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Hearing of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt, Part II

Hearing

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Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, today delivered the following opening statement during the panel's hearing entitled "Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt, Part II."

"I want to start by thanking and commending all of our witnesses for appearing today and trying to help us understand what is happening in Egypt and what it means for the United States and our national security. If making predictions is a sucker's game, then making predictions about Egypt must be a sport for madmen, degenerate gamblers and otherwise distinguished, sane and expert congressional witnesses.

Every prediction about the Egyptian revolution, except for change, followed by uncertainty, and capped off by the unexpected, has failed. The path of the Egyptian revolution began after all, not with Hosni Mubarak's expected death, but with that of a frustrated fruit-peddler in Tunisia. President Mubarak was removed from power not by the masses but ultimately, by his own fellow generals. And the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, having seized power, have shown themselves alternately painfully hesitant and spastically aggressive in their rule.

What could not happen, did. What no one expected, now seems obvious. And what will finally come to be, is not much clearer today than it was a year ago.

One of our nation's greatest writers, William Faulkner, who chronicled the way the American South continued, decades later, to be shaped and gripped by the trauma of our Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, offered a brief but compelling warning to all those who expect to move swiftly and cleanly from one period to another: "The past," Faulkner wrote "is never dead. It's not even past."

The many twists and turns of Egypt's post-Revolution transition accord with this idea, because with the notable exception of Hosni Mubarak, the people contending for power in Egypt today are, by and large, the same people they were on January 24, 2011. Their outlook, goals, prejudices and experiences did not disappear or transform when Hosni Mubarak's ceased to be president.

In this revolution, as in every revolution, it is power--who will have it, what limits there will be upon it, and upon whom and for what ends, it can be applied--that is the object of the current struggle.

There is only one prediction that I heard that has held up. I heard it from one of the key actors in the present drama. About a year ago, at a private dinner, this top-shelf player was being questioned aggressively about the prospects for the then-upcoming parliamentary elections and what it would mean if the Muslim Brotherhood won. Again and again, with almost impossible politeness, he deflected the question. Their victory, he asserted, was very unlikely, really, almost inconceivable. But the questioning continued without respite. What would happen if they did win? How can you be sure? What if you're wrong? What if they have more strength than you think? After ducking and dodging throughout the meal and with dessert departing untouched and no relief in sight, he finally retreated with some anger to the bottom line:

"The Muslim Brotherhood will never come to power!" he said.

This statement wasn't a prediction or a pledge for our benefit. It was the expression of a commitment that was as much a part of this man as the marrow in his bones.

Subsequently, I've come to know him better. He's a man of his word. What he promises, he delivers.

In the wake of the Supreme Constitutional Court's action against the parliament and in favor of the candidacy of the former prime minister, following the outcome of the presidential election vote and in the shadow of the newly SCAF-issued amendments to the Constitutional Declaration, the question I wish had been pressed upon him is, once the Muslim Brotherhood is blocked from taking power, then what?

I suspect his answer, would be something along the lines of saying "The Nile will continue to flow."

We'll see."


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