The Arab Uprisings: The View from Cairo

Apr 6, 2011

As president of the American University of Cairo, Lisa Anderson was a witness to the recent protests in Tahrir Square. In this fascinating talk, she analyzes the upheavals taking place across the Arab world and explains the differences between them.


JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good morning. I'm Joel Rosenthal. Today I have the opportunity to introduce not only an excellent speaker but also a very good friend.

From time to time, if you're lucky in life, you meet a person who shows you the ropes and helps you along. This person has high standards and high expectations, but is also quick to write in an email, "This is fun." This person inspires you and becomes a role model. For me this person is Lisa Anderson.

The Carnegie Council is a much better institution for Lisa's long association with us. As a member of our journal's Editorial Advisory Board, Lisa was present at the creation of an important academic journal, now the leader in its field and published quarterly by Cambridge University Press.

As a member of our Board of Trustees, she encouraged us to think big and to stir the pot. I remember Lisa saying at a Board meeting, "We should be on TV. We should be on the radio. We should be in bookstores"—this was before bookstores were going out of business. "Why not turn this place into a studio and broadcast our programs to the world?" It was a good idea, and that's what we're doing now, broadcasting to the world.

A lot of people talk about ethics, but few actually do anything about it. Talk is easy and doing is hard.

I am not one to believe in destiny or fate, but I do think that the fates might have had a hand in Lisa's decision to accept her current appointment as president of the American University in Cairo. I cannot think of a stronger leader in what must be a time of some stress.

Lisa's scholarly work is relevant to both the academic and policy communities. Her academic career began with an early book, titled The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya 1830-1980. She then co-edited a book, called The Origins of Arab Nationalism. When I was in graduate school and among young professors, this was called "picking a good topic."

After ten years as dean of the School of International and Public Affairs [SIPA] at Columbia University, she accepted an appointment at the American University in Cairo to serve as provost. Among her many accomplishments, she created the American University in Cairo's first Ph.D. program, which is helping to shape and expand academic leadership not only in Egypt but in the entire Arab world.

After a short time as provost, virtue was rewarded and Lisa was named president of the American University in Cairo, taking office just a few weeks ago. She is the first woman to become president of the University, which was founded in 1919.

When Lisa went to Cairo, I was expecting big things to happen, but even I was surprised by the magnitude. Lisa has had the opportunity to witness firsthand the protests that are spreading throughout the Middle East. When we learned that she would be back in New York this week, we were thrilled that she would make time in her busy schedule to come and give a talk.

Lisa, welcome home. Thank you for all that you have done for us, thank you for all that you are doing for others, and thank you for coming this morning.


LISA ANDERSON: Thank you, Joel. It is in fact very satisfying to be home, and in many respects the Council feels like home.

What I want to do is spend 20 minutes or so talking in general about the character of what have been called the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and then open the floor to any kinds of questions or observations you may have, including questions about what it's like to have a campus on Tahrir Square these days. But I want to step back for a little while and talk in general about what is happening.

There is a tendency here in the United States, for understandable reasons, to see these as one piece, that they are Arab uprisings. It's certainly true that the unexpected and largely spontaneous uprisings in the region against aging authoritarian rulers do seem to have common elements. We had wondered for years about how the next generation would take power, and, at least in a few places, we seem to have the answer.

The common themes are important. It is true that the contempt conveyed by the regimes in the region for their own citizens for decades did finally elicit the frustration and fury on the part of those citizens that they well deserved. These are uprisings about dignity, as they are sometimes described; they are about the insistence that citizens want governments that are accountable, that are respectful of their citizens, that do things not for their own sake but because they have the public trust.

It's interesting, it is in some respects partly about jobs and economic frustration, but it is really as much about a sense of having lost patience with a circumstance in which it is clear that the governments have just simply have neglected and ignored the interests of the citizens. People are tired of that.

Part of the evidence of that is the aimless economic policies and neglect for public safety and security. But that is not the principal concern. Those are symptoms of this underlying problem that citizens have had with their governments, which simply stopped paying attention.

So there are common features in this. It is about dignity. It is about aging autocrats who had not been serving the purposes that their offices should have required of them.

But the patterns are quite different country to country, and particularly for those of us who want to advocate policies toward the revolutions, we need to know as much about how different they are as we know about how similar.

I want to talk a little bit about each of the countries in question, and then we can come back to some of the similarities and some of the experiences on the ground.

Tunisia started this. The spark for the "revolutions," as they are called in the region, came with the "last straw" feeling in Tunisia.

