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The regime’s strange spin

Writing on another anti-authoritarian revolution which took place three decades ago, historian Timothy Garton Ash described the fundamental philosophy of activism espoused by Polish writer and opposition leader Adam Michnik: "Behave here and now as if you lived in a free country." It was only by moderating your behavior to fit the political reality of ...

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Writing on another anti-authoritarian revolution which took place three decades ago, historian Timothy Garton Ash described the fundamental philosophy of activism espoused by Polish writer and opposition leader Adam Michnik: "Behave here and now as if you lived in a free country." It was only by moderating your behavior to fit the political reality of dictatorship, Michnik and his Solidarity cohorts believed, that you legitimated its authority. 

In a perverse twist on this idea, the statements coming out of the Egyptian regime in the past few hours seem predicated on the notion that Egypt is a democratic country bound by the rule of law. 

In his speech, Mubarak referred to his "responsibility to protect the Constitution and the rights of people until power is transferred to whomever the people choose during September, the upcoming September, and free and impartial elections that will be safeguarded by the freedom — the call for freedom." He also guaranteed the "supervision of the upcoming elections to make sure it will be conducted in a free manner" — as if his regime had had nothing to do with the fact that previous elections had not been conducted in such a manner. 

He went into specific detail on proposed amendments to the Egyptian Constitution, as if the country hasn’t operated for three decades under an emergency law that allows that constitution to be suspended in the name of national security. 

Speaking on CNN just now, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, argued bizarrely that "President Mubarak has transferred the powers of the presidency to his vice president, who will now undertake all authority as president," despite the fact that Mubarak seems to have no intention of leaving office.

Again, the idea of Mubarak remaining president in name only while all authority is transferred to Suleiman makes some sense if you buy the notion that governing authority in Egypt is constitutionally proscribed and that Suleiman is an independent political actor rather than a loyal confidant of the president since their army service. As long as Mubarak is in the government, who has the "authority as president" is a technicality. (Somewhere, Dmitry Medvedev is chuckling right now.)

Unlike the system Michnik sought to overthrow, it is now the regime that is pretending it operates in a free country, using the democratic trappings of elections and constitutional amendments. Judging for the reaction in Tahrir Square tonight, the people of Egypt don’t seem to be buying the idea.  

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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