2. The king is dead, long live the ???
Not even the Arabs themselves know how to complete that sentence. In some revolutions, leaders appear early or emerge from committees or juntas. Modern Arab history offers precedents of fathers handing over power to sons and relatives, and colonels and generals replacing one another.
In the new Arab Oz, the recent rebellions were strangely leaderless. So far, no single individual or leader has emerged to command a mass, popular following that could be converted into real staying power. In Egypt, the young Googlers and liberals who played such a key role early on have been marginalized by better organized and more disciplined forces, namely the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, while the death of the Coptic pope last month leaves the country's 8 million Copts leaderless at a critical moment. In Yemen, Saleh's successor, a weak interim president (dubbed Mrs. Saleh by some) presides over a precarious transition. If there are strong leaders waiting to emerge, they're not yet even in the wings.
Perhaps the absence of big men (women continue to be increasingly marginalized and excluded in the new Arab politics at senior levels) is not such a bad thing. The arc of change in the Arab world will be a long one. The last thing we need now is a charismatic new messiah either in uniform or wearing a turban who will hijack these movements to create a new brand of authoritarianism around another personality cult. After all, what's important now is the development of institutions that are credible, accountable, and inclusive. Democratization and political pluralism must be built from the bottom up if it's to endure.
It all makes so much sense -- assuming the institutions of governance aren't hijacked and subverted again. This time the danger isn't so much from the Arab version of the caudillo, but from the corporatists. And I don't mean Hewlett-Packard. What is happening in Egypt is much less a revolution or a fundamental transformation of power than a more transactional rivalry where corporate groups, in this case the military and the Islamists, compete for advantage to protect their interests or impose their vision.
There's nothing wrong with that. Competition is the essence of politics in a democratic polity, as long as it's nonviolent and played out according to accepted and legitimate rules of the game.
In the Egyptian case, however, the rules are being skewed by these two groups before the game really gets going. Liberals and independents secured roughly 25 percent of the new parliament, and they have been weakened and marginalized both by their own deficits and by the superior organizational prowess and discipline of the Islamists. After all, Egypt is a very traditional society. In a country of 85 million, you have to wonder how much of it the Facebook kids, the secularists, and the liberals of Tahrir Square actually represented. The future of the 100-member constituent assembly charged with drafting the all-important constitution is now uncertain, but one thing is clear: The dominant forces in Egyptian politics will continue to be the military and the Islamists.