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North Africa: Change from the Ground Up—And Now, the Hard Part

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--


By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published February 15th, 2011

In an article published in several blogs and newspapers including the African Herald Express titled, Democracy Now: Laboratories, Incubators and Nurseries of Democracy—the Party Primaries Rolling Off on January 15,2011, and accessible through the above link, this author had some pretty remarkable things to say concerning democracy generally in Africa, but with particular references to the dictatorships in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Muammar Quadaffi’s Libya, and elsewhere in North Africa.

Without much ado below is an excerpt from the said article:

“Emerging from its own Dark Age of military coups and jackboot dictatorships that seemed to have terminally arrested her democratic growth after gaining independence from colonial Europe, Africa south of the Sahara has once again been caught in the throes of democratic transitions. I say “south of the Sahara” because the Muammar Qadaffis and Hosni Mubaraks of North Africa have seemingly declared democracy persona non grata in that part of Africa, leaving Africa south of the Sahara to assume the role of incubators of democracy on the continent.”

That puts North Africa well behind Africa south of the Sahara in the democratic equation and North Africa should be playing the catch up game now because she has been late to the game. Thank God for little mercies. That is not to say that democracy has had a great time in Africa south of the Sahara because it has not but to underline the fact that it has had a head start in that region. However, at the time the article was published nine clear days before the Egyptian revolution got underway, little did the world know or had reasons to believe that a great wind of change was gradually building up in the North African political atmospherics that would forever change the political landscape of North Africa, and the greater Arab world that had easily won the dubious title of the world’s largest incubators of dictatorships and sanctuary of petty despots.

Starting in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, with the self-immolation of one Muhamed Bouazizi, a common street vendor, in protest against the confiscation of his merchandize by a Municipal female official which he considered a humiliation, a fire was lit that grew into a raging conflagration that was to consume the 23-year old dictatorship of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 28 days later. The dictator fled to Saudi Arabia—the veritable home of dictators to save his neck on January 15, 2011, co-incidentally, on the same day that article was published. But thankfully, it did not end there.

With the resounding success of the Tunisian revolution the political wild fire aided by internet enabled social networking quickly spread to Egypt leaving in its wake the charred debris of the 30-year old Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. He fell this morning, February 11, 2011 and I woke up to the news of his apparent resignation with his handover of the reins of power to the powerful Egyptian military’s Supreme Council as announced by his hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman, a former Egyptian Intelligence chief despised for his despicable role in the US sponsored terrorists rendition program under former president GW Bush.

Even with certain lingering misgivings and troubling signs that I shall touch on presently, I would nevertheless hasten to join the people of Egypt in celebrating Mubarak’s fall. Keep in mind, I said Mubarak’s fall not his successors’ ascendance and that distinction is critically important as we shall see later. He didn’t deserve one day longer in office.

The fall of both North African dictators in Tunisia and Egypt in rapid succession is an eloquent testimony of the power of the people and the resilience of the North African streets. However, these protests have not only taught dictators a lessons and many of them should be looking over their shoulders to see what is coming behind them, but the exceptionally peaceful character of the Egyptian protests provides a poignant lesson for African peoples on how to prosecute political action in the streets. Nigeria in particular, has a great lesson to learn from the Egyptian model that builds on the earlier paradigm provided by such giants as Mahatma Ghandi in India and Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. in the United States. And that is that you don’t have to go burning down cars and buildings and making bonfires in the streets to achieve revolutionary success. You don’t have to go about forcing others to join your protests against their wishes to make things happen.

The Egyptians who have not enjoyed democracy all their lives seem to respect the rights of others more than those who claim to be democrats in countries like Nigeria by organizing and prosecuting their protests and demonstrations in a most civilized and democratic manner devoid of any kind of violence, compulsion or conscription of fellow citizens to join the protests and demonstrations. Protests and strikes are not and should not be compulsory but voluntary based on true convictions of their merits not forced, not hired area boys and miscreants. The Egyptians protesters are well heeled, educated and enlightened enough to respect the rights of others who might not have bought into their demands for whatever reasons. And that is the mark of civilized people. I respect them for that for observing a critical element of civilized conduct in an otherwise authoritarian clime.  