The interesting thing about Tunisia is that, although the government was exceptionally good at conveying an international image as a developing middle-income country, fairly modern, and a great tourist destination, that was a fairly thin façade behind which there was enormous neglect, particularly of the regions in the country away from the ports of the country that the tourists typically saw. Information was extremely tightly regulated and there was almost an Orwellian quality about the extent to which the government described itself as modern and open, when it was neither modern nor open in any real sense.

There was very little discussion and debate, very high levels of repression, very little political action, except as a façade for what was astonishingly predatory corruption on the part of the family of the president.

By now people are relatively well aware of that, but for at least 15 or 20 years people in Tunisia never talked about politics except by simultaneously referring to "the family," which was the relatives of the president and his wife. Ben Ali has seven brothers and sisters and his wife has ten, so the family is very large. The family took a cut of almost every significant economic transaction that took place in the country. It was very predatory.

It was very frustrating to the middle-income developing business class and investors. There are a lot of stories of multinational corporations that ultimately refused to invest in Tunisia because of the character of the corruption. They just simply could not get past the Ben Ali family and the Trabelsi family, and they said finally, "No, we're not going to do it." It was debilitating, and the people who were interested in economic development within the country knew it was debilitating.

The character of the family and the way they behaved was humiliating to people. This was not the Tunisia that they thought they were a part of.

The family set a very bad example, and compliance in Tunisia grew very haphazard. People didn't want to participate in a polity like the one being run by the Ben Ali family.

The revolts in Tunisia as a result of this pattern started in the hinterlands. Note that. They started in the distant countryside and spiraled toward Tunis.

They were joined by the long repressed but still fairly well-organized labor unions. One of the things we can anticipate is that labor is very likely to produce a significant political party. As the Tunisian landscape comes into focus, there will be a strong labor party. The remnants of the ruling party may constitute another party.

Note that the army refused to support the government, but also refused to rule. I will get back to that when I talk about Egypt, because that also is a very different pattern.

Today there are debates about the character of the successor regime. There is the prospect of a loyal opposition in the labor movement. There may even be the prospect of a government in the labor movement.

The character of corruption in Tunisia also bodes well for the successor regime, because it was largely this predatory corruption at the top. It was not through the whole system. The quality of the middle and local administration was relatively high. This is a highly educated population, by and large, and the corruption did not seep into the system as a whole.

On that note, I will turn to Egypt, where you have a very different set of patterns.

As all of the world has seen now, there was a very highly disciplined, very well-organized youth movement within Egypt that was principally urban, not like Tunisia at all.

The organizers of the protests in Tahrir Square particularly actually had been practicing protesting for quite a long time. There had been protests, 6th of April, several years ago and so forth that gave names to movements within Egypt. These protesters had learned lessons from the failure of their protests to really spark anything earlier, and they got very good at organizing civil disobedience and organizing peaceful protests, as you saw.

One of the things that really was quite remarkable about life in Tahrir Square was the extent to which you could get 800,000, a million, however many people were actually there, to come, to leave, to come back, to be well organized, and not to be provoked into violence. Much of the creativity and festival atmosphere that developed over the course of time in Tahrir Square was a deliberate effort on the part of the organizers to ensure that people were well fed, satisfied, diverted, and doing things that were productive, so that they didn't get frustrated and provoked. It was tactically absolutely stunningly brilliant.

The problem is neither the protesters nor anyone else in Egypt thought they would prevail. So having actually accomplished what they said they wanted, which was the fall of the Mubarak regime, they didn't have plans for that. So the tactical sophistication of the protests is not translating into a similarly tactical or strategic sophistication about how to build after the victory of the revolution.

As a result of some of the character of the Mubarak regime, you see a different set of challenges than you see in Tunisia for the succession. The authoritarianism in Egypt was more neglectful than predatory, and as a result, although there are accusations of high-level corruption in Egypt today, and there are probably some people who merit those accusations, by and large they are far less serious than the comparable accusations in Tunisia.

But the problem is the growing neglect of the consequences of the economic policies meant that there is small-scale corruption on a massive scale. You don't have the big corruption at the top, but everybody in the public sector, which is 6 million people, is paid such a tiny formal wage that everybody supplements that with something.

Some of that is what you would call technically ordinary corruption—that is, the police take bribes for traffic violations.

