Mubarak exits Egypt

February 11, 2011 1:23:42 PM PST
Hate to take the octopus stance on Egypt - you know, on the hand, but on the other hand - but it's hard to get too excited about the otherwise exciting developments in that country, as President Hosni Mubarak, less than 24 hours after insisting he would not step down, steps down.

Make no mistake, it's exhilarating seeing a country's people - led by the young - forcing a dictator from power and calling for democracy. Exhilarating.

But those Army tanks surrounding Tahrir Square on this Liberation Day at Egypt are worrisome. Sure the military swiveled the guns on the those tanks away from the crowds as a sort of show of support. But when the military's in charge of a country's government - anywhere - few good things can happen. So the jury's out on what happens now in Egypt. So far, the military's making all the right noises. Today the armed forces issued a statement saying it's willing to listen to the people to shape the political future of Egypt. Here's the statement, for you to chew on:

"We all realize the importance of the situation and how dangerous it is. We know that the people's demands are to achieve fundamental changes and we are examining the best ways to achieve these demands in order to fulfill the hopes of our great people. We affirm that there is no other alternative to the legitimacy the people would accept. We salute President Mubarak for all what he did in times of peace as in time of war. We honor the souls of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for freedom."

Sounds great, and there are millions of pro-democracy Egyptians who will embrace that statement and hope the military becomes partners in the movement, not Mubarak with weapons.

Or as my colleague N.J. Burkett - school in international relations - put it, "We interrupt the jubilation in Cairo for a reality check: The future of Egypt is not 'in the hands of the Egyptian people,' as some delirious commentators have declared. It is in the hands of the Egyptian military."

Despite the uncertainty, the excitement is incredible. Mubarak's entire reign of 29 years - was under an emergency rule. A rule that will now be lifted.

But look at those cheering crowds in Liberation Square, and you see ? cheering crowds. Not a government. Not experts capable of applying public policy. Of course there are people who might emerge, but fomenting a revolution isn't the same as governing. Just ask Yasser Arafat - arguably an effective terrorist, inarguably a dreadful governor. It's one thing to arm an underground militia, it's quite enough to build an economy, or make sure the sewers work.

Speaking of terrorists - one of the amazing aspects of the Egyptian revolt is that it was not - with all due respect to those who died, and the numbers vary from 6 to 300 - a particularly violent uprising. And nowhere were there any suicide bombers, or outside takeovers by an Al Qaeda or Taliban. This was an Egyptian uprising. As one protestor told ABC's Terry Moran today, "I used to be ashamed to be Egyptian. Now I am proud."

Which is a good argument against those who worry that Egypt might become another Iran. It was 32 years ago today, as it happens, that supporters of the Ayatollah took control of Iran, and fundamentalist Islam became the rule. It's unlikely there will be a similar fundie takeover in Egypt.

Will Egypt be more like the Philippines, where Pres. Marcos was overthrown and replaced by a military - temporarily - until free elections could be held?

We'll see.

So now comes the hard work. As Pres. Obama said this afternoon, the political process in Egypt has to embrace a big-tent philosophy. A democratic Egypt, he said, will be an example for the rest of the world.

As for Hosni Mubarak, he has fled, if that's the right word, to the beautiful Egyptian seaside city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The fortune he amassed during his three decades of rule - estimated at up to $70 billion - has been frozen, and he sits now without those funds.

I can't imagine many are weeping.

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Dolan is in the middle of the celebration/revolt for us tonight at 11. With all the excitement - and work to be done - around him, he emailed me this today: "What a great day to be a reporter in Cairo. You would love this, man. What a remarkable day."

One more note about Pres. Obama's role in all this. No question his statement last night, criticizing Mubarak for not changing his government and, implicitly, for not stepping down, was powerful. But as President, Mr. Obama has not been much of a pressure point on Egypt. In fact, notes the Washington Post, the President was "far more quiet" on Egypt's political reform efforts - or lack thereof - than the Bush administration. That includes cutting spending on Egypt's pro-democracy programs by 70%.

Also at 11 tonight, we take a closer look at New York State's desperate ways to raise money and close a slice of the enormous budget gap. The state has been raising money by auctioning off cars and office furniture and equipment. But the big money is in real estate. Would take an awful lot of desk chairs to bring in the bucks just one building would.

And that's the wrinkle. An Eyewitness News investigation has discovered that the state has stopped its property auctions in part because the state has yet to inventory hundreds of empty buildings that it owns - buildings that could be worth billions. Our investigative reporter Jim Hoffer has the story.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, after a special 2-hour edition of 20/20.


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