Here are two quick lessons to be drawn from the events of January in the Middle East.
1. Gamal is gone: Gamal Mubarak, once almost universally regarded as Egypt’s next president, will not attain that position. The continuing demonstrations against the Mubarak regime, the complaints about thirty years of Mubarak rule, make it impossible that the son should succeed the father. Efforts to cram him into that position would give rise to public discontent far greater than we are seeing already. The succession in Egypt is wide open now.
2. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not central: Arab affairs reflect the internal crises of Arab countries and regimes and are not built around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What has been happening in Tunisia and Egypt is about Tunisia and Egypt. Same for the crisis in Lebanon, recent rioting in Jordan, and other key issues throughout the Arab world (stasis in Algeria, succession in Saudi Arabia, and so on). What unites these events is their relationship to the democracy deficit and to internal social and economic problems, not to Israel.
January will not end without one more Friday, the day when large crowds gather at mosques in Egypt as throughout the Muslim world. So far the demonstrators in Egypt have appeared to be largely secular and often young. If Thursday and then Friday pass without additional large demonstrations, the regime will have staved off the immediate challenge. But if crowds emerge from Friday prayers and take to the streets, the regime could be in real trouble. No one knows that better than President Mubarak and his security chiefs, so they will be out in even greater force than we’ve yet seen. Friday will be a fateful day.