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Lysiane Gagnon

Waiting for change post-revolt Add to ...

Calling the events in Egypt a "revolution," as so many overexcited commentators have done, is a clear misuse of words. A revolution leads to a deep upheaval and spectacular changes. What happened in Egypt was nothing more than a revolt. A successful one, though, in the sense that the short-term, extremely limited goal set by the demonstrators - the departure of Hosni Mubarak - was attained.

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No one knows what will eventually come out of this revolt, but, for now, there's been no change in Egypt, except that it's under martial law. Parliament has been dissolved, strikes are forbidden, and the armed forces, which have been the true leaders of the country for more than half a century, are ruling by decree. The generals shrewdly used the popular uprising to oust Mr. Mubarak. He had become a liability, especially after he started to push for his son Gamal, a businessman the army didn't recognize as one of its own, to "inherit" the throne.

Talk about a revolution! For now, absolute power belongs to the same group of men who surrounded Mr. Mubarak for three decades and who are from the same generation. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the 75-year-old head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and de facto ruler, has been defence minister since 1991. Omar Suleiman, who had been appointed vice-president by Mr. Mubarak, is 74 and was chief of Egypt's intelligence service for 18 years - in other words, he headed the very system of repression and torture that the demonstrators in Tahrir Square were denouncing.

Furthermore, the only secular politician who's openly interested in succeeding Mr. Mubarak is Mohamed ElBaradei, a 68-year-old former international civil servant who hasn't lived in Egypt for 30 years and who, from 1997 to 2009, divided his time between Vienna, where he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, and his country house in southern France.

Another possible presidential candidate is Amr Moussa, the outgoing 74-year-old secretary-general of the Cairo-based Arab League. Compared to Mr. ElBaradei, who's seen as too Westernized by the rare Egyptians who've heard about him, Mr. Moussa is a well-known and popular figure, in part because, as Mr. Mubarak's foreign minister from 1991 to 2001, he was a ferocious critic of Israel and the United States.

Egypt's military leaders say they've ordered a commission to draft constitutional amendments, followed by a referendum, with elections planned within six months. Only when those amendments are published will the rest of the world know where Egypt is heading.

What's certain is the army won't relinquish its power. Its economic interests are formidable; through a complex network of organizations, it owns a great deal of the country's resources. It's a major landowner, and heavily involved in construction, in the services industry, in real estate and even in sports and tourism.

According to one possible scenario, the military would strike a deal with the only other organized force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. The army would go on managing the country, while the Islamists would rule over minds and morals.

Maybe the elections will be won by the radical Islamists, as in Algeria at the end of 1991 (although the army cancelled the second round) and in Gaza in 2006. Or maybe Egypt will morph into some kind of liberal democracy modelled after Turkey. In this case, the revolt of 2011 will have been the beginning of an authentic revolution.

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