The deterioration in security conditions in Egypt this week has radically reshuffled all cards, perhaps for the better. The Military Council's miserable mismanagement of the country following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak brought back the youth to Tahrir Square and gave them -- unintentionally rather than deliberately -- the precious gift of reclaiming the power of initiative, instead of acquiescing to the hijacking of the revolution by the Islamists.
The Secularists and Modernists returned to Tahrir Square not as a pre-planned decision to confront the Islamists or to reverse the impression of de facto submission and backing down on their enthusiasm for revolution and change. They returned to Tahrir Square after having reached the conclusion that "the people's army" they had celebrated last January has turned against the people. They felt that what took place in January was no more than a coup against a family; that the Military Council had become the sponsor of the former regime with the ambition of establishing a new regime that would guarantee it exceptional political, security and financial privileges.
Then when the army dealt with the youths returning to Tahrir Square with brutality and cruelty, pulling women by their hair, it stripped itself of awesomeness and shattered its image and prestige with its own hands.
The Military Council in Egypt has failed many tests. Its leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has become a leader without stature who neither leads nor reassures nor takes the initiative except under pressure. The popular referendum he spoke of is but an indication of his denial of the fact that the referendum has already taken place in Tahrir Square, of his failure to understand why the revolutionaries have rebelled against the Military Council, and an indication that the Field Marshall never truly understood the revolution and its goals. What Egypt is witnessing today is a revolution against the coup and a new beginning for the revolution of change. There are new rules for the game from now on and it is important for all players inside and outside of Egypt to return to the strategy-drafting table. The United States and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should be playing essential political roles right now. The necessary investment that must be made in Egypt cannot wait until after stability is restored, but rather the opposite. There is an opportunity for influential countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to help Egypt's youth shape the future of their country under a secular civilian government away from ideologies, religious and sectarian struggles. Egypt is not alone in the balance. The Arab future all together is largely dependent on what Egypt's future turns to be.
The GCC is now playing a prominent role in shaping the new regional order in collaboration with the League of Arab States not by sidestepping it. The Arab League is fundamental in securing that the regional order does not get shaped exclusively by the likes of Turkey or a particular GCC country alone.
This past week has been a good week for Gulf:
- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has finally signed the GCC initiative that would have him step down in a dignified exit; far better than the fate that befell the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Some hope that this will inspire Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to seek a similar exit.
- Syrian diplomacy failed miserably at the General Assembly's Third Committee as it adopted a resolution supported by 122 countries condemning Syria's human rights record and increasing its international isolation. This comes after Saudi diplomacy and Jordanian diplomacy had worked together at the United Nations and gathered Arab support to sponsor the draft resolution, with both Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi and Jordanian Ambassador Prince Zeid Bin Raad playing an active role.
- Saudi diplomacy, in an unprecedented move, put forward at the General Assembly a resolution demanding that Iran cooperate in the investigation into the attempted assassination of the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, while accusing Tehran of being involved in the conspiracy. The resolution was met with tremendous and unexpected support.
- The King of Bahrain accepted the results of the Independent Fact-finding Commission and promised accountability with measures to hold those responsible for the excessive use of force to repress protesters. He also promised to replace those responsible for such violations in what he described as a "historical opportunity" for Bahrain. The report of the commission also stated that the Peninsula Shield forces committed no violations in carrying out their mission there, as well as that the evidence obtained by the commission did not reveal "a clear connection between the events in question and a role played by Iran."
- In Egypt, all cards have been reshuffled, providing GCC countries with windows to necessary roles.
The support of the GCC countries for Egypt is in the interest of both sides especially after last week's events that resulted in the Military Council pledging to relinquish power when presidential elections are held in June 2012 -- this being the first time the Military Council has specified a date for the presidential elections.
This coincides with a resurgence of the Modernists at Tahrir Square where secular forces have returned and which is no longer an exclusive arena for the Islamist factions. Actually, these factions have left the Square in order to reexamine their strategy based on insisting on holding parliamentary elections and rejecting the supra-constitutional principles document that would guarantee for Egypt to be a secular democratic state far from the culture of monopoly.
The culture of monopoly seems closely linked to the mentality of the military as well as to the mentality of those who refuse to separate religion and state. What Egypt is witnessing today is the revolution of the Modernists against those who uphold the culture of monopoly. Those Modernists are in dire need of help bearing in mind that Islamist parties are experienced in political organization, and that the Military Council is experienced in "liaising" with the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of the Modernists.
The priority for these forces today has become for the Military Council to leave power having become now mainly responsible for the deterioration of the security situation and the regression of the Revolution's goals. The role played by the American Administration in this respect is of the utmost importance in view of the special relationship between the US Department of Defense and the Military Council. One of the most important things President Barack Obama and his administration should do is inform the Military Council that its pledges of relinquishing power must be accompanied by definitive, practical and irrevocable measure. Such measures must not be the subject of bargains, such as trading the ratification of the constitutional document for strengthening the role of the army as the guardian of legitimacy, and as the sole body responsible for the fate of the country and its budget.
As a matter of fact, the Military Council controls 40 percent of the economy and fears that the coming civilian government may reduce the army's grip on the budget. There is also a great deal of talk about the benefits reaped by many in the military leadership, as well as about the flagrant corruption within. What Field Marshal Tantawi sought to achieve was for the army to own alone the decision of war and peace in secrecy. This would place the army in a special super class not subjected to the authority of the civilian government.
Such demands, and the measures taken by the "riot police," have brought down the Military Council's standing among Egypt's youth; so they rebelled against it. But such a rebellion is no passing phase but rather should be the starting point towards the Egypt of tomorrow.
The countries of the GCC, according to many high-ranking officials and experts on Gulf affairs, want neither the Muslim Brotherhood, nor the Nasserists, nor the Arab Nationalists to come to power -- regardless of what has been said about a prominent role being played by Qatar in sponsoring and guiding the Brotherhood. According to those who hold such an opinion, the Gulf countries have reached a consensus over the necessity of supporting the secular movement in Egypt. If this is true, then it is an important and necessary development.
What the GCC countries should do is to first act on the notion of urgently pumping funds into Egypt in order to save it, instead of waiting to see what emerges after the elements of stability mature. What Egypt needs today is an influx of funds as an investment in stability. The Gulf countries have the ability to inject funds into the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance in order to allow Egypt to stand on its feet instead of descending into widespread chaos.
The private sector and joint projects require stability and abiding by certain conditions -- and that is understandable. Yet there are numerous ways to reassure and support the country, such as reassuring the communities of Egyptian workers employed in the Gulf and empowering them so that they may be able to support the Egyptian economy with foreign currency. Egypt is also in need of a rescue plan that would equally ensure access to loans and aid.
The Egyptians themselves are at the forefront of the responsibility to save their country, not just through Tahrir Square but also in a manner similar to what a number of Egyptian diplomats have done by issuing a statement protesting the practices employed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), demanding to "put a stop to the violence and systematic attacks by security forces against protesters" and to hold parliamentary and presidential elections. This statement is the first of its kind and a bold step on the part of Egyptian diplomacy, which has traditionally been reserved especially in commenting on domestic developments.
Egypt should not be held hostage between Military Council leader Tantawi and Moslem Brotherhood spiritual leader Sheikh Yousef Qaradawi. It is an important laboratory for the Arab future, not that of Egypt alone. The youth and the women of tomorrow have returned to Tahrir Square to work, and hope has been restored for Egypt, which deserves every investment in its stability.