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Mubarak resignation gives Egypt reason to be ‘cautiously optimistic’

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KINGSTON, R.I. – Feb. 11, 2011 – With the world stunned by the news that Egyptian President Honsi Mubarak stepped down Friday, University of Rhode Island Assistant Professor of Political Science Kristin Johnson said there is reason to be “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the country.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak was stepping down and handing over power to the country’s military. The announcement ended Mubarak’s 30-year reign and led to thousands of Egyptian citizens celebrating in the streets.

While any political transition of this magnitude is hard to predict, Johnson – who teaches international political economy, comparative politics and civil conflict – said today’s announcement offers hope for the Egyptian citizens.

“Obviously it is too soon to know for sure, but I am cautiously optimistic that this is a victory for the realization of self-determination and human rights for the people of Egypt,” Johnson said.

Because of the structure of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces - Egypt’s military – there is a trust factor for the citizens that doesn’t exist in all countries, she said.

“We often suspect controlling military regimes to be of a nefarious nature, but in Egypt the military is seen a bit differently,” Johnson said. “Because all citizens must serve in the military there, there is a connection to the people. The military is viewed with a sense of legitimacy, and that is only heightened here when the military comes down on the side of the people.”

While the mood is positive today, it will take time to understand the long-term impact on Egypt, and the rest of the world.

“When you have a dictator for 30 years, there are going to be few institutions that are competent enough and able to institute the necessary groundwork for sustained stability,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity, but there is no way of knowing yet what will come of it. New democracy does not have a good track record of survival. The evolution and transition process will need to be well thought out moving forward.”

Johnson cited Bolivia as an example where the military was able to step in and establish democratic stability. However, the situation in Iraq was far less successful.

“Structure is vital in any transition,” Johnson said. “You may not necessarily like the structure, but it is good to have structure. Without structure, you are left with chaos.”

Egypt’s international relationships are in a state of flux now as well, and will need to be watched closely. The key spots most people will pay attention to will be Israel and the Suez Canal, but Johnson said another area of the world paying particularly close attention is Northern Sudan.

“The prior administration of Egypt had been quietly very supportive of the Northern Sudanese government,” Johnson said. “The changes today don’t necessarily mean that will change, but you can bet they are watching closely. Northern Sudan has not exactly been known for human rights, so that’s a situation that bears watching. The geopolitical location of Egypt and the resulting impact will be very interesting.”