The new Egypt looks a lot like the old one

Those in the United States and elsewhere who were hoping for fundamental democratic change need to readjust their expectations

Daniel Larison

Egypt's military regime has managed to preserve itself while the world watched and debated the possibilities and pitfalls of a democratic Egypt. Yes, Hosni Mubarak has resigned, and the military's Supreme Council now directly governs the country. But as it becomes clear that the neutrality of the Egyptian military was one part of a larger strategy of delay and consolidation of power, and we see that some form of Egypt's military's authoritarian system will endure without Mubarak, the United States is confronted by the new problem of how to respond to an allied authoritarian regime's continued survival. Instead of best-case or nightmare scenarios, Washington faces the uninspiring and unavoidable work of rebuilding a U.S.-Egyptian relationship that has been damaged and yet remains critical to U.S. global security.

Obama administration officials have proceeded cautiously and have done reasonably well under the circumstances. But they are now running up against stiff resistance from an Egyptian regime that has been shaken but is quickly regaining its footing. Having granted significant concessions, including Mubarak’s departure, members of the regime, especially newly named Vice President Omar Suleiman (who also serves as the country's intelligence chief), are in no mood for more compromise. One of the chief demands of protesters and Washington has been the repeal of the emergency law with which the regime has governed the country for decades. That appears to be something that Suleiman and his allies consider nonnegotiable, so long as the regime is under pressure. Indeed, the role of the regime as both "arsonist and firefighter" since January 25 makes the repeal of the emergency law highly unlikely as long as protests continue. The regime has been doing all that it can to make sure its emergency powers remain in place, and the longer the protests go on, the more stubbornly it will insist on keeping those powers.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.