Egypt: A Complex and Grueling Revolution

Tunisia was the spark, protests in AlgeriaJordan and Yemen fanned the flames and now, Cairo is burning. The writing on the wall is clear: the end for Mubarak has come.

Yet while Tunisia was no doubt the glimmer of hope that gave others courage, the flames of revolution sweeping the region that have engulfed Cairo are no longer from the same fire. Resolve of the protestors in Egypt seems equally tenacious and, if the momentum holds, Mubarak will likely suffer the same shameful exist his Tunisian counterpart just experienced, but Egypt is not Tunisia.

The uprising in Egypt is an acid rain to Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. Egypt is far more complicated and dangerously volatile. The outcome in Egypt – currently being fought for on the streets – has the potential to destabilize the region for years to come. 

Staging a revolution in Tunisia was already a formidable task that few in the West saw coming and fewer figured could be successful. Only weeks ago, toppling the Egyptian regime seemed unimaginable. Now as the realization that Egypt is on the brink has struck western diplomats and governments, a stronger emotion has hit them even harder: fear.

While there is no denying the admirable courage, worthy persistence and great sacrifice by the people, the Tunisian revolution, as an isolated incident, was inconsequential in the grand world order. As a small country with few natural resources, no real international standing and limited regional influence, Tunisia simply did not matter. In fact, it was an opportunity for President Obama to espouse democracy and congratulate the Tunisian people for accepting and spreading democracy. The problem is Tunisia’s uprising was obviously not an isolated incident. As the revolutionary zest spread, so too did American’s anxiety.

For almost two decades now, Egypt has been the key to the foreign policy of the U.S.: a key, which kept a tight lock on regional unrest and opened the door to a possible Palestine-Israel peace. As Hillary Clinton mentioned while making the talk-show rounds, relations with Egypt are a tricky and delicate balance. American presidents have spent the last 30 years urging Mubarak to reform, yet have been unwillingly to be too critical when he dismisses such appeals. In essence, America needs Mubarak and relations without him are in grave danger because Egypt is not Tunisia.

The Jasmine revolution resulted from targeted protests, which were united by one goal: deposing the family they despised, a family they felt was oppressing their opportunities. Unlike Egypt, where several factions are scrambling for power, Tunisians had no such political parties or religious groups waiting in the wings. The people wanted jobs, and an end to Ben Ali’s regime, the latter of which they have accomplished. In many ways it was a pure and innocent revolution. The poor, while no doubt suffering, are not as desperate in Tunisia as 80 of its population lives above the poverty line. So far it seems they are satisfied by what they have accomplished.

Such is not the case in Egypt. Over 40 percent of its people live on two dollars a day or less and they are angry. The immense disparity between Egypt’s rich and its impoverished has already begun to divide the country. Associations along political and religious lines, most notably the Islamic brotherhood and the Coptic populations may only widen the gap. Currently collaborating to bring down Mubarak, such solidarity seems unlikely to last. Fueled by a desperate rage and a feeling of injustice, the poor hold deep resentment against the wealthy elite. Particularly after the church bombing in Alexandria the Coptic Christians are suspicious of the Islamic Brotherhood and everyone seems hostile to military rule, in essence a continuation of the Mubarak regime. With Mubarak gone a power vacuum will emerge. Who fills it is anyone’s guess, a guess that terrifies the White House.

Egypt is not Tunisia, let’s just hope it follows its lead.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons