President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled over Egypt like a pharaoh for nearly 30 years, resigned on February 11, 2011, after an unprecedented popular uprising that lasted almost three weeks. Thank goodness, because if he had not, as he had said in a TV address the night before, the country would have plunged into bloodshed and utter chaos. So what happened in less than 24 hours to make him change his mind? It seems to me that the higher echelons of the military, recognising the grave consequences of his refusal to quit, told him to go.
I met Mubarak a few times during my three-year stay in Cairo. When I presented my credentials — when I went with our prime minister to meet him — I found him to be one of the stiffest of the 13 heads of state I had met in the last 15 years of my diplomatic career. He never smiled, hardly ever shook hands, never attended a diplomatic reception or received any ambassador alone, except perhaps the American, the Russian, the Saudi and one or two others.
My other indelible memory of Egypt is that of oppressing poverty, huge disparity of wealth and a large number of beggars of all ages, thronging every historical site, cringing for ‘bukhshish’ from tourists. It was embarrassing, even to me, a Pakistani. Egypt earned twice as much foreign exchange, had less than half of Pakistan’s population, yet its poverty was as great as Pakistan’s.
Torture, death in prison and long jail sentences were common, and these had created such terror that all of Egypt seemed wrapped in a blanket of silence. People went about their business on tiptoe, even students and labourers, normally vibrant elements in any society, did not dare utter a word of protest.
So if anyone had asked me in June 1997, when I left Egypt, about the present uprising, my honest answer would have been a firm no. I could not even imagine the current situation. In that sense, what has happened in Egypt is truly revolutionary and not just a revolt.
Hence, it is to the credit of the Egyptian people that they forced Mubarak to resign, though he tried hard to stay in power. The question is, what now? The first challenge for the Supreme Military Council (SMC), now in charge, is to manage the withdrawal symptoms among the Egyptians caused by the diminishing intoxication of victory and the impatience for a new civilian government in the shortest possible time. Therefore, to keep the Egyptians’ hope of a real change alive and avert another round of uprising and a bloody confrontation between the Egyptians and the military, the SMC should take the following measures at once.
All its members must declare their intentions not to be candidates in the next election, even as a civilians; set up a commission of eminent Egyptian intellectuals/thinkers to frame a new constitution; encourage people to form new political parties, but pass a law that no party with less than a million verifiable members will be allowed to contest elections; make this applicable on all parties, new and old; form an independent Election Commission; announce the date of the next election, which should be held between three to four months from the day of Mubarak’s resignation.
It is obvious that the Egyptian revolution will have an impact throughout the Arab and Muslim world, including Pakistan. The militaries of all these countries will be forced to resist the temptation of carrying out a coup and the monarchies will have to move towards constitutional rule.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2011.