It is even sort of built into the system of education. Public school teachers are paid so little that they all give private lessons in order to ensure that they supplement their salaries, and the students have to take the private lessons because they don't teach anything during the day. That's how the system works. Formal education is free in Egypt, but in practice it's very expensive, because the only way to ensure that your children learn anything is to pay for the private lessons given by the teachers after school.

That's not corrupt, except it does corrupt the system of public education. That's really the dilemma that Egypt faces now; they have had such low salaries for decades now in the public sector that everybody in the public sector has turned outward to find supplementary sources of income.

It is going to be very expensive and very complicated to shrink the public sector, start paying people what they should be paid, and tell them to stop doing second assignments. But that's the character of the challenge in Egypt.

It's not like the Tunisian problem at all; it's quite different. In some respects, it will be much harder to reverse than simply removing the family in Tunisia.

But the interesting thing—again, I just want to give you a provocative little vignette to think about, and we can talk about this later if you wish—one of the interesting features of life after the Mubarak regime and the victory of the revolution is the extent to which there are now across the country these "safe and clean" campaigns. You may have seen this on television and so forth.

You could practically eat breakfast off the pavement in Tahrir Square today, it is so clean. There has been this sort of cleaning up after the revolution that was really as much about a sense that everything had been neglected and the place had gotten dirty, and you could see it physically and it was the frame of mind that people had, that they weren't living in a clean place.

The small-scale corruption, the having to give a pound here and there just to get something done during the day, was the same thing as feeling like there was no sense of civic responsibility for any public areas at all. The Egyptians themselves would remark on that. People would live in fabulous apartments and the elevator to them wouldn't work. Nobody would take care of public areas at all.

Suddenly, after the revolution, everything is about public areas, and there is this reclaiming a sense of civic responsibility and public spiritedness that is well beyond the intent or capacity to manage the revolution itself. Something has been released in Egypt that was sort of under wraps for decades, of this sense of owning the country, of being a citizen—"This place is mine again."

You saw that when the police were removed during the revolution, that the neighborhood watches came up. Egyptians would talk about the fact that they were talking to their neighbors whom they had never met before as they policed in the middle of the night. Those things have now turned into the high school kids all over the place repainting the sidewalks. It is spectacular.

It does show something about the debilitating consequences of this sort of neglectful aging authoritarianism, that over the course of time that civic spirit just sort of attenuates, and now it has popped up again in Egypt. To me that is one of the reasons why I am, as I think is going to be apparent, very optimistic about Egypt's prospects over the course of the next couple of years.

Nobody thinks it's simple, least of all me, but I do think that there is a huge wellspring of energy, intelligence, and commitment visible in Egypt that will serve the country extremely well.

A couple of words on Libya and then I do want to let you talk as well.

In contrast to both Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan rebellion started in the eastern provinces, which have been sullen and opposed to the Gaddafi regime for almost 40 years. So it's not that surprising. It's not surprising that there is regional variation in Libya, which was not really the case in the other two countries.

But one of the things I wanted to observe was the irony of the extent to which at the outset the Libyans were described as "protesters," as if they were protesters on a Tunisian or Egyptian model. They weren't protesters. This was an armed rebellion, from the very beginning. It was not protest.

But even the media "fight the last war," so if this was a protest in Egypt, it must be a protest in Libya. It is qualitatively different.

The challenge that the Libyan opposition faces is that for the last 35 years or so the Libyan government, in the guise of the revolution led by Gaddafi, has deliberately disorganized the country. Part of that is ideological—this is a government that claims not to be a government in the first place and is in principle opposed to any kind of stability, bureaucracy, and hierarchy.

Therefore, they have deliberately tried to undermine any kind of bureaucratic apparatus that might develop, with the exception, as you might expect, of the oil sector. But everything else there are popular committees here and revolutionary councils there, and every couple of years Gaddafi reshuffles everything. It means that for all intents and purposes, apart from his having been able to use his own position to divide and rule, connect with all of these things, there is virtually no nationwide economic organization, administrative apparatus, or civil society organizations.

We talk a lot about tribalism in Libya today. This is a sort of induced tribalism, because over the course of the last 35 years or so you needed to have connections to get almost anything—to get a visa, to leave the country, to get your kid into a hospital room. Whatever you needed, you needed connections to do that because there was no bureaucratic formal "you qualify for this and you don't qualify for this."

That meant that everybody ended up taking refuge in their families, because they were the most reliable sources of connection and the least likely to also be informing on you. The resort to extended families, to clans and tribes is in part a reflection of the disorganization of the country that was deliberate on Gaddafi's part.

