Thursday, February 10, 2011

Not Just Yet

There is an old saw in the legal industry that "Justice delayed is justice denied." As I watched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's non-resignation speech and the reaction of the disappointed protesters in Cairo's Tahfir Square, that statement--which usually refers to the issue of a speedy trial--seems to apply. As long as Mubarak and his deputies are delaying their departure, there remains the threat that the prevarications and temporizing could threaten the ultimate outcome. If the protesters can be made to back off their pressure, the whole insurgency could dissipate and business as usual could resume, and that's clearly what they are seeking. The insurgents' maximalist demands show full awareness of that threat and, though they are worryingly vague about exactly how things might proceed after a Mubarak departure, they are justified on that score.

I posted recently on some of the parallels to recent decades' "People Power" movements in Asia and how their country's armies have suppressed them, or not. It occurs to me that there is something of an American parallel, a crisis of legitimacy, and some of that experience may guide our expectations. I'm referring to the last days of the Nixon Administration in 1973-74.

A couple things that are similar are that Nixon seemed securely in power after his 1972 landslide election (as Mubarak may have seemed secure just months ago in Egypt's rigged parliamentary election). Out of nowhere, almost, came the movement which undermined his regime (in that case, the Watergate hearings and the discovery of the tapes which fatally undercut his cover-up). What was really noticeably similar was how Nixon would go on national TV every couple of months through the crisis, telling his side of the story, gradually giving up some of his underlings when he couldn't protect them, but insisting that he would tough it out. Waiting for the last shoe to drop, we would all watch each time but come away disappointed, as Nixon tried to rally his shrinking base of supporters. Then, finally, once he'd played all his cards and calculating that he had no more room to maneuver, he suddenly resigned, and his unelected Vice President moved quickly to pardon him. Vice President Ford did his constitutional duty, but when it came time to face the electorate, he was shown the door, too.

That's pretty much the way I expect the Mubarak drama to end, with his appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman covering his tracks to ensure Mubarak's successful retreat and retirement, with whatever dignity can be preserved. That's probably the most important thing from his perspective. The difference here is the crowd of hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding immediate justice.

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