Mubarak is no longer living in de Nile

by John MacBeath Watkins

Hosni Mubarak has at last resigned as president of Egypt.  And the crowd goes wild!

Soon, the hard work of building new institutions will begin.  For a country that has been a dictatorship with sham elections for so long, this will be difficult.  Mubarak was at pains to destroy any people or institutions that could challenge his power, so who do you trust to write the new constitution?  The military dismissed the cabinet and suspended parliament in what amounts to that rarest of things, a popular military coup.  It will remain popular only so long as it is perceived as temporary.

I'm frankly fascinated by the fact that the Hosni Mubaraks and Robert Mugabes of the world find it necessary to rig elections rather than simply ruling as despots.  When Alexander conquered Egypt, the legitimacy of the new government was not a problem.  You had only to convince the political and religious elites to accept your right by conquest to rule their country, and the people went along.  The religious part was easy for polytheists, they could take the attitude that they never met a God they didn't like, incorporate the new God with the ones they had already friended, and all was well.

But now, a government must rely for its legitimacy on the will of the people, and the more they try to suppress that will, the more violet will be its expression.

Of course, the kind of unity required for the sort of direct democracy represented by the protest can only be achieved in relation to a common enemy.  The future for Egypt lies, hopefully, in representative democracy, and we won't know they've achieved it until their first elected government loses an election and leaves office.  Such a peaceful change of governments is perhaps the finest achievement of democracy; war is the final argument of kings, and democracy settles at least those arguments related to succession without war.  All the factions that made up the movement to oust Mubarak will splinter and start fighting each other, but that's the point of democracy, you fight it out with campaign speeches and yard signs instead of Molotov cocktails and more deadly weapons.

I suspect the military realizes this, and will do its best to build new democratic institutions that the public respects.  If not, we can expect to see Egyptians back at the barricades, and facing an army that is no longer neutral.

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