The events in Egypt have come as a surprise to most, with even President Obama questioning US intelligence agencies’ failure to predict the uprisings in the Arab world. The drive behind the January 25 revolt is a genuinely popular democratic movement, but its outcome is still unclear. Who are the main players determining events – the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, young protesters, workers, the elite? And how should we characterise what Twitter calls #Jan25 in the absence of obvious leadership of the movement?
The uprising seems also to put paid to the idea that democracy is exclusively Western, and not a universal aspiration. Yet the reaction from Western elites has been ambivalent at best: can Egyptians bring about a ‘stable democracy’? Fears about an Islamist takeover are voiced as much by Westerners as by President Mubarak. What do we make of calls from foreign ministries for an ‘orderly transition’, especially in light of Western powers’ history in the region? What does the revolt mean for the balance of power in the region, and for American hegemony?