Unrest in Egypt: What’s Going On?Michele Dunne is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. She has served as a specialist on Middle East affairs with the White House and the State Department, and has written widely on Arab politics, and political and economic reform. The Lookout asked her to explain what's going on in Egypt, and what it means for America.
LOOKOUT: What are the protesters angry about, and what do they want done?
M.D.: Protesters have a large number of economic, political, and human-rights grievances. Widespread youth unemployment, rigged parliamentary elections in November 2010, and the prospect of President Mubarak (in power since 1981) beginning another term--or being replaced by his son--are the sparks that set these demonstrations off. The demonstrators are asking for Mubarak to step down and make way for an interim government to prepare for free elections.
LOOKOUT: Is there a real chance that Mubarak's government might fall?
M.D.: Yes, there is a real possibility, but that does not seem to be imminent yet. As in Tunisia, the regime would begin to be uncertain if internal security services could not handle demonstrations and the army were called in. Armies generally don't like firing on their own civilians and sometimes will choose keeping the loyalty of the population over defending an unpopular ruler.
LOOKOUT: If so, what might replace Mubarak's regime? What role might ElBaradei play?
M.D.: There is a shadow government and parliament, formed in December, that has positioned itself as the opposition party with which the government can negotiate if things reach that point. But things are very fluid right now. ElBaradei could possibly play a leadership role within the opposition, although up until now he has been more effective at articulating popular grievances than at organizing or leading opposition groups.
LOOKOUT: How might a shift in power affect U.S. interests?
M.D.: U.S. interests are being challenged here. The United States has been tepid in supporting human rights and democracy in Egypt for years and has to deal with the resentment among Egyptians because of that. Partly for that reason, and partly because of the close association of the United States with Israel, any alternate group that comes to power might distance itself from the United States to some extent.
LOOKOUT: What role, if any, is the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamic groups playing?
M.D.: The Muslim Brotherhood, while still the single largest opposition group in Egypt, is not at the forefront of these protests. Rather, they are trying to get on the bandwagon at this point.
LOOKOUT: What are the similarities and differences between the situations in Egypt and Tunisia?
M.D.: Similarities include the fact that young people are leading the protests and that many of the grievances are common between the two countries: youth unemployment, corrupt government, human-rights abuses, and a leader in power for an entire generation who showed no sign of being ready to leave.
Differences include the fact that the Egyptian government has had far more experience with handling demonstrations; the Tunisian government seemed surprised and folded pretty quickly.
About the Middle East Program
The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.