As I wrote earlier in the week in the piece Bloodless Revolution in Nigeria—Fall of the Northern Oligarchs, revolutions come in different shades and colors and they don’t all have to be bloody or even happen in the streets. The Egyptian revolution has not been associated with violence and the little of it witnessed was sponsored by the goons of the dying Mubarak regime who stormed the Liberation square to chase out protesters last week.

Were this revolution to have taken place in a place like Nigeria it would have left in its trail deaths and destruction of monumental proportions including, of course, serious economic and social dislocations and, of course, terrible restrictions on movements. Did you see any footage of bonfires in the streets throughout the duration of the protests? Gosh! The Egyptians pulled this one off with minimal effects on their economy and society as a whole and nothing untoward happened for 18 solid days of pent up anger that found expression in chants and sloganeering not destruction of lives and properties. This is indeed a model for Africa and the world to emulate. They have indeed taught us a huge lesson on how to successfully prosecute pro- democracy protests and demonstrations with tenacity of purpose and single mindedness, with no fifth columnists, sell outs, traitors and compromisers, who shout “Aluta Continua!” in the day and be in bed with dictators in the night, messing things up.

We know them in Nigeria and they know themselves too. There is no need to mention their names here, but the likes of professor Tam David West, Tom Ikimi, senators Waku, Tony Anenih and  Chukwumerije, now lecturing us about democracy stand out as pillars of military rule in the Abacha, IBB and Buhari military dictatorships respectively. And there are many of their types in Egypt too whose activities virtually made Mubarak life president; people without conscience who shamelessly dine and wine with dictators at the expense of the people and those too timid to act and simply sit on the fence waiting for someone else to do the job for them.       

The glory of Mubarak’s peaceful ouster therefore goes not to fence sitters and military apologists but to the Egyptian streets and even more so to the Egyptian military itself, at least on the face of it, that has taught the world a big lesson on how to handle such protests and demonstrations professionally by remaining totally detached. And Egypt is a third world nation just like many others whose militaries would have acted quite the opposite way. African militaries, particularly the Nigerian military and the other security agencies have a big lesson to learn from this.

In fairness to the Nigerian military though it seems to have been moving in that direction in the way and manner it handled the very serious situation during the Yar’Adua illness saga and the tension it had generated in the polity. It acted professionally by not using that as an excuse to strike and has accordingly earned praise from several quarters on that account alone. But it was nothing compared to what happened in Egypt which was a big test on the country’s military considering the fact that Mubarak himself came from the military, from the Egyptian Air Force and had been backed by the military all along as indeed his predecessors Abel Nasser, and Anwar Sadat his former boss, who was assassinated 30 years ago making it possible for Mubarak to assume power.

What has happened in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt should send shivers down the spines of Muammar Quadaffi of Libya, King Hussein of Jordan and the Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchies, amongst others in the Middle East. It is a signal that their end is near and not even the United States will protect them when their streets erupt in pro-democracy protests to end their dictatorial regimes just as it has happened in Tunisia and Egypt. And when that day finally arrives, not even their militaries, the so-called “Royal Armies” will protect them seeing what their Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts have done. Those monarchs will be sleeping with one of their eyes wide open. I suspect they will now begin to undertake some pre-emptive measures before they get hit some day.  

Yet even as we applaud the Egyptian military High Command for displaying professionalism in its handling of the revolution there is a gnawing suspicion of its real motives which could not be deciphered from the surface during the protests. It is not at all clear if the resignation of Mubarak was forced by the military or voluntary. It would be a sad day indeed if the resignation was forced by the military and sadder still if the military had had an understanding with Mubarak to hand over the country to them on a platter and go on vacation while his country is thrown into needless confusion and acute uncertainties. On the other hand, it would be terrible if the military had had some understanding with the protesters to get Mubarak out and take over power ostensibly to institute democracy in Egypt thereafter as it has promised. 

