why cairo won't be tunis
This is a guest post from Matt Buehler, PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Matt is going to be a regular contributor on the blog with a focus on north Africa. Here are his thoughts on the unfolding crisis in Egypt:
Large protests are expected today in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities following Friday prayer. Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and unsuccessful opposition presidential candidate, Mohammed ELBaradei, has returned to Cairo to lead the protests and call for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. A diverse array of organizations and ordinary citizens will join the protests including Egypt’s largest opposition political movement, the nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the outpouring of public dissatisfaction, Egypt is unlikely to experience a “Jasmine Revolution.” Here’s why:
1) Egypt’s military is far less professionalized and depoliticized than Tunisia’s. Rachid Ammar, the Tunisian military’s commander, played an important role in the Jasmine Revolution by siding with the Tunisian people against Ben Ali and his republican guard. It would be unexpected for the Egyptian military, which remains close to the ruling National Democratic Party, to demonstrate such professionalism in civil-military relations.
2) In Egypt, the stakes are much higher for domestic interest groups (especially sectarian minorities). Certain sub-sections of Egyptian society, particularly Egypt’s 10-12% Coptic Christian population, rely on the Mubarak regime for protection and support. If the regime suddenly collapses, they fear the ethnic conflict that might emerge within the period of instability. Tunisia, by contrast, is homogenous in terms of the ethnic and sectarian composition of its population.
3) More than Tunisia, the Egyptian military has experience dealing with large public demonstrations. Beginning with the bread riots of the 1977, the Egyptian state has successfully dealt with large-scale protests in the Nile Delta in the 1990’s, 2003, and 2005. The bread riots, which lasted two full days and resulted in 800 deaths, forced the regime to turn back scheduled IMF and World Bank loan payments that were inflating food prices for ordinary Egyptians through subsidy reductions. Thus, the planned ‘day of rage’ in Cairo this Friday may, in short, drive the regime to make concessions and introduce limited reforms, but we should not expect to see a second Jasmine revolution accompanied by substantive regime change.
Here’s an interesting article on the importance of military professionalization in these recent uprisings.