As Egypt lurches into a new era, a look at its complexities and subtleties helps us to understand the country’s likely course. Some thoughts on key issues:
The spirit of Tahrir Square is real and alive but exceedingly remote from the halls of power. Revolutionary ideas — that government should serve the people, not the reverse; that rulers should be chosen by the people; and that individuals have inherent dignity and rights — have finally penetrated a substantial portion of the country, and especially the young. In the long term, these ideas can work wonders. But for now, they are dissident ideas, firmly excluded from any operational role.
Military rule will continue. Soldiers did not seize power with Hosni Mubarak’s departure two months ago; they did so in 1952. That’s when the Free Officers overthrew the constitutional monarchy and took control. One senior military man has followed another — from Naguib to Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak to Tantawi — in an unbroken succession over 59 years. With time, the military expanded its grip from the political realm to theeconomic, producing everything from television sets to olive oil and acquiring control over a sizable portion of Egypt’s wealth. The soldiers have become far too accustomed to power and the good life to give up these perks. They will do whatever it takes, be it purging Mubarak, throwing his sons in jail, banning his old political party, changing the constitution, or repressing dissent, to keep power.