Adrian Hamilton: Egypt's generals will soon hear the final whistle

World view
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the British tend to believe in the cock-up theory of history, in the Middle East it's the opposite. Barely had the first casualty been recorded in the Port Said football riot on Wednesday night than the airwaves were filled with the suggestion that the whole disaster had been encouraged, if not actually orchestrated, by the military government.

Being British, I still prefer the view that it was a spontaneous outburst of fan fury that got out of hand. But in Egypt at the moment, you can't take the politics out of sport, particularly one so prone to violence as football.

The fans being attacked on this occasion were the visiting al-Ahly supporters, the so-called "ultras", notorious for their participation in the Tahrir Square demonstrations against the government and their willingness to take on the police.

Implicated or not – and there's no doubt the police and military were not unhappy at seeing al-Ahly being given a good drubbing off the pitch as on it – the blame is being placed firmly on the authorities rather than the Port Said fans. And that perception is, in its way, more important than the facts of the case.

Over events in Egypt, as in Syria, the West still holds to the view that movements for freedom should be civilised affairs, in which the voice of the "people" overwhelms the forces of tyranny and finds a stable expression in democratic votes.

Hence the efforts still being made, despite everything, to find some form of consensual outcome to the gathering civil war in Syria. The Arab League, as much as the West through the UN, still talks of a diplomatic outcome in which President Assad can somehow be persuaded voluntarily to give up power, and a new government of all parties be brought into being.

In the same way, diplomats and the politicians still hope that the generals in Egypt will see it in their interests to give up their privileges and promote a gradual but sure transition to democracy. And, if this does not seem to be happening, then you hear a reverse pessimism about it all: that true democracy can't be achieved and that the only victors will be the religious right.

This is simply to misread the situation. Revolutions are about power and the transfer of it. This never happens easily, as Americans as well as Europeans should know. In the Middle East, the transfer is made all the more confused because the uprising came from mass movements without organisation or unity.

What we are seeing at the moment in Egypt and Syria is a precarious balance between the desire of most people, or at least the most vocal people, who want change to a freer system, and the equal wish of the majority for security for fear of the chaos that ensues from change.

Minorities such as the Copts, Armenians, Alouites and Shia have good reason to fear the worst from majority rule. But then so do traders and shopkeepers have cause to dread a collapse in order, even if they've enjoyed precious little from the rule of law.

In the end, President Assad will go, as will the military rulers of Egypt. It's too late for the kind of compromises that diplomats in the UN keep talking about. Their rule will end because these are internal struggles in which neither the soldiery nor the public is willing to accept the progressive butchery of its own people. The harder the crackdown, the greater the desertions. They will also go because there will be no outside intervention to save them. Even Russia does not see in its interests, or capability, to step in directly to rescue the Alouite regime in Syria, while the US, for all its history, doesn't see a future in military rule in Egypt.

Britain and France proclaimed Libya a triumph of intervention. The reality is that it has put off anyone deploying the military again. It's a new game and still without rules.

Don't write off the chances of the eurozone's survival just yet

Economists may be writing off the chances of the eurozone's survival, but that is not how the politicians seem to be viewing it at the moment. If anything, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel emerged from the surprisingly low-key summit this week full of confidence that their plan to save the euro was working.

The reason is not hard to find. The move by the European Central Bank to buy up medium-term commercial bank debt at will has propped up the European banking system and, with it, held back the worst of deteriorating terms for sovereign debt.

Of course, that leaves all the hard question s about Greek default and Italian and Spanish collapse unanswered. The rocky road to the true fiscal union so desired by the German is only at its very beginning. German dominance is hardly what most Europeans want. Indeed, it would be totally undemocratic if the 25 members of the new treaty were to give up as much sovereignty as the Bundesbank wants.

But the ECB has bought time and, with it, a new mood. It may not endure in the face of the harsh practicalities of the financial market, but it does allow France and Germany, even with British support, to do things such as extending the remit of the ECB – something they could never have countenanced as recently as a month ago.

Europe has muddled along before and may yet do so again.