It has been thirty-four years since Egyptians by the tens of thousands rushed into the streets demanding that their basic needs be met. Their appeals for justice and jobs are poignant and demand our support, but we should hope for a gradual process of change, not an instant one.
Egypt and Tunisia share a common feature and that is the depoliticization of public life that has been imposed on a generation of Tunisians and Egyptians. Viable, institutionalized opposition groups have not been permitted to develop, and public figures have often been emasculated and marginalized. This means that even when the ruler departs the scene ignominiously, as in the case of Ben 'Ali, there is bound to be a period of confusion if not chaos. Egypt's venerable Muslim Brethren is sometimes depicted--perhaps with trepidation--as Egypt's government in waiting, but this is unjustified. The Ikhwan is riven by internal ideological debates and inter-generational tensions. It recently has spent more energy worrying about the encroachment of Salafism on its membership base than addressing the serious challenges facing Egyptian politicians.
Powerful players, not least the U.S. government, need to be pushing for a deliberate opening of political space. Hillary Clinton's call today for Egypt to respect the rights of Egyptians to assemble, organize and protest was a step in the right direction.
Thoughtful reflections on Egypt by the LRB's Adam Shatz merit reading.