Stephanie's Political Arena

Critiques and Perspectives on National Politics and More

Fallout in Egypt

with 7 comments

Protesters fill Cairo's Tahrir Square in opposition to President Mubarak (photo accessed via CBC News)


For the moment, I’m going to detach myself from my usual focus on domestic politics and venture abroad by succumbing to the media’s current “agenda setting” spotlight on Egypt, and dusting off those mental notebooks I saved from my undergraduate courses in U.S. foreign policy, African politics, and international human rights.

What started out as a relatively peaceful, yet vocal, resistance by the Egyptian people to President Hosni Mubarak has quickly descended into violent chaos resulting in as many as 300 fatalities and 3,000 injured protesters, according to the United Nations human rights office.   Time magazine’s Vivienne Walt, currently based in Cairo, provides a detailed account of the clashes taking place at Tahrir Square, which includes this excerpt: As dusk fell, Molotov cocktails were thrown across the square, sparking fires in several places as street battles raged. A military helicopter circled overhead, while men below faced off with knives, bricks, pieces of metal and any other weapons they could find.

As the revolt against Mubarak and his allies descends further into violence, Senator John McCain expressed concern that Tahrir Square could become “another Tiananmen Square” unless the United States intervenes, as urged by Brent Budowsky of The Hill.  Yet, here’s where things become extremely complicated in dealing with Egypt.  On the one hand, Mubarak offered to step down by September, when the next elections are scheduled to take place; yet, the majority of the protesters are demanding that he step down immediately.  Then, there’s the matter of the national constitution and whether or not the Egyptian people have enough time to rewrite it prior to September’s elections – and while Mubarak is still potentially in power or during an accommodating interim administration (such as the Muslim Brotherhood – though, again, the key word is accommodating).  Beyond that, there’s the international impact, particularly throughout the Arab Peninsula, and the effect on the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.   On the issue of Israel, Thomas Friedman lays out the dilemma facing Tel Aviv and the impact it could have on the already tumultuous relationship with Palestine.

In working to resolve the crisis in Egypt, I believe immediate responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Egypt’s Middle Eastern neighbors.  They’re the closest in proximity, and they have the military and diplomatic resources needed to help stem the violence in the streets while negotiating the post-Mubarak transition with leaders of all parties involved.  Israel should be a part of these negotiations; however, given the circumstances, they likely will not be welcome at the table.  Thus, President Obama should be prepared to send Secretary of State Clinton to ensure that the stable relationship between Egypt and Israel does not completely disintegrate.  Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon should be prepared to impose sanctions against Mubarak if he does not rein in his forces and put an end to the bloodshed in places such as Tahrir Square.

By no means am I an expert on international diplomacy, but it’s becoming clear that the Egyptian people will not be able to turn their country around on their own, and verbally reprimanding Mubarak will not deter him from holding onto his power (haven’t we already learned this from dealing with Ahmadinejad and Jong-Il?).  The sooner Mubarak is dealt with forcefully, the sooner a transition – if imminent – can begin and bring at least some normalcy back to Egypt.


Written by Stephanie

February 3, 2011 at 4:28 am

7 Responses

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  1. That piece of writing by Vivienne Walt, though quite ominous, was beautiful — thanks for sharing that.

    On another note, the situation in Egypt reminds me of how lucky we all are that we don’t share borders and proximity to many other countries. I imagine that we would have to pare down our political meddling if we were closer to the countries we seem to piss off so easily.

    Tom S.

    February 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    • Thank you for the comment, Tom! I really appreciate it and I’m glad you like the Walt piece. Honestly, I could NOT imagine being in her shoes right now and covering what’s going on in Cairo as we speak. I agree with you that we are extremely fortunate geographically speaking.


      February 4, 2011 at 2:42 am

  2. I like your take on this, Stephanie. I never really considered the thought of Egypt’s neighbors intervening…

    Also, I overheard another Ph.D. student in the J-School talk about a political communication class with a focus on mobile technologies. I’m not sure if you’re interested, but it seems like a good fit for the article you wanted to write. I believe it’s taught by Hernando Rojas. Maybe you could sit in a few times…

    Marianne English

    February 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    • Thanks so much, Marianne! I appreciate your comments as well as the heads-up on the class pertaining to mobile technologies. I’ll definitely check into that as I’m consider pursuing the topic for my project this semester. Thanks again! 🙂


      February 8, 2011 at 5:12 am

  3. Stephanie,

    The only real leverage that the U.S. has over Mubarak and the regime is the annual military and economic aid and the rather empty threat of invasion. Our military is already too overstretched to make invasion credible and an American invasion would likely serve to both legitimize the military regime and radicalize the opposition.

    So our remaining leverage has to be played very carefully to maximize its effect.

    Tom Mitchell

    February 7, 2011 at 11:46 pm

  4. But isn’t it great that the Egyptian people themselves forced the change? I have friends in Cairo who were shot at and tear gassed and had cameras smashed out of their hands and still went to Tahir Square every day. Incredible to see a revolution in action. Now, of course, the question is what military rule in Egypt will look like – and what the ripple effect will be elsewhere. Very interesting times.

    Deborah Blum

    February 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    • These definitely are interesting times – especially now that we’re seeing a similar situation in Libya and now Oman. I actually had a very interesting discussion with a close friend of mine this weekend who is from Zimbabwe – which he said is essentially under military rule and that Mugabe is just a “puppet.” Joining us were a friend of his, who is from Sudan, and his friend’s wife. The gentleman from Sudan talked about how he recently voted for the separation of the south from the north – which he actually did in Chicago. His entire family still lives in southern Sudan and, from what he’s told me, everyone is very happy to have their independence now. Currently, the south is under the authority of al-Bashir’s #2 until they can set up an electoral process to elect more leaders. It’ll be interesting to see if Egypt follows this same path (in terms of electing new leaders, that is).


      March 1, 2011 at 2:31 am

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