Monday, February 14, 2011

On Mubarak's Resignation

President Mubarak's speech on Thursday was confusing. Fractures between the negotiation parties were beginning to appear and things in Tahrir Square had remained intense but relatively stable. Watching the speech just before a class, I literally said, "What is he doing?" out loud to the screen. In the back of my mind was a conspiracy theory that Mubarak had worked out an arrangement with the army to make a speech and then be forced out. That turned out not to be totally true, but not totally wrong either.

After blogging and tweeting non-stop about Egypt, I heard the news of Mubarak's resignation the next day via text from a good friend. I was on a bus and without a laptop or internet connection. It wasn't until we came to a rest stop that I had a chance to watch the dramatic pictures. Others in the rest stop were gathered around the TV which was showing pictures from Tahrir Square, and piping in the voices of al-Jazeera anchors in tears. Even these travelers grabbing some lunch at a rest stop in southern New Jersey were moved by this demonstration.

As an excellent Washington Post article describes, Mubarak's speech had not been cleared by the military. He spoke only for himself, and only hastened his own downfall. My original miscalculation, that such a speech could only make sense as part of a deal, underestimated just how powerful and autonomous Mubarak was. Maybe he was just delusional. Maybe he wanted to appear forced out by an impatient army. But either way, his final speech demonstrates just how powerful a head of state he was.

As the transition moves forward, we should not overestimate the challenges which lie ahead in creating a democratic Egypt. But we also should not underestimate the agency shown by the Egyptian people, and the great potential they have already demonstrated to themselves, to the Arab peninsula, and to the world.

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