Be rational, let Hosni Mubarak stay

Published: February 1, 2011
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All cries that Mubarak should leave are dangerous and unpredictable.

Egypt doesn’t seem like the best holiday destination at the moment. As thousands of energetic and idealistic youths throng the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, yearning for change and a better tomorrow, one would think Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power are coming to an end.

And while this is a momentous opportunity to observe the vagaries of people’s power and mass demonstrations, of idealism and political change in the struggle for democracy, let’s not be fooled. Hosni Mubarak stepping down from the Egyptian presidency may just be the worst thing that could happen in these precarious times.

Forget idealism, do the rational thing

While I’m certainly not a fan of octogenarian despots who leverage their military support to deny basic rights to their population, let’s not confuse idealism for stupidity. Yes, Mubarak in an ideal world should step down. But ideals are rarely the most rational choice. Yes, democracy should come to Egypt. But the ground realities suggest that morality must be ignored in the face of hard cold facts.

Given Egypt’s tenuous political situation and immature democratic base, the winds of change that are gathering speed may just bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. My case is not founded on what is necessarily right but what is necessary. It is not a repudiation of democratic values but an argument for stability which I feel will help the greater good as opposed to merely selecting political leaders.

Egypt’s inexperience with democracy, it’s geopolitical situation – vis a vis its neighbours as well as the strength of the Muslim brotherhood – make it a potential disaster if the government becomes destabilised and a power vacuum ensues after Mubarak exits.

Undemocratic Egypt

The country has never really succeeded with democracy. Since 1952, the land of the Pharaohs has been more or less been controlled by the military. Three leaders, Nasser, Sadat and now Mubarak have dominated the helm of politics. Often, this has led to disastrous results such as the 1967 war where Israel pre-emptively decimated the Egyptian air force and used that impetus to dominate the West Bank and East Jerusalem; repercussions which are still being felt today. Sadat’s tenure saw an unprecedented improvement in relations but his subsequent assassination demonstrated that there are more conservative voices looming in the shadows of Egypt.

Mubarak brought stability

Since Mubarak took over from Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Egypt has been relatively stable. True, dissent has not been tolerated, corruption has been present and the government has failed to deliver on many issues. However, the government has been present and has provided stability despite the numerous obstacles it has faced.

History teaches us that the immediate removal of a strong leader immediately engenders a state of anarchic chaos where rivals with strong factions vie for power. This alternative is truly more detrimental, no matter how you plead your case, than authoritarianism.

An empty seat

The reality is that the forced removal of any strong leader inevitably creates a power vacuum which cannot be fulfilled by any one leader or party. More troubling is that Egypt’s constitution will need to be reformulated; the role of the army will need to be further clarified while the judiciary hangs in limbo, impotent unless the forces of might (the army) support a change for the positive. Political clamoring will ensue, interest groups will form, factions will break out and anarchy may ensue. There need to be a lot of rational, idealistic, like-minded individuals to execute this in a peaceful fashion before venal desires and tainted ambitions, the bane of human existence, take precedence.

The fact remains, that unless there is a clearly identified succession path and a transition phase outlined, forcing Mubarak to step down may just open the dikes on a torrent of violence, instability and petty infighting.

In a sticky position

This situation is further exacerbated when you consider Egypt’s geopolitical situation. Across the Sinai, lies Israel. There can be no doubt that Egypt’s political deadlock and descent into anarchy will have far reaching implications. Intervention may be necessary, and just who exactly will intervene?

Israel intervening will nurture blowback hitherto unfelt. Although the two countries are technically at peace with one another, the potential to inflate an already over-inflated Middle East crisis is not very attractive. At the same time, the United States cannot intervene either as lessons from the previous Bush administration have caused enough of a trust deficit in the Muslim world.

So who steps in? Egypt’s neighbours? The sad reality is that neither Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Uganda or Somalia make for very compelling options. Worst still, are Libya or Sudan. There is the UN which is all talk with little action. There is also the African Union which is equally if not more contemptible. The alternatives therefore are best left out of this equation. The fact remains, if Egypt descends into chaos, how to salvage it? If Egypt’s self-implosion destabilises the region, how best to remedy it? There are few answers to this one.

Pockets of Islamist anger

There rests in Egypt pockets  of clandestine operatives, students and demagogues, individuals who have felt the government’s wrath for decades. Vice-regal dictators like Mubarak, despite all their faults, have prevented their country from descending into a theocracy. However, in the absence of such controls and the emergence of a democracy, the threat of Islamists remains a possibility.

Iran is a prime example where the swift downfall of the Shah bought about an even swifter theocracy under Khomeini, despite the fact that the movement to remove the Shah emanated not from the Islamists but the same sort of people you see on your TV screens today in Cairo; the young, the idealistic, the hopeful and the passionate.

As much as I would like to see Mubarak go, the sad reality remains that the greater good for Egypt and dare I say, the world, is if Mubarak stay until a more feasible solution for him to step down is formulated.

Until then, all cries that Mubarak should leave are dangerous and unpredictable.

hamza.usman

Hamza Usman

A writer with a Bachelor's in Political Science & History and a Master's in Global Communications. He tweets at @hamzausman.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.