The situation in Egypt compels you to hold in your head contradictory things at the same time. Hosni Mubarak was a dictator. Although not a duplicate of Saddam Hussein, he ran a brutal regime and made others believe that this was the sole guarantee of stability. While he was in power, he blocked all prospect of progress, and his departure is timely. An inbuilt weakness of dictatorship is that the mistakes of dictators are irreparable. He took it for granted that he and his security forces were superior to any movement against them. He could not imagine that his colleagues and friends in the military elite would leave him to twist in the wind. As late as yesterday evening he was putting his trust in generals who were in fact abandoning him — traitors, as he would see it.
Amr ibn al-Aas, the conqueror who turned Egypt into a Muslim country in the seventh century, left a famous saying that all that was required for ruling Egyptians was a little drum.
To put that another way, are military communiqués from a committee of self-selected generals really going to persuade those hundreds of thousands to leave the streets and return to orderly life? The choice facing the army is whether to act in its own interest or submit to the crowds. Either course of action carries the risk of violence.
The Muslim Brothers are the people currently beating a very different little drum. The crowds can be heard shouting Allahu Akhbar, and they are waving Islamist banners. Hamas, the off-shoot of the Muslim Brothers in Gaza, is already boasting about the revolution and welcoming home men convicted of terrorism and now escaping from prison in Egypt. Mubarak feared and opposed Iran, whose leaders are rejoicing in the prospect of Egyptian Islamism. The Iranian regime runs a dictatorship at home, then, but enthuses over the fall of dictatorship in Egypt, in plain language encouraging confrontation. Muhammad El-Baradei aspires to speak for the crowd and become president, but in the absence of a real party or organization he looks set to facilitate the Muslim Brothers, playing the role of the Egyptian Kerensky. Throughout the 14 centuries since Amr ibn al-Aas, the alternative to dictatorship was fitna, which the dictionary defines as sedition, riot, discord, dissension, civil strife. Along with sharia and fatwa, this looks like another Arabic term that will be entering everyone’s vocabulary.