That does mean, however, that should Gaddafi leave the scene—and that is inevitable, although I'm not sure when it will happen—there is going to be a very difficult project of knitting this place back together again.

Not only have the exiles and the internal political leadership had very little to do with each other over the course of the last 30 years, but people in Tripoli and Benghazi have had very little to do with each other for the last 35 years. Even within the country, the relations among regions and tribes within different parts of the country is very attenuated.

The project of getting people to sit around a table and talk about how you're going to reconstruct an administration is actually going to be quite a challenge. That's one of the things that is worrisome, having decided—and you saw the Arab League supported it—having decided that people should intervene, ostensibly to be protecting civilians but obviously simultaneously to undermine Gaddafi. Again there is a fair amount of support within Egypt, for example, for having done that, because nobody wanted to see Gaddafi extinguish a rebellion in the context of these uprisings throughout the Arab world. That would have been demoralizing throughout the rest of the region. Hence the willingness to support it.

But the failure to have really thought through what the end-game would be and how, once the guns stopped, there would be some kind of civilian arrangement for helping the Libyans manage the reconstruction of the country bodes very poorly for us—us collectively, the world, for the Libyans themselves—being able to put this back together again. So we can anticipate some really difficult times in Libya.

Just to sum up, it is telling to look at the different fates of the rulers of these three countries. Ben Ali was exiled. Mubarak was permitted to stay in the country and retire, for all intents and purposes. Gaddafi is definitely going to be killed and his body will be dragged through the streets so that everybody knows he's actually dead. That tells you quite a lot about both the implicit feeling of the populations about those rulers and about the magnitude of the challenges that they are going to be confronting going forward.

On that note, perhaps I can open it for the kinds of questions. I am happy to talk about AUC [American University in Cairo] at any time.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Can you say something about the religious dimension of all of this?


One of the things that probably surprises most of us is that there isn't much of a religious dimension in any of the protests discussed so far, and in fact, in most of the rest of what appear to be protests developing in Yemen and elsewhere. Religion has not played a significant role. There are two elements to that.

One of them is that because they are dignity revolutions, they are not ideological. In fact, I would argue that this generation is not ideological.

The ideologues are my age. The ideologues are the Nasser era. You would have the Arab Socialists and the Muslim Brotherhood. It was a different time.

The generation that is making these revolutions, are not ideologues in the same way at all. That doesn't mean that you will not see people saying that they want a political party in Egypt that reflects an attachment to Islam, but it's not necessarily "We're going to take over the government and change the legal system," which was the early expression of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is important as observers and analysts for us to not assume that because the Muslim Brotherhood is now becoming increasingly visible in Egypt that the generation of younger brothers is anything like the older one.

In fact, the Brotherhood, for example, is going to be having some internal conflict precisely over some of these kinds of issues. When Rashid al-Ghannushi went back to Tunis, it was clear that he, who had been the leader of the Muslim politics movement in Tunisia in the 1980s—it's over.

The way young Tunisians think about the role of religion is just different. Even though they imagine a role for religion in their lives, and perhaps in politics, it's not in that profound ideological way.

That reminds me, though. I did want to say one other thing that isn't about religion as such, but it is about this generational change.

The parents, particularly in Egypt, of these kids that made the revolution are unbelievably proud of them. There is this sense that the young people have redeemed the investment of their families in them in this astonishing way. Every Egyptian I know went down to Tahrir Square to see their kids. They were unbelievably proud.

I've been thinking about that and trying to think about how it is we can understand that dynamic. It's something that we should be thinking about globally. This is my hypothesis about that.

The generation who made the protests in Tahrir Square, is essentially the same generation that taught their parents to program the VCR and is now teaching their parents to go on Facebook. It is a different relationship between generations.

It is a relationship of great love and mutual respect, but not the sense that the older generation knows everything and will teach the younger generation. It is a different relationship.

You see it in Tahrir Square, but it's global.

The analogy I've been thinking about is all Americans know the story of the immigrant family where the child translates and the relationship between the parents, who are really proud and can't quite tell what's going on but really think their kid graduating from an American high school is one of the best things that ever happened, even though they go to the graduation ceremony and don't understand most of it because it's in English.

This generation has been translating the future to the parents of the world. You are going to see that sort of relationship in a lot of the politics. The parents have that same pride and a little bit of chagrin, of "maybe we should have been able to do this"—and you hear this from all of the parents in Egypt—enormously proud, a little bit wistful that they didn't do it themselves, that they let it deteriorate so that the kids ended up responsible for changing the regime. It's a very interesting phenomenon.

