Egypt: Tipping point or business as usual?

Mohamed el-Bareidi

Egypt’s turmoil prompts questions about the outcomes of this week’s demonstrations. There has been speculation about irreversible change, or business as usual. One possibility is it that it may be both


The post was written originally at the start of the monumentous few weeks which eventually saw the departure of President Mubarak.

The original post follows:

One of the frustrations of theories of change is their frailty as predictive aids. History at best gives a cloudy view of what will happen and particularly when.

In the relatively simple circumstances of boardroom battles, it may just be possible to identify a few promising scenarios. But tipping points, however popular a business school concept, and however well-promoted by management gurus, are much easier to recognise in hindsight. In global political events involving the replacement of a national leader a perceived critical incident may be not much of a predictor.

The BBC identified three scenarios

The BBC has covered the uprising thoroughly. The Mubarak regime is regarded as an essential ally to American and Israeli interests. The army is considered as having more popular credibility with a reputation of avoiding direct action against the populance. The police less so. Nobel prize-winner Al-Bareidi [image above] has stepped forward as a realistic leader in waiting.

The BBC analysis has suggested three possible scenarios:
[1] Mubarak Quits: The escalating demonstrations show that “[many people] clearly want Hosni Mubarak to give up the presidency immediately. The most common demand, shouted and painted on banners, is the Arabic word irhal, meaning simply go.”
[2] Hosni Mubarak may attempt to stay (business as usual): He draws on the support of the police in its various guises. The army is signalling it would play a relatively neutral role.
[3] There is an ‘orderly’ transition to a more open society, free elections, regularly appointed political leaders

Tipping points and domino theories

Political strategists have found comfort in making sense of complex issues as being resolved by critical incidents. President Bush found the nine-eleven attacks such a defining incident clarifying his enemies. In hindsight it was all a bit more complicated. Yet tipping points and moments of destiny can seize the imagination. There is comfort in believing the future is clear. It is sometimes accompanied by a belief in the so-called domino theory in which loss of one strategic stronghold produces a sequence of losses. The concept is paralleled with the old story “for want of a shoe a horse was lost .. for want of a horse a battle was lost”. There has been such stories constructed over the last weeks: First Tunisia, next Egypt, (next the neighbouring states as if the revolutionary forces were spreading geographically like a plague, that other apocalyptic horseman

What will happen in Egypt?

Consider the events over the last few years globally. In Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe continues to resist attempts to ensure “fair and free elections”. In Iran, the “revolution through social media” has been halted. In Burma, the release of Aung san suu kyi may have been a Mandela moment, but the progress along the road to political freedom seems as long as ever.

What will happen in Egypt? Tipping points may have symbolic power, but more material factors and multiple stakeholders will make each sequence of political events distinct and with its unique set of circumstances. And yet there is also a sense of history repeating itself in nuanced form. There was a Mandela moment in South Africa. The Berlin Wall did crumble rapidly and literally. Mr Mubarak’s options are increasingly limited, but still not completely defined by forces outside his control. He does not yet have to resign his game of life and death chess.

If only because of his age, he will depart, perhaps earlier than he expected a month or so ago. Even then, it is not so clear that Mr Al-bereidi will be a tipping point in the processes of bringing about democratic change. The outcome may be more ‘business as usual’ of a time period longer than the protesters must be hoping for.

4 Responses to Egypt: Tipping point or business as usual?

  1. Hameed says:

    The map reading and testing weren’t accurate enough and neglected some important forces which ended up driving the final picture.
    reading what happened in IRAN, BURMA and ZIMBABWE and base on it predection of what will happen in Egypt wasn’t necessarly the right approach to make (predict) a map, because of ignoring some important forces were absent in those three countries.
    one of those neglected forces was absent of police force in Egypt ( and its existing in Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma) which prevented Mubarak to take over of control turmoil and protesters. Another neglected force in Egypt case was the ultimate support of media all over the globe on air, for 24 hours, spontenoues reflection and feedback from protesters on spot at site, which again was absent in Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe cases.
    one more neglected force was the leadership style of protesters it used an old new leadership style which swarm style, where it is leaderless “no speaker, no boss, no general, no boss, no leader” every one is equal, every on has the right to think and talk freely, real communication can only take place effectively between equals, secrecy breeds corruption and abuses of power. If you looked to Tahrir square it was like a great swarm, every one do as the one next to him/her doing, say as the nextone saying, singing as the next one sing…etc. the event as a whole was not predicted, it has a great impact and affect not only in Egypt but all over the globe, couldn’t be expalined while it is happening, only after it happned it is an excellent example of black swan.

  2. Tudor says:

    Hameed makes some interesting points. I wonder how they might be applied to the current circumstances in The Yemend, and Algeria?

    My own idea of map-testing is that its application is always provisional,perhaps equiring attention to possible dilemmas,and open to further testing (just like scientific hypothesizing).

  3. Hameed says:

    Well Tudor, many thanks for the feedback although I believe more time spent in reading and giving enough attention to read the map, more accurate map will be tested and most likely will lead to better and accurate map making, however let’s together apply this in reading and testing maps of Algeria and Yemen in lieu of Tunisia and Egypt maps.
    Let’s agree first to base our map reading and testing on analyzing magnitude and directions of different forces to get the resulted force magnitude and direction.

    In lieu of Tunisia and Egypt maps, the yield point “ a point after which the material never gets back to its original shape and properties” after which the regime couldn’t withstand forces anymore and breakdown, was reached in both maps when army forces involvement, however to transform a regime you should apply and plan all you forces magnitudes and directions to get resultant force which is army involvement to reach the yield point and make the required change as what happened in Tunisia and Egypt.

    All right now we know our resultant force magnitude and directions, well let’s then analyze different forces in Yemen and Algeria and see will it lead to required resultant force or what?

    1- Police forces- supported by all regime power tools- will oppose by ALL MEANS any demonstrations of protesters, the magnitude of this force is significant and the directions is against protesters “change”.
    2- Protesters forces –MEDIA, civilization and human rights organizations and on top of that number of people-

    , then analyze forces to get forces which drove the change in Egypt to happen “that fast” are not necessarily exist with the same strength in both yemen and Algeria.
    1- Peacful demonstrations was one of the main strengths of the Egyptians demonstrations, Although there are some protesters tended to use the power and wipons – which they are known with- against the police forces, but the majority was mature enough and powerful enough to prevent it happening, and keep the excellent image reflected to the world, from the other hand side Wipons are spreaded all over yemen and using it is a usual thing of yemenies life, in Algeria people trends known to be aggrissive, which again will lead to violence , here is an important aspects the protesters in both countries has to strongly consider.

    2- After what happened in Tunisia and Egypt the government are well prepared and will never be surprised, no more black swans on the road, as it is clear now what is going to happen, again the protester will have to inovate and create surprises to police forces who are well prepared emotionaly and physically to face it.

    3- I strongly believe protesters knew the police force plans and strategies to face such demonstrations, then planned to surprise the police forces as well as the regime

  4. Hameed says:

    I strongly believe in January 2013 most of current Arab leaders will stepdown.

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