Mubarak: the beginning of the end?

Dear Folks,

This week I think our dear Lord turned down the thermostat here in northern Europe, because Brussels is freezing!!! It is May, but it feels like February. Things are chugging along as always at the Parliament, and today Joe Biden is expected to speak in the hemicycle. I am not a huge Biden fan, but I may see if I can catch a peek. Knowing that he and Obama don’t know much about the EU, or who runs it, I am really keen to hear what he says. I am sure it will be a potpourri of generalities regarding the importance of US/Transatlantic relations, friendship, stability and all that schmaltz that allies like to say about one another.

But on to another important US ally, Egypt, or rather its president Hosni Mubarak. He is not doing so well, which is not news to anyone, but unfortunately nobody knows who will replace him or what will happen after he dies.

This is what the NY Times reported: “The issue is not about his health today,” said Wahid Abdel Meguid, deputy director of the state-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “It is about the ambiguity of the future with regards to the transfer of power, be it in the near or far future. There is increasing anxiety, which used to be prevalent among limited circles of intellectuals and elites, but now it has spread throughout society.”

Mubarak celebrated his 82nd birthday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheik. The government’s mouthpiece “Al Ahram” praised him and made it clear that the future still belongs to him. However, Egyptians are fed up, and have taken to the streets in recent days to protest against low wages and vent frustration. Egyptian society heaves and perspires frustration, and Mubarak’s interminable reign has a lot to do with it. In the last election, his closest rival earned 600,000 votes, whilst Mubarak earned 6 million. Obviously nobody really believes that he won it fairly and squarely, since he uses the secret police to snuff out the opposition, and silence the press.

If Egypt is supposedly the Arab world’s leading light, it leaves a lot to be desired. It can barely sustain its population of 81 million people, who mostly live along the banks of the Nile in the cities of Cairo and Alexandria. There is little social mobility, and the Muslim Brotherhood have come to fill in the inadequacies of the government by offering medical care and food to the underprivileged.  This plays out on the streets, and the growth of Islamic fervour shows no signs of abating. An Islamicised Egypt will have massive implications for the region, and this worries not only the west, but also many members of the country’s civil society, who desperately want real parliamentary democracy to take shape. We have to wait and see what is around the corner for the Arab world’s most populous nation.


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