It is too early to draw final lessons from the experience of the Arab Spring. Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya are still experimenting with the process of infant democracy and soon we will have an avalanche of writing material on what went right and wrong in those countries during the great events which took place between December 2010 and December 2011.
One of the early accounts is a recently published book, ‘The Last 18 Days of Mubarak’, written by Abdul Latif Al Menyawi — someone who witnessed the events in Cairo during the crucial 18 days, from January 25 to February 11, 2012. He saw the unfolding of events day by day, as he was in the centre where the upheaval in Egypt took place. So he tells part of the story as an insider and active participant in the events.
The importance of Al Menyawi as the author comes from the fact that he was in charge of the Centre News Department at Cairo Television — its building was the focus of besiege during the events. He has seen the traffic of information passing between the screenplay writers, so to speak, and the government, the military and even the palace of the president. From there he followed events on the streets of Egypt, which were bursting with demonstrations demanding changes and the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the bickering within the administration and the crisis management among the political hierarchy, which was given the authority to deal with the situation.
One can conclude, from what the author has recorded, a number of lessons, not only in the Egyptian case, but also in other Arab administrations. I can see at least three major lessons:
First, there was no modern hierarchy based on institutional rules and methods to manage the event. During the height of the crisis, every government agency was taking positions almost against the other; the military wanted to stay away from any confrontation with the masses, Mubarak was not given the exact facts, people around him were careful not to bother him with bad news and almost all those around him wanted to appease him, minimising the seriousness of what was going on in the streets of the Egyptian capital and elsewhere in the province.
So the leadership was detached from reality, isolated. That is typical in a dictatorship, in which the state of denial is the name of the game. It is almost what is going on now in Syria. Mubarak thought that his situation was different from that in Tunis. Syria is thinking today along the same lines — that it differs from Egypt.
Second, mixing business and politics is dangerous for both. The Egyptian political elite soon forgot the third of the six famous articles which were adopted by the Nasser Revolution Council in 1952 — that is to free Egyptian politics from the influence of the business community. The last ten years of Mubarak’s regime witnessed the growing predominance of the business community over politics. The government sold the profitable enterprises which were publicly owned to business and later on brought a number of successful businessmen into the cabinet. These actions were seen by the masses as unacceptable and were resented under growing evidence that they mixed government work with their own interests. Such acts fuelled the discontent of the masses and their economic hardships as leaders followed their own interests rather than the interests of the general public.
Third, what the Egyptians called in popular terms, inheritance. Mubarak wanted his younger son Jamal to take over from him and he was groomed to be the next president. Although this was not announced clearly and publicly, it was the well-known secret in Egypt.
Jamal was very active in the ruling party and he was almost running it single-handed with a small group of close friends, most of whom were businessmen with great accumulated wealth drawn largely from doing business with government agencies.
Having seen the idea of inheritance succeed in other Arab states, namely Syria, the political ground was prepared for Jamal in a number of ways. The idea was again disliked and resented by the general public and especially by the Egyptian military ranks — who believed a military man was more appropriate to rule Egyptians after Mubarak, as the army was the natural cradle of the Egyptian presidency since 1952.
That explains, from the author’s point of view, why the Egyptian Army was first neutral and then sided with the Tahrir Square revolutionary movement.
Those three elements combined together, for Al Menyawi, had contributed to the quick fall of the Egyptian regime which took place in only 18 days. The lessons are far from finished in Egypt. They are unfolding in front of the world in Syria now, although in a different scenario, but it leads almost to the same conclusion.
— Mohammad Alrumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University.