With Mubarak Gone, Who's Egypt's New Pharaoh?
Rebuilding a regional power from the ground up takes effort. For comparison, consider your weekend plans: organizing a dinner, say, for 10 friends. Maybe one's a vegetarian. Maybe one's gluten-free. Maybe your roommate from college still holds fast to Jäger bombs and needs round-the-clock supervision. Like Egypt's upcoming political reality, a friendly spread can easily descend into a brawl before hors d'oeuvres.
The task of realizing a peaceful future in Egypt may make 18 days of prolonged protests look like spring break in Sharm el-Sheikh. What happens once the victorious hordes shuffle home from Tahrir Square?
Here goes a few maybes.
The Military Retains Power
The Reality: With Mubarak gone, the Egyptian military is now the de facto leader of the Mideast power. That's not necessarily a bad thing; going back to the days of the bread riots in 1977, when soldiers famously refused President Sadat's orders to crack down on demonstrators, Egypt's military has found a warm place alongside her people.
The rub? For the past six decades, Egypt's armed forces also supported every repressive regime that claimed the country for its autocratic own.
The Worst-Case Scenario: Writing for Foreign Affairs, Ellis Goldberg, a political science professor at Cairo's American University, is primarily concerned "that the regime will only shed its corrupt civilians, leaving its military component as the only player left standing."
In one nightmare future, which Goldberg coins "Mubarak-ism without Mubarak," the military refuses to relinquish power to a civilian authority, and preserves the dictator's status quo with a bullet.
The Rise of a Radical Islamic Republic
The Reality: When pundits both fearmongering and otherwise forecast the next phase of Egypt's revamp, one name always pops up: the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite having 300,000 members in its ranks spanning hardliner to reformist, the oldest and largest Islamic organization in Egypt is widely recognized for its bad apples, whose mission to Islamize society by any means necessary rubs most moderates the wrong way.
For its unsavory company and campaigns of terrorism, the organization has been subject to recurring bans throughout its 83-year history.
The Worst-Case Scenario: While there's no specific Brotherhood mold, the school of transnational Islamic ideology has graduated names as nefarious as Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Al-Qaeda's favorite radical theologian, Sayyid Qutb.
With friends like that, fears that the Brotherhood will seize Cairo, install sharia, toss the Israeli peace treaty, and turn back the clock on human rights aren't necessarily unfounded.
Whatever future arrives in Cairo, count on the Brotherhood taking part. As Ed Husain, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes, "without the Muslim Brotherhood, there's no legitimacy in whatever happens in Egypt."
Free and Fair Elections
The Reality: The point of the Egyptian protests were threefold: remove Mubarak and his government from power, suspend the "emergency law" that kept the country on lockdown for decades, and elect a democratic body that represents the will of the people.
As for that last bit, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel prize winner and leading opposition voice in the protest, reckons a “transitional government with a provisional constitution" will keep order in Egypt until free and fair election day sometime this year. What Egypt looks like by then is anyone's guess.
The Worst-Case Scenario: If the military keeps its word and cedes control to a transitional civilian government in six months, the presidential palace doors will swing wide open to an array of political allies and adversaries, campaigning hard for the seat of Egyptian power.
A democracy that's free and fair pitches a big tent; so expect to see candidates as diverse as Muslim Brotherhood head Mohamed Badi to Mubarak's Vice President Omar Suleiman vying for the Mideast player's top political prize.
Like life in these United States, perhaps the true worst-case scenario for Egypt is seeing its future held hostage by competing political agendas.