In that sense you don't look at the parent-generation political formations and say that they are automatically being translated into this next generation. They really aren't. It is qualitatively different.

QUESTION: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute. Lisa, I am hemmed in on all sides by SIPA graduates and Columbia professors—happily so.


QUESTIONER: I wanted to ask you about another country that you have not spoken of, and that's Syria. What is the view from Cairo on what is happening there? What the effect might be—are we talking about reform offered by a government or something more convulsive? And finally, could it alter Syria's sense of itself in relation to Iran and Hezbollah?

LISA ANDERSON: The first observation I want to make is that most Egyptians are paying attention to Egypt.

Here we tend to look at the region as a whole. In Egypt, partly because of the upheavals and partly because there are 80 million Egyptians and they don't think they have to worry about anybody else, they don't pay that much attention.

One footnote to that, however, is that most of what the Arab League has done for the last six weeks or so has been understood in Egypt as Amr Moussa's positioning himself for his presidential run. Just keep that in mind.

The interesting thing about Syria is that there was a—this is one of the reasons why, in a sense, people in the region supported the intervention in Libya, because had Gaddafi prevailed, there would have been a permissive environment for the Assad regime also to simply say, "Shut it down, absolutely not."

The fact that the international community did intervene in Libya, however catastrophic that story will end up being, was interpreted as not providing that kind of permissive response by the authoritarians.

The question of whether the Syrian government is going to be able to manage this or not—obviously, Ben Ali thought he would be able to manage it, Mubarak thought he would be able to manage it, Gaddafi thought he would be able to manage it—they all thought that. All of the governments are a little bit back on their heels, worrying about whether there is something in this that they are not going to be able to manage.

Since all of us, including me, did not think that Mubarak was going to leave, all of us are even more chary about saying "We know what's going to happen in Syria." I don't think we do know what's going to happen in Syria. So I don't want to speculate more than that.

The interesting thing about these regimes or these situations is that, in part because this generation is different, and because there is this sort of "we've lost our fear" quality, "we want to be respected," "we have seen other people sacrifice their lives," —the regimes are facing opposition that they have never faced before. How they manage it is obviously an open question.

QUESTION: Is it possible for the United States to have some kind of a coherent policy toward all of this that's happening, because that's what's being debated and demanded now in the Congress? How is America seen in the countries you know well during this period—positively, negatively?

LISA ANDERSON: Here I am, the American University in Cairo, just on Tahrir Square. It would have been a very obvious and easy target should there have been anti-Americanism in this. But there's been not a word.

There are two reasons for that, one of which I will brag about AUC a little bit. Our students, faculty, and alumni were deeply involved in all of the protests, in the negotiation between the protesters and the government, and in the government itself. The fact that we are an institution that has produced a disproportionate number of the public-spirited of Egypt serves us well.

But that would not have prevented anyone from being anti-American had they been so inclined. This is a set—and this is true across the board—of deep disputes between the citizens and their governments.

One of the things that the citizens have lost patience with is the government saying, "It's not our fault; the Americans are making us do it or there's some international—" They've just said, "Tough. No. We want accountable government. Don't tell us that you can't do it. Don't tell us that somebody else is making you do things." So it was very very domestic.

Now again, as these things roll out and you have political campaigns for parliamentary seats and presidents, foreign policy issues will become important again. But in this context they really were not important in a quite, for those of us who are not Egyptians or not Libyans, surprising way. Most of us expect to be the fall guy for all of this, and it didn't happen.

That also is something to keep in mind, that, for the moment in any event, these are very much domestic disputes.

The way the foreign policy agenda will be reintroduced is not entirely clear. It's not automatic that there will be anti-Americanism or pro-Americanism.

The coherent policy issue: In a sense, it is a mistake at this juncture to try and argue for—you want coherent policy; it seems silly not to have coherent policy—but to say that you should have therefore the same policy vis-à-vis each of these governments and each of these circumstances, would be a mistake.

That is part of what I am trying to say. These are not all the same. You can't treat them all the same way, particularly as you think about U.S. policy vis-à-vis a new Egyptian government, vis-à-vis a new Tunisian government, and presumably at some point a new Libyan or Yemeni government.

These governments all face very different challenges at home, and that is what we need to be more sophisticated, articulate, and thoughtful about. How do we address the very different challenges that each of these successor governments face?

We have in some respects trapped ourselves in having a policy where we said, "Actually, all we care about are our very narrow interests," and we don't therefore think very much about the character of the society and government as a whole.