And that begs the question: Was the constant profession of support for the demands of the protesters streaming forth from the Egyptian military High Command meant to encourage the street to remain steadfast in the their number one demand for Mubarak’s ouster just so the military could step in as has indeed happened? Or am I reading too much than warranted into the action of the military?

Asked differently, was the Egyptian military sending repeatedly signals to and indeed encouraging the protesters to hang tough in the face of the many concessions granted by Mubarak including but not limited to his transfer of presidential powers to his vice to enable it take over power from Mubarak?

These questions have become necessary in view of the fact that the protesters were openly calling on the military to take action and get rid of Mubarak on their behalf. Well, they got what they wanted. Didn’t they? And they’re jubilating. Aren’t they? But see where that has landed Egypt—in the warm embrace of military rule.

And that further begs the question: Were the protesters only interested in the ouster of Mubarak and could care less about democracy itself when it rejected overtures for orderly transition to democracy? Why was it not considered reasonable to negotiate an orderly transition to democratic rule with or without Mubarak?

If the protesters’ demand for the immediate ouster of Mubarak meant that elections would have been held within 60 days from the date of resignation under the Egyptian constitution, there would have been no question of military takeover. The vice president would have been in charge of the transition process right up to the elections with presidential powers already ceded to him by Mubarak, which the protesters, perhaps egged on by the open signals from the military flatly rejected. If the protesters did not like the face of the vice president due to his past activities and close ties to Mubarak couldn’t they have insisted on a more credible individual to midwife the transition process that could have included members of the opposition in Egypt such the Nobel Laureate as El-Baradei?

Mubarak is gone and Cairo’s Tahrir Square has fallen silent and protesters are now going home to sleep after daylong celebration of the fall of Mubarak. Now what? Military dictatorship in the place of Mubarak? Sad to say but the answer is a big YES! Egypt has transited from one party dictatorship to full blown military dictatorship literarily overnight, no thanks to the protesters.

But perhaps the greater issue is this: Was the transition executed through a military coup executed through the back door as was the case in Nigeria when General Sanni Abacha got Ernest Shonekan to resign as Chairman of IBB’s Interim Government and assumed power through the back door, which was, in fact, a palace coup dressed up as resignation? Hard to tell but all indications point to that probability given the way and manner the military had been carrying on since the protest began, which to the uninitiated civilians like us had appeared to be  professionalism for which the military was lauded.

The fact that the military has made no public commitment to democratic transition within a given timeframe 48 hours after taking over should worry Egyptians and all lovers of democracy including the international community and the protesters too. The most that has been said was the expression of commitment of the military to free and fair elections with no timelines indicated in the statement issued by the military. What does it take to make such a public announcement on national television that it has taken so long in coming? Already it is being reported that the protesters want such an announcement from the military that has remained taciturn like Nigeria’s own former maximum ruler, the late Sanni Abacha. This loud silence from the military cannot but bode ill for Egypt and democracy and it betrays ulterior motives in taking over power. All of a sudden the protesters seem to be having a new enemy in their hands. What a pathetic situation! What a betrayal! 

If my hypothesis holds true as it appears to be the case at the moment, then Egypt might not be out of the wood yet. And that would be a terrible thing indeed. There is no way a military coup could be regarded as liberation of the people from dictatorship because military rule is the very definition of dictatorship.  Hard to believe but all those impassioned protests and demonstrations; all that hard work and sleepless nights; all that adrenaline rush has ended up achieving no better results than putting the military from where Mubarak came back in power without firing a single shot. 

Honestly I don’t know whether this is progress or retrogression and I would want someone to tell me it is progress and explain to me why it is because right now it seems to me to be anything but progress.  And that’s why people must be careful when they talk glibly about revolution because no one knows where it might end and by their very nature they’re not always well planned and executed. The jubilation of the protesters at the demise of Mubarak is already turning into ash in their mouths with the way the military is handling the situation after taking over barely 48 hours ago. Granted it is rather early in the day but putting out a transition timetable or even promising to put out one in the next few days shouldn’t be such a big deal on the part of the military given that it is what the people have been fighting and dying for.

