So, Yesterday I attended a talk entitled “Examining the Unrest in Tunisia and Egypt” at the Middle East Institute. MEI is a Washington, DC think tank, research institute, library, language school and lecture center that I was fortunate enough to intern at several years ago.
The talk featured Alan Goulty, former British ambassador to Tunisia and Sudan and Edward Walker, former US ambassador to Israel, Egypt and the UAE. Both ambassadors were more focused on analysis rather than prediction, and overall it was an interesting talk, but with no particularly earth shaking revelations. (I’ll post a link to the transcript as soon as MEI posts it)
***Update - video link here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Tunisiaa
The one highlight that did strike me was Amb. Walker’s comments on the Egyptian army’s status as a stabilizing factor. Based on years of interaction, cooperation, and training ( the US State Department and military have very good relations with the Egyptian military), he seemed confident that the Army will be very deeply invested in maintaining a peace treaty with Israel. Regardless of domestic changes, a dramatic shift in Egypt’s foreign-policy would severely curtail the flow of money that the Army has gotten used to and disrupt the status quo that they are not interested in losing.
Additionally, both ambassadors agreed that the inability of Egyptian President Mubarak and Tunisian President Ben Ali to wield their armies against their own citizenry was, ultimately, a key factor in the speed and success of these uprisings. In the case of Tunisia and Egypt, the armies are loyal to the state rather than to a single leader, and neither military has a history of oppression against the citizenry. This is certainly not the case in Algeria, Libya, or Syria, and on that note, the Syrian “day of rage” that was scheduled for February 5 seems not to have happened.
There are a few other Egypt updates to add:
For the crowds in Tahrir square, Yesterday was supposed to have been “the day of departure” for Mubarak. Although this did not happen, Mubarak’s hold on power certainly seems to be weakening. Today he stepped down from the leadership of the Egyptian NDP party and his newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman has been taken on many of his leadership responsibilities. On the international scene, Turkish Prime Minister Ergodon has stepped to the forefront and explicitly called for Mubarak to step down from the Presidency altogether. This is a fairly bold step for Ergodon (very few national leaders have been willing to make explicit calls for Mubarak's resignation) and it most certainly not a good sign for Mubarak.
Egyptian opposition leaders are beginning to come to the forefront and speak openly about their intentions to run for president. The three names that are getting the most mentions in the English press are Amr Mussa (head of the Arab League), Mohamed elBaradei (Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency), and Ayman Nour (former member of the head of the liberal democratic”El Ghad” party).