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Need To Know: National Security

Won’t Get Fooled Again?

Egypt’s demonstrators have succeeded in forcing Mubarak to relinquish powers. But the country’s future could end up looking an awful lot like its past.

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(AFP PHOTO/PEDRO UGARTE)

Forty years ago, the Who memorably warned that revolutions usually end in disappointment. “Meet the new boss/same as the old boss,” Roger Daltrey sang in 1971. With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepping down on Friday after being pushed aside by the country's powerful military, the people of Egypt—and the Obama administration—will soon find out whether that old lyric still holds true.

First, of course, Egyptians will have to find out who their new boss is, and that was not immediately clear. Late Thursday night, Mubarak tried to transfer authority to his hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman, but the announcement triggered widespread fury throughout Egypt and seemed virtually certain to lead to violence today.  Instead, Egypt's Supreme Military Council stepped in a few hours ago to push out both Mubarak and Suleiman. Suleiman gave a brief statement on Egyptian state-owned television a short time ago announcing that Mubarak had formally stepped down and assigned the "higher council of the armed forces to run the affairs of the country." In a telling indicator of the country's shifting power dynamics, the spokesman for Egypt's military was standing directly behind Suleiman as the vice president announced that the military had supplanted him as the country's top authority.

 

On Friday, there was jubilation over the historic exit of Mubarak--the head of the Arab world's intellectual powerhouse and most populous nation. Virtually no Arab leader has ever left office voluntarily, with most instead remaining in power until they were killed, driven into exile, or forcibly deposed. Now that Mubarak has left the stage, the key question will become who else follows him out the door. During Mubarak’s 30 years as Egypt’s paramount ruler, he built an extensive power structure that included civilian allies such as Suleiman and Fathi Sorour, the speaker of the country’s parliament; the uniformed leadership of the country’s powerful armed forces; and the top officials of Egypt’s intelligence services and feared internal-security apparatuses. It wasn't immediately clear if Suleiman would follow Mubarak's lead and formally resign, but the military's move to assume power renders him largely irrelevant to the country's immediate future.

Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert at Kent State University who lived in the country for nine years, said, "This gives us a bit more insight into what happened yesterday: there was some kind of power struggle going on, and (Egyptian Defense Minister Mohamed) Tantawi won. Omar Suleiman isn’t in control anymore. This is now a military government.” 

This article appears in the February 12, 2011 edition of National Journal Magazine.

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