I'll give you an example. This is my analogy here. It's a little trivial, but it's a way of thinking about this that I've been trying to figure out more clearly.

Obviously, the United States has had interests in the region and has privileged those interests in our interactions with governments, as one might expect us to do.

But years ago my husband was hospitalized with a collapsed lung. He was deeply offended when he overheard the medical establishment at the hospital referring to him as "the lung down the hall."

In a sense, what we have done is do the same thing. We are only interested in the lung. We don't care about the rest of the body here. The problem with having done that is there may be gangrene somewhere else, there may be some really serious medical problem in that body that, because we are thoracic surgeons and all we care about is this limited definition of what our interests are, we don't see. And then, all of a sudden, we are really surprised.

That has been part of the problem. It's most noticeable in Libya because we had very close, productive intelligence cooperation with the Libyan government and completely missed the fact that this was a government that was deeply troubled at home, much less despicable in many other respects.

That is what we need to be able to do, is to say, "We want to know what these lungs are living in," and we want to be able to respond to the challenges that those governments face in a way that's a little bit more nuanced and varied across the region, instead of saying, "Well, for our purposes they're all lungs and we're just thoracic surgeons. Bring them in, we'll do the surgery, and we'll take them out."

So insofar as we can say that is itself a coherent policy, that's what we should be doing. It doesn't have to be the same, to say, "We're looking at the health of the body politic and we're trying to ensure that if this particular body needs help on diabetes, that's different from help with a collapsed lung."

We can do that. But we need to move away from it being very simple and just saying all we care about is the certain kinds of "interests" we have. Even if we are realists, even if we are about American interests, American interests will not be served.

This isn't sentimental necessarily. It's not about democracy promotion. You can do this from a very narrow definition of American interests. You still have to know something about the health of the body politic. You still have to be seen to be attentive in ways that in Europe we certainly are. It's not impossible for us to do this, but in this region we have not been.

QUESTION: Jim Traub with The New York Times Magazine.

I wanted to ask you to take that thought about American policy and apply it to Libya a little bit. My impression from what you've said is that, at least of the three examples you chose, the one where the role of outsiders is going to be the most important is Libya because they're going to have the most chaotic situation if and when the rebels succeed.

If people should be thinking now about what to do in case that happens, who should be thinking about what?

LISA ANDERSON: It's hard to get from NATO to where I'm going to go, in fact. But I have a couple of still-somewhat-inchoate observations about that question.

First of all, the Libyans, in particular, are extremely prickly about what they view as imperial intervention. They had a truly dreadful experience with the Italians; a not particularly happy experience with the British military administration—they believe, correctly, that the British imposed the monarchy; and then Gaddafi spent 40 years talking about how dreadful imperialism is. So they are very prickly and sensitive about anything that they see as imperialism. That is something we just need to keep in mind as we think about who goes in to help, because a lot of what would be genuine offers of help will be construed as imperial intervention.

So what do we do? One necessary component of this is to take it to the south, to say, "This should not be your classic northern, big power, NATO, United States kind of thing." There are now increasing numbers of countries in the global south that have had experiences with very often difficult, fraught transitions. Have those people help.

Begin thinking now about how to collect the expertise that is available in the global south for working on the end of civil wars and the difficult challenges of truth and reconciliation commissions. Bring people from South Africa and Chile, bring people who have gone from very difficult, complicated, fraught, to relatively stable and relatively successful.

We should start doing that now. We collectively—and by this I mean partly the United States—can help this, but the world community as a whole should start.

This would be a 21st-century way of thinking about this, because you have the Club of Madrid, you have organizations that are actually devoted to that idea. These are all the ex-presidents and ex-prime ministers of democratic countries around the world who say, "Look, we are consultants. We are happy to deploy our expertise wherever anybody might need it." Well, let's do it.

One, it's disproportionately south, just because of the numbers. Two, these are people who are willing and able and interested in doing that. Three, it is a kind of global civil society, so it doesn't have the same sort of weight as governments going in.

If we could say—we again collectively—"We would support the logistics and funding behind the scenes, but these people have to front for it and be the ones who go in and start talking about how it was done in South Africa or other places," it seems to me that there is an opportunity there to manage this in a way that is not evocative of this imperial era, that doesn't seem like the dreadful 20th century that Libya experienced, that would be a next-generation way of doing this.

The people are available. The Global Elders group in Africa has tried several times, with uneven success, to do this kind of intervention.

