Egyptian revolution: Who won what?

It looks like President Hosni Mubarak has acquiesced to domestic and international pressure in leaving office after thirty years.  Even so, there were a number of stutter steps over the past few days.

The colorful, dramatic, and diverse demonstrations in Tahrir Square are definitely the most interesting visuals coming out of Egypt.  We want to cheer for people power and hope for some kind of democratic outcome–that still maintains a relatively stable role in international politics.  But what’s most visible isn’t always the whole of what’s important.

We can see the people pressure on President Mubarak, and we’re likely to see these pictures for a very long time.   But that’s only one component of domestic pressure.  It’s very clear that Mubarak also lost the support of (at least some significant segments of) the military and the Egyptian political elite, but we don’t know what kinds of threats and incentives were bandied about in discussions leading up to the moment of his departure.  It’s also very clear that Mubarak was in contact with leaders of other countries, including the United States, but we have only slight inklings of what kinds of pressures and inducements he faced, nor how they changed as the revolution developed.  This doesn’t mean they weren’t very important–and they are likely to be extremely important in shaping what happens next.

So, in the last few days a vast range of interests inside and outside of Egypt could agree that getting rid of Mubarak was a necessary first step in achieving their larger goals.  For all of them, this is a moment of triumph and celebration.

What happens next, however, is about the battles over next steps that will certainly emerge.  For the United States, for example, stability has virtually always trumped democracy in foreign policy.  Helping Mubarak leave office can be seen as a way to prevent broader and more destabilizing changes in the future.  In Egypt, it’s hard to think that the advocates of democracy will agree with the military on much of what will happen next.

The point: Mubarak united a very large coalition in opposition.  When he leaves, the critical glue that held that coalition together disappears, and the whole range of activists and interests will find new opponents–and maybe enemies–among their recent allies.

Right now, we have one clear loser, Hosni Mubarak, but just who the ultimate winners will be–and what Egypt will ultimately look like–is pretty much unknown.

In the next round of political battles, which has surely already commenced, there will be winners and losers–and who falls into each camp will matter.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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