Friday, February 11, 2011

The Morning After

After 18 days of protests Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak finally resigned. And most network news carried stories of jubilant Egyptians rejoicing over the change. But the real question now is this: What has really changed? When everyone wakes up tomorrow morning, what will be different?

The economy has worsened. In 2008 12% of the Egypt's workforce was employed in tourism. That year 12.8 million tourists visited the country and spent $11 billion. Because of the recent unrest thousands of tour groups have already canceled trips. And groups currently planning tours for next year are not considering Egypt as a destination. Tourism will eventually bounce back, but for the next year or two those dependent on tourism will be hurt by the decline. And its impact will ripple throughout the economy.

The army is still in control. What happened today was a military coup. The army forced Mubarak from office and disbanded the government. While they have promised free and fair elections, no specific date has been set. The face at the top may have changed, but control of the government still rests with the military, as it did when Mubarak was President.

The influence of the United States in the Middle East has declined. Reports have already surfaced that Saudi Arabia is furious with the United States for having abandoned our long-time ally. The United States turned its back on Mubarak, and official statements from Washington left little doubt we wanted him out. The unintended consequence is that we also sent a message to other allies that we might do the same thing to them. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan have taken risks by aligning themselves with the United States. I suspect both will begin exploring other options to meet their long-term security needs.

So what happens next? Frankly, nobody knows for sure. Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamic fundamentalist groups want elections as soon as possible. They have an opportunity to gain power and influence in Egypt, and they want to seize that opportunity as quickly as possible. The army wants to maintain the status quo. Some things will be different, but the army would like to remain the stabilizing force controlling the government. This might very well happen...unless the United States pushes them to move quickly toward elections. And as for those who pushed for change? They will eventually discover that the overthrow of Mubarak will not magically create jobs...or put food on the table...or bring about personal freedom. When this happens, disappointment and anger may replace the euphoria we are seeing now.

The media will eventually shift their focus from events in Egypt, but the story isn't over.

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