Perhaps the reaction of one Egyptian American, who happens to have been born in Egypt and now a Mayor of a small New Jersey town epitomizes the dilemma Egyptians have suddenly found themselves facing, not the ones jubilating in the streets at the ouster of Mubarak. When asked by a radio anchor man what he thought about the fact that although Mubarak is gone Egypt has relapsed into military rule with Mubarak’s ouster, and all of a sudden he waxed defensive. And all he could say was “Well the military is on the side of the people and is well respected by the Egyptian people.”

Hmm! Good talk indeed. Military is on the side of the people and respected by the Egyptian people! But is that the issue? Are we talking about how much Egyptians respect their military or about democracy? Who cares if the military is well respected and on the side of the people for now? Is that a reason for taking over power? That sounds to me like a justification for military rule right there and it would be troubling if that represents the thinking of fellow Egyptians, which is not, thankfully. It amounts to removing a bad ring from one finger and putting it on another finger of the same hand and call that change. It doesn’t sound to me like such a great idea, anyway. Yet the gentleman could not help but admit that it would take Egypt at least one full year to hold elections and he turned right round to blame Mubarak for not building democratic institutions like political parties and the sorts to hasten the transition.

But hello! This is not about Mubarak anymore. Power had already slipped out of his hands before he finally bowed out. You can’t blame the man for the failure of the revolution. It’s not about Mubarak but about the whole question regarding the management of the revolution itself which apparently had no discernible leadership that could have competently and nimbly steered the revolution to the desired democratic transition rather than simply dumping the nation in the waiting hands of the military and call that change or revolution.

There is no question that many Egyptians other than the protesters are extremely happy at the demise of Mubarak, but I’m not too sure they’re exactly jubilating in the streets at the fact of the military take over and all the uncertainties it brings no matter how much gloss we try to put on it to make it look less ugly. The facts on the ground today are extremely ugly and nothing close to what the average Egyptian had been fighting for, for decades.

Like it or not, the Egyptian military have surreptitiously sneaked back to power, this time around not through the front but through the back door, riding freely on the backs of youthful but inexperienced protesters that it had either struck a deal with on the cheap or manipulated to achieve its secret agenda of power grab.

To be honest with you this cannot bode well for the continent of Africa that is only just emerging from military dictatorships. Now African militaries have been presented, at least potentially, with a backdoor opportunity to presidential palaces across the continent and get in the game like their Egyptian counterparts.  Wherever there are large street protests the military could easily exploit that to stage coups in African nations by encouraging more protests and demonstrations that are calculated to sack democratic civilian administrations. And Africa could be back to square one. That is the new danger that is presented by the poorly managed Egyptian revolution, which has begotten the unwanted child of military rule.     

Events are still unfolding in Egypt and the following weeks and months will reveal more about the real intentions of the Egyptian military and the direction the country is headed. But under what authority is the military governing? Handing over the military invariably means the suspension of the country’s constitution because there is no place for military rule under the constitution. The military cannot therefore proceed to conduct elections within 60 days as provided for under the Egyptian constitution because it is not and cannot purport to be operating under that constitution.

What is more, the Egyptian military is not vested with the power and authority to hold elections under the Egyptian constitution. So let’s get the Egyptian constitution out of the way for now and perhaps forever. The entire constitutional order has been overthrown by the revolution. That is the legal and factual effect of the revolution. And this is where the whole thing gets tricky and uncertain.

For all the seeming success achieved by the revolution that we are all celebrating presently, Egypt might turn out to have moved backward rather than forward if, God forbid, the military begins to play games with its hold on power. And if that happens, it could mean that the protesters merely played into the hands of the military, who would become the greatest beneficiaries of the revolution. And the only saving grace would be swift conduct of elections which is a highly unlikely proposition and in fact next to impossible.

The Egyptian American Mayor referred to above couldn’t have been wrong then when he stated that election might not hold in less than one full year from now.  And I might add that that is even putting an optimistic face on it. Even with the best of intentions, conducting elections in a country that big with decades-old repressive laws and little democratic culture is not a walk in the park. Egypt has been in military hands since 1953 and has no clue about what it takes to get on the democracy track.

