand, did you see this coming?
BRAND: No. And I think anybody who tells you they saw it coming is lying. I don’t know anybody who predicted this. For those of us who’ve spent time in Egypt recently, everybody will tell you that there was a tremendous sense of frustration. That there was tremendous dissatisfaction. People very angry about the fact that Mubarak was unwilling to release the reins of power; to allow for freer elections. In fact, it seemed pretty clear that he was preparing the way for his son to succeed him. And people felt like there was no way out. They were going to go from one Mubarak to another Mubarak without any real opportunity for significant political change, and the regime was becoming increasingly repressive. So, all of that was there, but there didn’t appear to be an exit.
We’ve seen in the last month there were a lot of pre-existing conditions; a lot of structural factors. But nobody expected to see what happened in Tunisia happen. And I think it’s clear, listening to the testimonies of a number of the young people who participated in the very early demonstrations, that they were inspired by what they saw in Tunisia. And I think that probably extends to the other parts of the Egyptian population as well. When they saw that the Tunisians had also succeeded in getting rid of Ben Ali, that made a huge difference.
The attack on the church in Alexandria, the dreadful attack around Christmas time, that led to demonstrations that brought Muslims and Christians together to protest the fact that these Christians had been attacked, that was a really important prior development. It began to develop some more trust among Christians and Muslims. Whereas the regime, the Mubarak regime, had every interest in making Christians suspicious of their Muslim neighbors and tried to cultivate in them a fear that if the Mubarak regime were to go away, they would be subject to some kind of Islamic regime under the Muslim Brotherhood, which, of course, is all scare tactics with no basis in facts.
With the church attacks, I think the Christians first of all realized that the regime couldn’t protect them and wasn’t really protecting them, and then they saw this outpouring from many of their Muslim neighbors. A sense of “We’re all Egyptians. We can’t have this. We have to have societal security, not just security for one community as opposed to the other.” That was also a very important precursor.
But the short answer to your question: No, I didn’t see this coming. But I couldn’t be more excited.