Denying evil genius

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The Arabist wrote a pretty good analysis today about the continuing NDP shuffle. I was initially taken in by the idea of the evil genius of the ruling party, but to think that this is some long-term “slow coup” overestimates not only the cognitive but also the predictive powers of those would-be conspirators. Besides the fact that I don’t believe anyone in the NDP could keep a plan like this together and secret for long enough, there are too many moving parts that could not have been predicted. The key trigger that led us to this point was a coup in itself, namely the ability of protesters to assemble sufficient numbers to capture, hold and defeat the security forces. Also, I think we have to consider that just because events might spin such that they work well for the NDP or the US government even (mother of all conspiracies) doesn’t mean they planned it. They don’t deserve the credit unless we or they can prove they earned it.

Now, I can see this as a “short coup” maybe, or a “slowish coup” where the pieces were already in order (e.g. Suleiman’s been floated for a while as a front-runner, particularly as Gamal has grown increasingly loathsome to the citizenry) and when the events of the past days took place this plan came together. Political musical chairs is after all an old game, so we only have to see this as pulling out a few extra seats once the music stopped abruptly last week. Nobody expects such a change of the rules, but they might infer pretty quickly that they still want to have their butt on a chair as quick as possible.

Of course, on the other hand, this isn’t over yet. The protesters, while they may spend most of their time chanting that the people want the fall of the president or the “nizam” (a term which could have a lot of depth to it itself), have almost to the last person a significant and relatively consistent set of structural demands (e.g. constitutional reform, end to the emergency laws, new elections). Also, the mood within Tahrir hasn’t been favorable towards Suleiman or other members of the “new” government. Some of this may perhaps be a bit of optimism – who knows when people finally will decide they’ve gotten enough – but at the same time it’s been an articulated position amongst people.

Ultimately, while I think the Arabist is largely right about this sequence of events and how it plays into the NDP’s hand, there is not only a difficulty but also a danger in reading into the intentions of political actors, giving them credit at times where they may have just found a lucky break, but also it may partially blind us to the on-ground effects of events or, worse yet, continue a habit of thinking that if we only remove the bad seeds then things are all going to come up roses.

As I’m writing this, another NDP resignation from Mostafa el Fikki. So maybe they’re just crumbling and we’ve overestimated their cleverness even more so. Granted that’s still not yet a real concession, but it doesn’t seem that these are the actions of a functioning political party. The battle is far from won, but it seems that the main threats aren’t coming from the party but other state institutions.

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