Tea in the Sahara

OK, this is really stretching my shtick of having blog post titles be song titles – a song by The Police for a post about the police in Egypt (groan)….

All Egypt, all the time continues here on DPQ. More from my interview with Greg Hoadley, doctoral candidate in political science at UC Berkeley who spent last year in Egypt and Lebanon doing fieldwork, on what led up to the situation in Egypt and what’s coming next:

Greg and I got to talking about our dissertation projects. Mine was on the relationship between the police and the military in Latin America. He picked up on this topic to make an observation about actors in the current situation in Egypt:

You mention the police. Egypt had robust repressive forces to protect the regime from the people, but the police melted away after the 28th – a day or two after that, the cops just disappeared. There was this sense that this tool that the state has relied on for so long might no longer be effective, although there were always fears as to the regime’s repressive intentions with the ongoing attacks by pro-regime thugs (who were often police in plain clothes) and Mubarak’s defiance.*

So how do you explain how all this happened so quickly?

It’s a whole host of things. Everyone apart from a very few well-connected segments of society were alienated from the Mubarak regime. The mobilization quickly spread to all major groups; no one was excluded – Christians, Muslims, laborers, peasants, everyone – we’ve never seen that before in modern Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian development policies had led to the creation of social groups that had aspirations of advancement but no avenue to advance except perhaps through emigration. Meanwhile neoliberal economic policies were reducing the standard of living of workers and the rural poor. People had grievances across all sectors of society, so once it became clear that the protesters were able to hold some ground against the state’s repressive capacity it snowballed very quickly, especially in light of the recent popular success in Tunisia.

So what do you see as the most likely scenarios?

There’s the one I fear and the one I hope for. I fear the old regime reconstituting itself through the military in the guise of some phony civilian government. Such a regime wouldn’t make needed changes like a new development policy, real political representation, real freedom of expression, and removing the repressive apparatus of the state from daily life.

The scenario I hope for is that the military brass see what happened to Mubarak and get the message that Egyptians want a new relationship with the state. There are great resources in the country, but it’s been terribly, terribly mismanaged, so there is a lot of potential there.

Thanks again to Greg for sharing his insights on the situation. I wrote earlier this week about the elite-popular coalition that will need to form to achieve a sustainable transition. Given the security forces’ central role in the Mubarak regime, trying to figure out the nature of factions within that elite, and which ones might be amenable to working with a popular movement, will be a key task for the kind of organizing that Molly Schultz Hafid talked about in our interview.

* This sentence edited February 25, 2011 with updated information from Greg.

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