Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two Scenarios for the Week Ahead

The events in Cairo today speak for themselves. They represent the advanced stages of an authoritarian government's utter loss of moral legitimacy. All agents of opposition to the state are now being violently confronted. Many commentators speak of a 'crisis point' being reached. In that case, how to calculate, or speculate, as to what will happen next?

Let's imagine two scenarios:

Scenario One:
Anxious to ameliorate a political situation that is rapidly becoming uncontrollable, even with the assistance of the massive security apparatus, the state attempts a compromise with the two actors who now hold the hopes of almost the entire opposition - Hisham Bastawissi and Mahmoud Mekki. In the days until the date set for the next hearing of the Supreme Judicial Council (18th May) negotiations take place which aim to placate the judges by acceding to their preliminary demands (allowing their own staff in court, toning down the security presence, and letting all the Kifaya demonstrators who have faced riot police on their behalf for the past two weeks out of jail) and dangling the carrot of judicial reform. The hearing then acquits the judges of bringing the judiciary into disrepute, and some kind of vague promises are made about investigating the 2005 election. Both the promises of investigating the conduct of the elections and instigating judicial reform take for ever to even begin, and the whole opposition movement loses momentum and, for the time being, shuts up. The regime lives to fight another day, and very little changes, although cosmetically it seems as if reforms are being made. The State Department is happy, and things return to relative normality.

Scenario Two:
In the days until the next hearing, the government displays an inability to think strategically because it is so spooked by being challenged so brazenly in the first place. After all, the judges are in themselves an arm of the regime. It just so happens that some of them no longer see it that way. So no practical concessions are made by either the Ministry of Justice, or the Presidency, or the Ministry of the Interior. The judges increase their media campaign, and become increasingly famous and write more op-eds in western newspapers. The hearing goes ahead on 18th May, even though Mekki and Bastawissi refuse to attend, and it passes a guilty verdict on them in absentia. They are dismissed from their posts and join the ranks of disenfranchised activists holding posters on the street. Security continues to arrest, beat, harass and intimidate anyone that so much as dares to pass in front of their tea-stands in Talaat Harb. The remaining troublesome judges are fingered by the SJC, and are either dismissed or they back down, fearful for their livelihoods and pensions. With no rallying-point left, Kifaya et al go home. The State Department makes noises, but because Egypt is such a strategic ally in the war on terror (that policy is distinguished by its effectiveness, no?) no real action is taken. Things return to relative normality.

So, which scenario wins? Is there a third way? Will things NOT return to normal after all?

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