If Hosni Mubarak at the height of his power were to have said, “I promise to confront chaos and restore stability,” it would signaled a wave of arrests, beatings, killings and whatever else was deemed necessary to quash dissent.
Mr. Mubarak didn’t utter those words, at least not this week. He’s said to be quite ill and is expected to spend whatever life he has left in prison, the result of a trial that was only slightly less rigged than those during his reign.
Rather, those words came from Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister and, most important, one of two remaining candidates to succeed Mr. Mubarak. His words matter because the prospects for stability in Egypt have taken a turn for the worse in recent days.
Mr. Shafik’s promise to “confront chaos and restore stability” came after Egypt’s Supreme Court ordered the country’s first elected parliament in decades dissolved and just days before Egypt’s voters are to choose between him and Mohamed Morsi. Further complicating an increasingly volatile situation is that Mr. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brother-hood, an organization long banned under Mr. Mubarak and that, not coincidentally, is part of the Islamic bloc that controls — or controlled —parliament.
Small wonder, then, that Islamists, liberals and others who joined efforts to oust Mubarak during the Arab Spring smell a coup involving the armed forces, which prefer Mr. Shafik.
“From a democratic perspective, this is the worst possible outcome, said Shadi Hamid, the Brooking Doha Center’s research director. “This is an all-out power grab by the military.”
The military’s success isn’t guaranteed.Yet given Mr. Shafik’s promise, resistance resembling that of last year, when thousands of Egyptians from all walks of life packed Tahrir Square to protest against the Mubarak regime, could easily result in violence.
Egyptians might suffer from protest fatigue and resign themselves to more tyranny. They also, however, might be more dedicated than ever to hold on to the gains they made against autocratic rule and defy edicts banning anti-government gatherings that interfere with traffic and commerce.
The stage is set for another showdown between forces intent on maintaining a cruel and corrupt status quo and a citizenry that might not be certain what it wants but seems certain about what it is unwilling to tolerate any longer