After holding the Egyptian presidency for 30 years, Hosni Mubarak knows a thing or two about maintaining power and is showing no signs of letting his reign lapse quietly. In other words, do not hold your breath for the collapse of this regime, which will require organizers to adopt new strategies of engaging critical audiences.
The ongoing unrest in Egypt is the gravest challenge to Mubarak's authority during his three-decade rule, but what seemed like an inevitable resignation last week is taking the shape of a pipe dream going into the third week of demonstrations. As if to underscore Mubarak's lack of urgency, the Obama administration is alligning itself with Mubarak's newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, who is overseeing the proposed transition. "But U.S. officials privately acknowledged that there is no guarantee that Suleiman, a former intelligence chief closely aligned with the military, is committed to substantial reforms," reports the Los Angeles Times.
In the short term, Mubarak appears to be making the smallest gestures possible in order to peel supporters away from anti-regime organizers. He shuffled his cabinet and appointed Egypt's first vice president in 30 years. He announced a 15 percent raise for government workers. He promised a September election for the presidency in which neither he nor his son will run. He just set up a committee of judges and scholars to recommend constitutional changes, and a second committee to monitor the first committee's progress.
While his strategy for maintaining authority past September remains unclear, it will likely follow the recipe guiding his short-term decisions: one teaspoon negotiations with protesters; two cups of apparent concessions with no specifics and loose timelines; mix in occasional, violent crackdowns; let sit until authority recalcifies. Although Mubarak's promise not to run for president seems likely to prevent him from doing so, it does not necessarily signal the end of his rule. Rather, Mubarak may pull a Putin, planting a friendly tukas in the president's seat and either maintaining unofficial ties or creating a new post from which he exercises some degree of control.
In the face of such persistence and patience, anti-regime organizers must adapt their strategies to maintain momentum as protesters begin returning to work (or whatever occupies the 12-plus percent of Egyptians estimated to be unemployed). "Join us in Tahrir Square" is an ask that already seems to be waning in effectiveness, as traffic once again chokes the streets of Cairo this week.
Organizers have two audiences for whom the show must go on. Most important, a critical mass of Egyptians must remain on board with organizers' demands for Mubarak's resignation. This is going to require an organizing strategy that keeps the heat on Mubarak through continued demonstrations of disapproval, but also one that permits the Egyptian economy to recommence providing Egyptians work, medicine, and food. Mubarak's critics must also continue organizing with an eye towards Western audiences. Protest signs in English have effectively communicated organizers' single-issue platform to the West -- no more Mubarak -- but continuing to engage Western media that already risk over-saturation on the topic of Egyptian unrest will require fresh events, faces, and mediums employed by anti-Mubarak demonstrators.