There are opportunities like that that we ought to be thinking about. It cannot simply be USAID going in. It won't work.

QUESTION: Nicholas Kourides. Thank you very much for your remarks. They were very informative and interesting.

If you had a crystal ball, getting back to Egypt, where do you think the political parties are coming out? Also, what is the role of the army? They have interests in every aspect of the economy and they're not going to back off that easily. What will their role be vis-à-vis the political parties? Also the minorities—there's a 12 percent Coptic community, for example, there—how are they going to basically fit into this political system?

LISA ANDERSON: On the military, the understanding on almost everyone's part is that the Supreme Military Council wants to get out. They don't want to rule. This is a generation of military leaders that saw combat experience, they know what a military is for, and it's not to rule. They are serious about that.

There is some talk that they should stay longer and supervise a more relaxed process. They clearly don't want to do that, and I don't think that many people want to test their resolve by asking them to stay longer, because they might get too comfortable. So they will leave.

The second understanding that everyone has is that yes, of course, they have a huge investment in the economy of Egypt. This is a military-industrial complex of considerable size and weight. Nobody is of a mind to dispute that right now. There are plenty of other things that need sorting out before anybody starts saying that maybe the military shouldn't have this position in the economy.

It doesn't seem very likely to me that that will be a matter of dispute. They will go back to the barracks in terms of politics, and they will stay where they are in terms of economics.

In the meantime, the finance minister, who is actually a labor economist, will be struggling with unemployment and this huge public sector, that does not implicate one way or another the status of the military and their role in the economy.

It's almost a universal understanding, even on the part of the fairly left opposition. There's no need to go there since there are so many other interesting problems.

That then suggests that there is one element that the military does have a policy position on. Most of this is, "Just leave us alone, don't get in our face about what we do now," and they'll be fine.

They are, however, not great enthusiasts for neoliberal economic reform. You will therefore see a backing away of some of the privatization projects that have been undertaken over the last decade in Egypt, that the pendulum will swing back toward a somewhat more statist model. That is going to be a challenge for confronting this problem of the public sector. You won't see the really rapid efforts to privatize that you saw in the last decade. But I don't think that that's particularly significant. That will be within a range of policy debates that are typical.

Just one quick observation on the minorities. You will recall that at the beginning of the year there was a bombing of a church in Alexandria. The universal response to that in the Muslim population was to be appalled by that—"That is not Egypt, this is not who we are." There were posters all over Cairo with Muslims and Christians hand-in-hand. People were really angry about that.

The accusation is that that bombing was actually orchestrated by the then-minister of interior so as to sow dissension and panic in the population, making the government, and particularly the minister of interior, essential to the operations of safety and security in the country. Whether or not that's true doesn't matter. Everybody believes it.

It tells you something about the view of the Ministry of the Interior. One of the reasons why there are fires in the Ministry of the Interior all the time now is because there is all of this evidence that is being destroyed.

It also tells you something about the extent to which there is a very deep conviction, again in this younger generation, that "We're all in this together." The older generation Copts are very anxious that the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over.

The younger generation, you don't hear that at all. It's very much more a sense of what you saw in Tahrir Square, that the Christians circled the Muslims while they were praying to protect them from the police. That was very tactical, very deliberate, but very genuine as well. That generation is just not going there, not comfortable with the idea that there are sectarian divisions that could be exploited for political purposes.

QUESTION: Richard Valcourt, International Journal of Intelligence.

There was a revolution in Lebanon in 2005, the Cedar Revolution, and a couple of years ago in Iran there was an uprising that everybody was enthusiastic about. However, as is the case in many situations where you have an autocracy that has been toppled by a middle class that has had enough, the revolutions tend to be taken over by groups that have a much stronger agenda. What is to prevent that from happening now in the various countries in the Middle East?

Also, you haven't yet mentioned the impact of the American overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the emerging role of Iraq right now in the situations in the Middle East.

LISA ANDERSON: I'm not sure that Iraq is having much of a role. People watch what's happening in Iraq, but Iraq doesn't have influence as a government in other of the countries.

Your larger question about what prevents the liberals from losing the position they always lose in revolutions is a good question. That is something that is preoccupying many, particularly people in Egypt. Everybody has read about the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution—everybody knows that the revolution eats its own and the extremists prevail.

In that sense, I love the 21st century. Everybody is historically informed. None of this is sort of naïvety. There is a self-consciousness and a concern about that.