Right now Egypt is not in the least prepared for general elections and it is a long way from coming to that point. We’re probably talking about years not months of military dictatorship in Egypt before power is finally returned to the civilians. At the minimum it requires constitutional conference that would draw up a new constitution just like it was in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that alone is talking years not months in addition to the building of democratic structures before elections are held.

Whichever way one looks at it, it is the reality that should begin to dawn on not just the protesters but on the international community as well. It explains why authorities in the United States have reacted with seeming resignation because Mubarak might be gone but Egypt is far from having democracy or anything remotely close to it. And there are no guarantees either that that elections conducted by the military will be free and fair. What if the military head is interested in contesting the election or interested in the outcomes? The history of Egyptian leadership is the history of the transmutation of its military leaders into civilian dictatorships. And history and tradition are powerful forces to break with.

Given these scenarios one is beginning to have some serious misgivings about the direction Egypt is currently headed even as the streets of Egypt have erupted in wild jubilation over the demise of President Hosni Mubarak. This is not where I had expected the revolution to lead but this is where it has landed.

The revolution has clearly misfired. You just can’t trade one dictator for the other and call that change. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and frankly speaking, it is profoundly counter- productive. It represents a fundamental betrayal of the democratic yearnings of the Egyptian people. Egypt is no nearer democracy today after Mubarak’s ouster than it was yesterday before his suspicious ouster by the Egyptian military Supreme Council.

And this unpalatable result has come about due to the fact that the protesters focused all their attention on Mubarak rather than on finding ways and means of building viable democratic transition. And Egyptians are discovering rather belatedly that Mubarak’s ouster does not exactly translate to the democracy that they had been longing for and were legitimately looking forward to with the revolution. If anything, they’ve got quite the opposite. And that must be galling and heart wrenching indeed to millions of Egyptians, no matter how much they respect their military. Respecting the military when it is not in power is one thing, but having them in power is quite a different kettle of fish altogether. Both worlds do not meet.

This might sound uncharitable to the protesters and the military still basking in the euphoria of these revolutionary moments in Egypt, but I’m looking beyond these moments well into the future of Egypt in terms of the institution of democratic rule not decades from now but now!  Had the protesters worked out something of a transitional government headed by a civilian rather than the military with members of the opposition on board it might have been a whole lot better that putting khaki men in power.

Regrettably, that is not the case and Egypt has been thrown into grave uncertainties about what lies ahead. The international community should be worried. Sad to say but the streets have lost the initiatives and the revolution to the Egyptian military with whom they are no longer in a position to negotiate and to whom they can no longer dictate terms.

I one might ask, with whom might the protesters contend the next time around should the military prove unwilling or insincere in their pledge to return Egypt to democratic rule? The same tanks that were used to ring the square to enable them continue their protests unmolested could be turned against them if they begin to push the military too hard against their wish and agenda. Will they return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to chase out the military? That is the reality of military rule the world over and Egyptian military rule cannot be any different. I hope they are and that would be welcome exception.

All the world can hope and pray for is for the military to demonstrate sincerity and honesty of purpose and hand over power to democratic civilian administration in the shortest timeframe possible. But with the conditions in Egypt that could be light years away. My heart bleeds for Egypt as she descends into the abyss of the unknown. No thanks to a derailed revolution. 

Perhaps there is no more fitting quote to end this piece than this from a protester, a pharmacist named Ghada Elmasalmy, 43, at the Liberation Square as reported by Reuters: "The army is with us but it must realize our demands. Half revolutions kill nations."

With due respect to Ghada Elmasalmy, this is worse than half revolution, it is a derailed revolution. And by the way, who says the army is necessarily with you? The army might have just used you to get to power after all and kick your butts thereafter with jackboots, guns and military tanks. But let history, not me, be the ultimate judge. For now though, Egypt has moved squarely into the column of military ruled nations, well, just like Muammar Quadaffi’s Libya next door; no thanks to a derailed revolution.

From the stable of –Cutting-Edge Analytics—More than a blog, it’s a learning experience.

Franklin Otorofani is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst.

Contacts: mudiagaone@yahoo.com, http://franklinotorofani.wordpress.com/




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