At this point, we simply don’t know what will happen. We do know what has happened. Mubarak is out of office, the military regime remains intact and it is stronger than ever. This is not surprising, given what STRATFOR has said about recent events in Egypt, but the reality of what has happened in the last 72 hours and the interpretation that much of the world has placed on it are startlingly different [bold mine-DL]. Power rests with the regime, not with the crowds. In our view, the crowds never had nearly as much power as many have claimed.
Certainly, there was a large crowd concentrated in a square in Cairo, and there were demonstrations in other cities. But the crowd was limited. It never got to be more than 300,000 people or so in Tahrir Square, and while that’s a lot of people, it is nothing like the crowds that turned out during the 1989 risings in Eastern Europe or the 1979 revolution in Iran. Those were massive social convulsions in which millions came out onto the streets. The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city. ~George Friedman
Friedman’s assessment makes sense, and it is in line with part of what I have been trying to say for at least two weeks. It is not immediately obvious that “the people of Egypt” approve of what has happened, and it certainly isn’t true that “the people” caused Mubarak’s fall. A large, dedicated group of protesters centered mainly in Cairo contributed to this. As Friedman bluntly puts it:
But then, it is not clear that the demonstrators in the square represent the wishes of 80 million Egyptians. For all the chatter about the Egyptian people demanding democracy, the fact is that hardly anyone participated in the demonstrations, relative to the number of Egyptians there are…
That suggests that the support for “the revolution” to which protest leaders refer may be fairly narrow so far.
There is a tendency to focus on personalities and individuals in foreign policy debates. Critics of the Iranian government are always eager to identify the regime with Ahmadinejad, but this often obscures more than it reveals. Likewise, a lot of people treated Mubarak’s fate and the regime’s fate as the same thing. It could turn out to be the same thing, but that is not at all certain right now. Friedman writes:
There is a critical distinction between the regime and Hosni Mubarak. The regime consisted — and consists — of complex institutions centered on the military but also including the civilian bureaucracy controlled by the military.
One of the reasons that a lot of Westerners have consistently overestimated the strength and significance of “people power” movements is that they have paid too much attention to changes in personnel and not nearly enough attention to the regime’s structures and institutions and the lack of established democratic institutions.