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Egypt 2011=France 1968? No Ideal Choices Here

INN's political science expert: The road map charted by Clinton of an orderly transition to democracy would be ideal, but what if it is rejected?
By Dr. Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/31/2011, 6:39 AM / Last Update: 1/31/2011, 6:30 AM

 

It is the prophet Amos who said that "the wise man would be silent at that time".

There is a great deal of confusion about the eventual outcome in Egypt. A correspondent for the Economist began by rapturously chronicling the fall of the regime as electronic files were being destroyed. Later, he qualified his prediction and said  it might take one more battle or push.

Hillary Clinton went from one news program to the other to plead for a transitioned approach to democracy that would not leave a dangerous vacuum, but explained that this should not be interpreted as a call for Mubarak's ouster, nor as a threat to remove aid to Egypt.

The Egyptian army was doing a great job, according to Clinton, in discriminating between peaceful demonstrators and keeping order against criminal elements.

But--what happens if Mubarak wants to cling to power and the opposition refuses an orderly transition, and one has to choose between the two?

The prophet Amos' dictum cannot be adhered to by politicians who must supply interviews and project the image that they are controlling events. The  same goes for talking heads and pundits who must demonstrate their predictive abilities. So although silence may be golden, it is impossible to maintain.  Therefore, we present our view  that this situation is reminiscent of Egypt 1952, but even more of  France in May 1968.

In January 1952, a mob swept through Cairo destroying symbols of foreign presence in the capital, including the famous Shepherd's Hotel (yes, they had one too) and the tennis club. This was a reaction against the British punitive raid against Suez.

The British had bases on the canal by virtue of an agreement with the Egyptian government, but that same government was now egging on guerilla warfare against the British. The government, at the same time,  was unable to preserve stability and was in the midst of a war with the Muslim Brotherhood that included assassinations by the Brotherhood and killings by the government.

This set the stage for the coup of July 1952, that installed the military in power and they remain in power to this day. In other words, the chaos and anarchy eventually created a consensus behind whoever could restore order.

When Egyptians have to create vigilante groups to protect their property in the current situation, as criminals are freed and looters enter the national museum and smash mummies, the quest for order is growing. Some suspect that this is part of Mubarak's tactics. They may be right, but the fact is that this is how it is playing out.

France, in the fateful year of 1968, appeared to be on the cusp of revolution. Charles De Gaulle had only been in power nine years, not thirty like Mubarak, but he had been a political factor since 1940. The French students revolted for the same reasons that the Egyptian young are revolting today; because after completing their studies they have few job prospects. The student revolt was joined by a general strike that paralyzed France.

At this stage, left candidate Francois Mitterand played the role of Mohammed el-Baradei by offering himself as the alternative if the strikers and students would unite behind him. Mitterand had been buoyed by the parliamentary elections of the previous year when the left had made sharp gains at the expense of the Gaullists and their allies. De Gaulle appeared paralyzed, but then he met with the army and dissolved the National Assembly. His Prime Minister Georges Pompidou ended the strikes via negotiations. Then De Gaulle presented France with a choice between his way and the "chienlit (dog droppings) of the left". The left was wiped out and its return to power was deferred till 1981.

This comparison means sticking my neck out and ignoring Amos' warnings.

If Hillary Clinton's fantasy comes about, this would be the best way, but its actually occurring is doubtful, to say the least. If the options in Egypt come down a stark choice between order and "chienlit",  I believe the tendency will be for order to reassert itself.