Feb. 01, 2011
Text by Ted Regencia
SKOKIE, Ill — As opposition groups in Egypt prepare to mount a million-person march on Tuesday, two professors of Middle Eastern studies at Oakton Community College’s Skokie campus say the time has come for President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30-year reign.
Egyptian-born Jaleh Sherbini and Middle East political analyst Ribhi I. Salhi said given the current political atmosphere, quitting is Mubarak’s only option. Staying in power, they added, is like “committing suicide.”
“It is time for him [Mubarak] to leave,” said Sherbini, whose family still lives in Cairo. “I would think that he would not only be committing suicide by deciding to stay. He has reached a point where no matter what he does, people are not willing to accept him anymore.”
“The heat is on, and the house is burning,” noted Salhi, a graduate of the University of Jordan and an expert on Muslim societies and cultures. “Mubarak has to understand that the time is up. I think in a couple of days, Mubarak is going to give up the ball.”
Issues driving protests
In separate interviews, Sherbini and Salhi said the lack of freedom, the widening gap between the rich and the poor as well as the crippling unemployment led to Mubarak’s precipitous downfall.
“It has reached a boiling point,” said Sherbini. “It keeps boiling and boiling, and then eventually the lid is going to explode.”
Having visited Egypt in December, Sherbini said she witnessed the worsening problem firsthand. The longtime Chicago-area resident graduated from the American University in Cairo. Along with her husband, she moved to the U.S. in 1985 and eventually started a family in the Chicago area [Note: Not Skokie as earlier reported].
Sherbini said her family was safe in Cairo. She managed to reach them through a regular phone line because Internet and cell phone access had been cut off.
Both political observers say the Egyptian military is crucial in persuading Mubarak to step down through a “peaceful transition of power” and in preventing the eruption of severe violence. They also agreed the military remains a highly respected institution in the Egyptian society.
“Mubarak himself came up from the military, and the military has been loyal to the president for the last 30 years,” Salhi said, adding a lot would be at stake for the military if Mubarak left.
So far, the military has refrained from using extreme force to quell the demonstrations. Salhi warned that any move by the military to “crush the protest” would only ignite more violence.
The protests began Jan. 25, almost a month after demonstrations led to the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia for 23 years.
“I am in favor with regime change in Egypt, but I am not in favor to see violence,” said Salhi, who was born in Jerusalem and became an exile as a child in Jordan following the establishment of Israel.
In response to the massive protests in major Egyptian cities such as Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, Mubarak for the first time of his 30-year rule appointed a vice president, Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief and military general. Mubarak also dissolved and named a new cabinet.
But that may not be even enough to satisfy angry Egyptians, who want nothing less than to oust Mubarak, Sherbini said.
“Why now?” she asked. “Is this his way of maybe leaving the scene slowly, but saving face at the same time? Or is this just another political move to save himself?”
Ouster is top demand
“The top of the demands is Mubarak. The people still will say, ‘We’ll talk about the demands later. Just get Mubarak out of the way,’ ” Sherbini said. Still she insisted “it is not a chaotic situation as the media has portrayed.”
Meanwhile, Sherbini said many Egyptians are “disappointed” in President Obama’s response to the crisis.
“You ask the average person on the street, and he’s gonna tell you, ‘I’m really disappointed,’ ” Sherbini said, citing phone conversations she had with regular Egyptians. “They are not seeing him [Obama] saying anything to give them hope.”
Salhi notes the Obama administration is treading carefully, because of the international and economic ramifications of the situation, including a spike in oil prices.
Salhi, whose father studied in Cairo in the 1950s, said the U.S. was putting too much stock on Mubarak’s possible departure from power. He said a new generation of political leaders would emerge through democratic means.
“Egypt has been known throughout Arab history and Islamic civilization [as] a nation that produces scholars, leaders, moderate people, strong regimes and a man for peace and stability,” he said. “This is a chance for Egypt now, and lots of good things can happen in a good way.”