Some of the discussion about "maybe the military should stay for a whole year so we can get ourselves organized" is animated by that. They are concerned that if it happens too fast, they really are not prepared to form political parties, to mount campaigns. That leaves the remnants of the NDP [National Democratic Party] and the Brotherhood, the best organized in the rural areas.

I don't know that anybody knows what the solution to that problem is. Everybody knows it's a problem. Part of the solution is knowing that it's a problem. You don't solve a problem you don't know you have. Everybody in Egypt, and many people in Tunisia, are well aware of that challenge.

QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.

If there's one take-away I have from this, it is that we have to do a fair amount of dithering before we get this right. So let me dither about China.

China is very active in Africa. It has a paradigm for development which is somewhat different from the Western countries. Do you think China can play a role in Middle East revival, what do you think that role might be, and could they do so in a way that would coordinate with that of the Western democracies, or is there apt to be some serious competition?

LISA ANDERSON: One of the great satisfactions to the Egypt chauvinists was the extent to which the Chinese blocked the websites that were reporting what was happening in Egypt, presumably because they did not want Chinese citizens who wanted to demand dignity to be inspired by this. I don't think that the Chinese are going to be coordinating with anybody in helping enhance the power and prospects of these revolutionary movements.

In some respects, they are very likely to stay out and stay back, in part because of this issue of contagion, until they have a much better sense of what—the Chinese in my view are deeply committed to stability. Therefore, when they see instability, they are likely not to go there for a while until things settle out a little bit.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Lisa, I have a last question, and I want to ask about AUC, and I want to ask about how the uprisings will affect what you do. Presumably, you had an inaugural address ready to give. I believe the date was February 7th.

LISA ANDERSON: It was, yes.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I would like to see a copy of that. I'm sure it was written. But I'd like to know what your ideas were and how they might change when you actually have the opportunity to deliver the address.

LISA ANDERSON: Thank you very much.

It was about 45 minutes long, so I don't think I'll do it now.

But actually, from our vantage point the opportunities afforded by the change in the political circumstances in Egypt are spectacular. We are an institution deeply, deeply devoted and committed for 90 years to liberal arts education, to the idea of critical thinking, independent-mindedness, debate, and discourse. Hence, in some respects, the disproportionate appearance of AUC affiliates in the protests themselves and in the subsequent debates.

The University is very well represented, and it is a becoming statement about what we have meant in Egypt for all of these years that the people are now coming in droves to all of the public programming we are doing on how do you set up an electoral system, what's a political party, how do you campaign in rural areas.

We're bringing all sorts of people from Latin America, from Europe, from everywhere. As a political scientist, the idea that people are really interested in what's the difference between a single-member district and a list system, I couldn't be happier.

But it's true, everybody is interested in this now, and they're interested in the technical issues. We are just running programming 24 hours a day.

It reminds all of us of what Oscar Wilde said about socialism: It takes up too many evenings.

There are opportunities like that that we just feel we have to seize.

I'll give you one quick example of the kind of more sustained influences as an institution we will be able to have.

We have now debates on campus about a new expression policy on campus that is going to be much more open and liberal than we were permitted to be in the past. Once that policy is adopted, which will be in a couple of weeks, then it will represent the gold standard for university life in Egypt as a whole. We intend to have other student unions in other universities debate and adopt comparable kinds of policies. That will happen without us doing anything except what we need to do as our own institution, as our own selves.

Right now we have four of our affiliates—trustees, alumni, staff on leave—in the cabinet. We think that the kinds of things that we do, if we do them well and if we do them right, will have a disproportionate impact. This is one of those moments that the investment of time, energy, and resources will really matter.

So we are very pleased and feel very fortunate to be able to play what we think is going to be a very constructive role in what we call the "new Egypt."

You may also like

JUL 9, 2024 Article

The Rise of Preemptive Bans on Human Microchip Implants

As the impact and influence of chip implants increases in the U.S., it's time to raise ethical and legal questions about this technology.

JUL 2, 2024 Podcast

Cybernetics, Digital Surveillance, & the Role of Unions in Tech Governance, with Elisabet Haugsbø

Senior Fellow Anja Kaspersen speaks with Elisabet Haugsbø, president of tech union Tekna, about her engineering journey, resiliency in the AI era, and much more.

JUN 27, 2024 Podcast

AI, Military Ethics, & Being Alchemists of Meaning, with Heather M. Roff

Senior Fellow Anja Kaspersen and Heather Roff, senior research scientist at the The Center for Naval Analyses, discuss AI systems, military affairs, and much more.

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation