Argument

Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Hosni Mubarak

The many repressions of Egypt's 30-year-president.

History's first verdict on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was rendered late Tuesday night, Feb. 1, when thousands of protesters forced the autocrat to vow not to run for office again. The president, they chanted, had to go. On Friday, Feb. 11, after some prevarication, Mubarak appeared to have finally taken the point.

From police brutality to persecution of minorities, from the arrests of journalists to the suppression of political dissent, Mubarak's Egypt has been a textbook police state. For 30 years, anger and frustration brewed among his subjects, bottled up and sealed with fear.

Over the past three decades, Mubarak did not personally torture alleged criminals or beat protesters in the street. But as Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, told me from Cairo, Mubarak's repression was simply "delegated to the Ministry of Interior and various security services. At the end of the day, he's the final address for all this." As we bid farewell to a dictator, here's a look back at his ugly history of repression and cruelty.

* Updated Feb. 11.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Police brutality: Egypt's protests kicked into high gear, not so coincidentally, on Jan. 25, the country's official "Police Day" celebration. For three decades of Mubarak's rule, the police have acted as the regime's primary implementers of repression: Thousands of Egyptians have been arbitrarily detained, arrested, beaten, and held without charge by the police for trumped-up offenses. According to a Jan. 31 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the security forces have targeted everyone from "political dissidents, Islamists allegedly engaged in terrorist activity, and ordinary citizens suspected of links to criminal activity or who simply look suspicious." Last June, a young man named Khaled Said was beaten to death by policemen after he refused to show his identity card upon entering an Internet cafe in Alexandria.

Many attribute the police's misconduct to the country's emergency law, which has been in place almost continuously since the assassination of Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981 and gives Egypt's Interior Ministry and State Security Investigative Service (SSIS) the ability to detain anyone without charge. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and written as recently as last year show that American officials also pointed to the police force's relative unprofessionalism. "Police brutality in Egypt against common criminals is routine and pervasive," one January 2009 cable reads. "Contacts describe the police using force to extract confessions from criminals as a daily event, resulting from poor training and understaffing." The account goes on to say that "security forces still resort to torturing Muslim Brotherhood activists who are deemed to pose a political threat."

As the past week's protests have grown, so too has the police abuse. Many now believe that members of the police, dressed in civilian clothing, were at least partially responsible for the looting during the early protests and Wednesday, Feb. 2's violent attacks against pro-democracy demonstrators.

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

Torture: Once in the custody of the security forces, prisoners are often subject to "beatings, electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, forced standing for long periods, water-boarding, as well as rape and threatening to rape victims and their families," HRW reports. Over the last two decades, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has followed 460 torture cases, including 125 that led to death between 2000 and 2009 alone. Since 1992, 73 people have been "disappeared."

Torture is widely used to extract confessions to all variety of crimes. Most infamous are the instances of "renditions," in which Egyptian authorities have interrogated alleged terrorists and enemy combatants captured by U.S. forces using methods that would be illegal on American soil. Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, a former chief of the intelligence service, oversaw dozens of such renditions, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind. "When [the United States] wanted someone to be tortured, we'd send him to Egypt to have them tortured," Suskind recently told ABC News.

Accused Islamic radicals aren't the only ones subjected to such treatment in Egypt. According to a February 2010 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, in murder cases, "police will round up 40 to 50 suspects from a neighborhood and hang them by their arms from the ceiling for weeks until someone confesses." A separate cable from 2009 notes that "NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone."

Victims of torture have little redress. Many alleged criminals are tried under a military court system, and as such, have no access to the usual protections of a civilian court. Even in the regular judicial system, prosecutions are arduous and still subject to pressure from the regime. In 2009, a diplomatic cable reported that the Egyptian government, along with Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, was "flood[ing] the courts with suits against political enemies, using tactics such as fabricating assault charges against a journalist and filing a profanity case against a novelist."

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Political repression: Since 1981, Mubarak has officially won four presidential terms with overwhelming popular support. But the first three of those were uncontested; the fourth was slightly freer -- at least there were other candidates on the ballot, including opposition leader Ayman Nour -- but still not a fair contest: The largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was, and still is, outlawed.

Sham elections are only the beginning. It's also nearly impossible to form a political party, much less run for office as an independent. Parties that want to put forth candidates for the presidency have to have existed for at least five years and hold 3 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly and the Shura Council, the Egyptian equivalents of the U.S. House and Senate, respectively. Independents need 250 signatures from the ruling-party controlled Parliament to get on the ballot.

Even if a candidate manages to successfully jump through all of these hoops, the Political Parties Commission, which is responsible for registering parties, has broad authority to close offices, seize funds, or refuse to recognize a party in the first place -- meaning that in practice, elections are only as competitive as Mubarak wants them to be. Political opposition parties, as well as civil society groups and NGOs, are also targeted by government moles; a 2010 U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks claimed that the "Interior Ministry uses the SSIS to monitor and sometimes infiltrate the political opposition and civil society, and to suppress political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation."

And when all else fails, Mubarak always has the threat of Islamic extremism to fall back on. The Muslim Brotherhood, historically Mubarak's only significant political challenger, is also his favorite bogeyman: Egyptian security forces have a long history of arresting the group's members, and Mubarak has routinely painted a picture of the group as a violent and extreme Islamist group to win aid from the West, which needs Egypt's moderate voice in Israeli-Arab relations.

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Free Speech: Everything you need to know about press freedom in Egypt you could have learned in the last week. As opposition to the Mubarak regime grew in the streets, the government tried every means available to keep the media quiet. Security forces arrested, attacked, and threatened journalists. The government cut off most television frequencies, even temporarily shutting down the news station Al Jazeera. Cell phone networks were turned off, and the entire country's Internet went black.

Even when the regime has been under less pressure, journalists have often been arrested, threatened, and detained. A 1996 press law makes defamation, insult, and libel punishable with jail sentences. In recent years, as opposition figures have turned to the Internet to organize, the regime has cracked down on bloggers. In 2008, for example, blogger Mohamed Refaat was arrested for months after authorities claimed that he had incited a demonstration- even though he had never mentioned the protest in his writing. On Thursday, Al Jazeera and other media reported further blogger arrests, part of a broader media crackdown. Demonstrations have also been effectively curtailed: "Although the Egyptian constitution protects the right to freedom of association, the government has used a complex set of interlocking laws, decrees, and emergency powers to stifle the exercise that right," explained a 2005 HRW report.

Academia isn't safe, either: Since the state controls promotions, appointments, and university administration, a subtle self-censorship prevails. Professors have been fired, publicly condemned, or even physically assaulted if they stray from a government line. In one high-profile case in 1995, a court found Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid guilty of apostasy, forcing him to flee the country. Student leaders have faced similar consequences when they organize.

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Women and Minorities: Anyone watching the past week's protests may have noticed the lack of women on the streets. While gender equality is a concern in plenty of countries -- even plenty without repressive regimes -- there are reasons to be particularly worried about women's rights in Mubarak's Egypt, where reports of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault against women by government security forces are rampant. A report published by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights in 2008 noted that more than four-fifths of all Egyptian women had suffered public sexual humiliation -- everything from groping to full-blown assault. Legal inequality doesn't help; women have to work through an arduous process to file for divorce, for example, while men can do it without ever setting foot in court.

Gays and other minorities have also been targets of persecution in Egypt in recent years. In 2004, HRW documented the mass arrest of men accused of homosexuality. And while homosexuality itself isn't illegal, homosexual acts are, and detention is often justified under the broad laws governing "moral conduct" throughout society. Tensions between the police and the Egyptian Christian community, meanwhile, have boiled over several times in recent years, most recently in January, when Christians clashed with the police after an officer shot a Christian on a train. (Islam is the official state religion, though free practice of religion is legally allowed.)

Finally and perhaps most disturbingly, are reports of the regime's treatment of street children, of which there are an estimated 5,200 in Cairo. In 2001, HRW estimated that 11,000 street children had been arrested and frequently detained for weeks in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, "often with adult criminal detainees who abuse them." The children, the report reads, are "and denied adequate food, water, bedding, and medical care." This is how the father of Egypt, as Vice President Suleiman called Mubarak today, treats his children.

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Understanding Revolutionary Egypt

The world was shocked to see the frustration in Cairo boil over the past two weeks. FP gathered a group of Egypt experts to discuss how we should adjust to this rapidly shifting reality.

Nathan J. Brown: Not Even a Genie Could Have Seen This Coming

J. Scott Carpenter: This Revolution Isn't Over

Steven Brooke: Don't Fear the Muslim Brotherhood

Shadi Hamid: The "Islamist Dilemma" Is No Dilemma At All

Daniel Brumberg: The Failures of Washington's Egypt Debate   

For so long, Egypt seemed impervious to change. In the last week, the country has changed by the hour. 

A member of the Islamist opposition once told me the following joke: A man was walking along the beach in Alexandria when he saw a lantern. He picked it up, rubbed it, and out popped a genie. "You have one wish!" the genie exclaimed. The man thought and replied "I love New York! Build me a bridge from my front door to the middle of New York City so I can go back and forth at my pleasure." 

The genie scowled: "Please give me a real wish that I can make come true."  The man was disappointed for only a brief moment before he said, "Before I die, I want to see a different president of Egypt." The genie thought for a minute and replied, "All right. Should I make the bridge one lane or two?"

What was too much for a genie was similarly unimaginable for ordinary citizens. The sorts of protests that quickly mushroomed since last week were not new; what was new was only how quickly they have brought the regime to the brink of collapse.

Did anyone see this coming? Those who follow Egypt closely were well aware of the authoritarian and sometimes thuggish nature of the regime, and also that most Egyptians viewed their rulers with great cynicism and contempt. It was no secret that when push came to shove, only top officials, hacks, and paid hooligans would rally to the defense of a system widely viewed as thuggish and corrupt.

But nobody expected push to come to shove at any particular time or in any particular way. In fact, past efforts by opponents to find a chink in the regime's armor seemed to fizzle. The electoral system absorbed great energy and attention but produced meager results. Protests were widespread but remained localized; efforts to produce a more coordinated national effort failed.

Let's be clear: The Mubarak regime is only on the brink, not past it. Its strategy has finally emerged. Part of that strategy -- spreading mayhem with swords, clubs, camels, and horses -- is obvious. But the regime is also sketching out a political path, which involves splitting the opposition, offering limited reform, and threatening massive disorder. 

Mubarak's speech on Tuesday night, in which he announced that he would not seek another term as president, also contained the seeds of a potential deal that could co-opt Egypt's officially sanctioned opposition parties and leave the protesters in Tahrir Square out in the cold. In a seemingly arcane legal point, Mubarak also called on court judgments on the last parliamentary election to be honored.  "I demand parliament adhere to the word of the judiciary and its verdicts concerning the latest cases which have been legally challenged," he said.

Those who are the victim of electoral fraud in Egypt are often able to win court decisions supporting their charges. However, it is the prerogative of the parliament, according to the constitution, to enforce those court orders -- and past parliaments have simply refused to do so.   

If Mubarak's pledge were to be fulfilled, then perhaps half of the seats in the parliament would be vacated with new elections held to fill them. And that would give the opposition a chance to play a role in negotiating a new constitutional arrangement in the reconfigured parliament.

Such a step would present the opposition with a dilemma: Would it seize the opportunity to run in such elections and gain a significant voice in the amendment process? The Muslim Brotherhood and leadership of the demonstrators would quite sensibly reject this offer as too little, too late. But Egypt's legal opposition parties have fallen into a craven state, and some might swallow the bait.

Nathan J. Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

Nathan J. Brown: Not Even a Genie Could Have Seen This Coming

J. Scott Carpenter: This Revolution Isn't Over

Steven Brooke: Don't Fear the Muslim Brotherhood

Shadi Hamid: The "Islamist Dilemma" Is No Dilemma At All 

Daniel Brumberg: The Failures of Washington's Egypt Debate  

I agree with Nathan that many of us saw the current upheaval in Egypt coming, but only in the sense that a California-based seismologist predicts the "Big One." He may be kept up at night worrying about it -- but most Californians just go about their business. Sometimes it's tough for us Cassandras.

The most significant indicators for massive unrest have been plentiful in Egypt of late, however. The number of labor strikes in 2010 far exceeded the number of strikes in the past five years combined, for example. And the military has been in the business of baking and distributing bread for nearly two years. Hardly encouraging signs.

Two anecdotes from the past year symbolize for me the growing disconnect between the Egyptian government and its people. The first is from Ahmed Ezz, the Egyptian steel magnate and grand strategist for the ruling National Democratic Party who has now reportedly been detained. This past April, Ezz had a Marie-Antoinette moment, which revealed his utter disconnect from the concerns of regular Egyptians. When the government made the decision to kill all the pigs in Cairo -- to avoid swine flu, which has nothing to do with swine -- the trash in the streets began to pile up. When asked why people weren't seeing the products of the economic growth that the government constantly touted, Ezz answered, "But of course they are! The Egyptian people are doing so well they're generating more trash than we can pick up!"

Then this past November in a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, I asked how the pain of subsidy reform could be absorbed by the people without achieving greater public buy-in. He answered, "Elections are coming, and we fully expect to get a mandate." The government's disdain for its people had clearly reached new heights, as evidenced in the deeply flawed elections that then took place.

Nathan also asks whether the regime can survive. Although the next 24 hours are pivotal, the short answer is: Of course! 

Much has been written about how protesters have "broken the fear barrier" on the streets of Cairo. However, there has been no fundamental change in the nature of the ruling regime. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains in power. All the institutions necessary for affecting constitutional change remain squarely in his hands, including the parliament. The military has tried to walk the thin line between neutrality and complicity in the chaos currently seizing the country -- and, in the last day or two, seems to be falling on the wrong side of that divide. The regime also has maintained its monopoly on force and its control of the phone system, the Internet, and national TV.  

In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood is contributing to the government's cause by announcing that the provisional government -- if there is one -- will immediately abrogate the peace treaty with Israel.

Of course, a managed transition also remains possible. But with each passing day without Mubarak stepping down, it becomes much more likely that the regime will find a way to reinvent and reassert itself. Eight months is an eon in these circumstances.

A prolonged period with the current regime in place risks the possibility that the government will renege on its promised concessions, even Mubarak's promise not to seek another term. I would just remind everyone of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's dramatic reversal following his announcement in 2005 that he would not seek another term -- after a weeklong government-organized protest begging him to run, he tearfully agreed to remain in office. If the conditions are ripe, Mubarak could just be convinced to also remain in office by similar displays of manufactured loyalty.

J. Scott Carpenter is a Keston Family Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Nathan J. Brown: Not Even a Genie Could Have Seen This Coming

J. Scott Carpenter: This Revolution Isn't Over

Steven Brooke: Don't Fear the Muslim Brotherhood

Shadi Hamid: The "Islamist Dilemma" Is No Dilemma At All  

Daniel Brumberg: The Failures of Washington's Egypt Debate  

Had I been asked a few months ago to predict which Middle Eastern regimes were least likely to be shaken by protests, Egypt and Tunisia would have been near the top of my list. The undercurrents of frustration were apparent to anyone paying attention, but the brutality of the Egyptian security services and the regime's well-honed skills of sidelining, co-opting, or jailing opposition figures seemed well up to the challenge of managing both popular unrest and pre-empting the emergence of political challengers.

The protests of Jan. 25 shook the regime, but the incredible, vicious scenes of the last few days have shown that it doesn't intend to give up without a fight. While Mubarak's concessions -- appointing Omar Suleiman as vice president, pledging to not seek re-election in the fall, the promise of constitutional amendments -- were the carrots, unleashing the baltigiyeen (thugs) was the stick. The ultimate aim is to encourage members of the opposition to defect, to divide-and-rule. The regime-sponsored violence of the last few days also sent a not-so-subtle message to the Egyptian "silent majority" that supporting political reform means further chaos and violence.

It is also important to note, however, that we in the West are also being manipulated. The specter of Islamist rule has been enough to cause many to question whether Egyptians are ready for democracy. This is just the most recent iteration of a problem that has paralyzed our policy toward the Middle East for years -- what Shadi Hamid has called the "Islamist Dilemma." We want democracy, but we fear an Islamist victory.

A crucial part of getting past this roadblock is to attempt to figure out what the strategy of the Islamists actually is. I realize that it is difficult to forecast the future, but it is unlikely that the Brotherhood will be in any position to unilaterally determine Egypt's foreign policy. Nor, given the sensitivities of these issues, is there much evidence that they want to.

The Brotherhood will have a say in any transitional government, as it should, but it will be one voice among many. In this sense, the movement's behavior will closely resemble how it has behaved over the past couple of decades -- cooperation and coordination with other opposition parties from across the ideological spectrum. It is also important to note that the calculus of any democratic Egyptian government will be informed by any number of external factors, including the need to preserve aid flows from Western countries.  

I hope that we aren't getting too far ahead of ourselves by discussing these issues, but I fear that we are. Any meaningful reform is unlikely as long as the government is headed by Mubarak or his cronies. But if nothing else, the events of the last few days have demonstrated in stunning clarity the brutality with which we have purchased stability, and offer us the chance to work toward a policy better able to harmonize our interests and ideals.

Steven Brooke is a PhD student in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nathan J. Brown: Not Even a Genie Could Have Seen This Coming

J. Scott Carpenter: This Revolution Isn't Over

Steven Brooke: Don't Fear the Muslim Brotherhood

Shadi Hamid: The "Islamist Dilemma" Is No Dilemma At All

Daniel Brumberg: The Failures of Washington's Egypt Debate  

That the Egyptian uprising happened is not particularly surprising. Nearly everyone was at least vaguely aware that it would happen -- if not now, then later. Unless you happen to believe that Arabs are uniquely tolerant of dictatorship, there was little reason to think the Arab world would continue along its course of unbridled autocracy forever.

That said, the shift was more sudden than any of us thought. I was in Egypt covering the Nov. 28 parliamentary elections - quite possibly the most rigged in the country's history. In Medinat Nasr and Shubra, I talked to the Muslim Brotherhood "whips" (the representatives who count the votes). They ran me through all the violations, one by one. They didn't seem angry as much as resigned. 

Today, though, the Brotherhood finds itself in a markedly different situation. They are the country's largest, best organized opposition force at a time when anti-regime protesters are searching for leadership, and not finding it. But this leadership void has also placed  Egypt's Islamists in the unenviable position of being a potentially decisive force just as the world becomes increasingly nervous at the prospect of their rise.

The Brotherhood -- the slow, bumbling giant it is -- is unlikely to fully awaken just yet. The group has always believed that it had history on its side. Whenever I would ask Brotherhood leader Esam al-Erian why they didn't seem to have a clear strategy for change, he would just sit back and say, "we are patient." Now, it knows for sure: One day, Egypt will become democratic. And one day it will be in government, although most likely as junior partner in a liberal-leftist coalition.

The United States, then, should be reassessing its outdated, ineffective posture toward the Brotherhood. Despite establishing an interagency working group on political Islam and having a point person in the State Department's Policy Planning office, the Obama Administration, somewhat remarkably, seems clueless about the Brotherhood. When asked about the group, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered up information that was at least two decades old, suggesting that the Brotherhood hadn't renounced violence or committed itself to the democratic process -- both steps that it took decades prior.

Similarly, on January 30, Secretary Clinton said: "We obviously want to see people who are truly committed to democracy, not imposing any ideology on Egyptians." This is an odd thing to say considering that for the past several decades, the U.S. has supported and funded an Egyptian regime that was truly uncommitted to democracy.

The "Islamist dilemma" is less of a dilemma than we think. We may, as Steven Brooke says, be getting ahead of ourselves. After all, there's no real reason to think the Muslim Brotherhood will take the reigns of Egyptian foreign policy anytime soon. As I lay out in this recent Journal of Democracy article, contrary to their image as power-obsessed, Islamist groups across the region, in fact, deliberately lose elections. They do so for a simple reason: They have little interest in governing, at least at this juncture.

But, eventually, they may. This means that we should use this opportunity in Egypt to advance a bold, forward-looking - but admittedly risky - effort to finally resolve our "Islamist dilemma." Once we do that, we can start to fashion a strong pro-democracy vision in the region free of the internal contradictions that have, for too long, paralyzed U.S. policy. 

Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

 

Nathan J. Brown: Not Even a Genie Could Have Seen This Coming

J. Scott Carpenter: This Revolution Isn't Over

Steven Brooke: Don't Fear the Muslim Brotherhood

Shadi Hamid: The "Islamist Dilemma" Is No Dilemma At All

Daniel Brumberg: The Failures of Washington's Egypt Debate

The virtual ink being spilled on the question of Islamist participation in Egypt's insurrection (and hopefully democratic transition) shows two closely related failures of the discourse currently underway in Washington: First, the "Islamist dilemma" is invariably defined as an American issue -- as "our" problem or even "our" opportunity. This American-centric view rarely poses the crucial question: How do Egyptians themselves evaluate Islamism and Islamists, and how will their perceptions affect the choices of citizens and activists in the coming weeks?

The second failure is policy makers, analysts and (of course) pundits' inability to place the debate on Islamism into a broader analytical framework, one that will provide a roadmap for U.S. government action and, more importantly, help Egyptian leaders navigate the dangerous shoals of a democratic transition.

Every successful transition requires at least two things: First, a readiness and capacity of opposition groups and leaders to unite around a common set of rules and procedures -- not merely for the transition, but also for the institutional and legal framework that will form the basis of a new democratic order. Second, it requires a readiness by the opposition -- based on their shared political vision -- to reach out to elements in the ancien regime and secure their support (and protection) in institutionalizing these rules.

It is far harder to achieve these two goals in societies divided over existential issues of national identity than in societies struggling with tangible grievances such as economic disparities or the allocation of political power. But precisely because fundamental issues, such as the place of religion in public life, raise the stakes and risks of democratic change in ways that make the most vulnerable groups nervous, it is essential that institutional mechanisms for negotiating democratic rules be established quickly.

If this is going to happen in Egypt, we must begin by recognizing that what we are seeing in today's Egypt is a struggle of citizens and activists to define their place in an emerging but as yet embryonic political society. In this regard, Islamists certainly have a comparative organizational advantage over their non-Islamist competitors. This advantage stems from their access to mosques and charitable institutions, and what is more, from the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood had carved out a sphere influence within the state under Mubarak's regime.

Indeed, Egypt's autocracy worked as a kind of protection racket. The regime allowed -- and often discretely supported-mainstream Islamist groups. This patronage was offered not only in an effort to placate these groups, but also to frighten secular intellectuals, businessmen, women's groups, labor organizers and professionals into supporting the regime. Muslim Brotherhood activists were often happy to play this game. This is one reason why they often failed to aggressively pursue political power through elections since, at the end of the day, elections (and parliaments) were not the primary arenas through which they sought influence.

But if the protection racket that constituted a key pillar of the autocracy is disintegrating, the transition to a competitive democracy could easily break down unless Islamists and non-Islamists agree to democratic protections sufficiently robust such that all key groups and players will take the risk of abandoning the unstable safety net provided by the old regime.

Over the last few years I have worked with the United States Institute of Peace -- in concert with academic centers and NGOs based in the United States and Egypt -- to encourage Islamists and non-Islamists to envision just such a common political project and, in so doing, defy the scare tactics that the regime used to maintain power. But while our meetings brought various voices around the table-including members of the Brotherhood -- our participants had great difficulty overcoming long-standing fears and concerns regarding such issues as the implementation of shariah law, women's rights, the mosque-state relationship, and other elemental questions.

The exhilaration of mass mobilization in Tahrir Square and other public venues has helped Egyptians momentarily overcome these divisions. But now the hard work is at hand: Political leaders must emerge, and more importantly, they must grasp the basic choices that will advance non-violent (or "orderly," in the parlance of U.S. diplomats) democratic change. This will require peace-making within the opposition, and between the opposition and elements of the previous regime. And on both these scores -- as the Obama administration recognizes -- the Egyptian military has a key role to play, as does the U.S. government and the democracy assistance organizations it supports. But these are topics for another day.

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images