World watches history unfold in Egypt

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February 11th, 2011

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Egypt erupted into wild celebrations, after long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power Friday, February 11, 2011.(Photo courtesy Al Jazeera)

Omaha, NE – As the dictatorship rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak falls, the world looks to the future of that most populous Arab nation. Robyn Wisch spoke with a local expert about how the uprising may impact the region and the United States.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced to the world that Mubarak had stepped down on national television, just before nightfall in Egypt. And around the country, celebrations erupted.

“It’s jubilation, it’s a relief. It’s clearly a historic day.”

Moshe Gershovich is a Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the director of UNO’s Middle East Project Fund. “It’s a day we’ve anticipated for the past two weeks,” he said, “and it signals in many ways the beginning of something new. What the something new is still remains unclear.”

Gershovich hosted a panel discussion at UNO Thursday night, which he said was well attended, as the unrest in Egypt dominated the news. There was a wide spectrum of questions and concerns raised, he said, as the panel attempted to sort through the unfolding events and what they might mean for the Middle East, relations with Israel and the United States.

“Many of the answers to what will happen next is with the military.” The military has been a powerful presence in the country, and has now assumed control.

Gershovich said right now, the military and demonstrators appear to be in sync. “But we do need to remember that the military, and especially the senior officer corps… until two weeks ago were loyal supporters of Mubarak, and many remain.”

“They also have vested interests,” he said. They have “significant economic and other vested interests in preserving as much as they can of the current system.”

If the senior military leadership does order a crack down on demonstrators or protection of the current regime, it’s unclear whether their orders would be carried out. Gershovich said the younger generation of soldiers was largely trained in the United States and supports the pro-democracy cause. Ultimately, it will come down to what the young generation, which has led this revolution, will allow.

Thirty years ago in Iran, Gershovich says, young, educated revolutionaries gave way to the Islamic Republic, which has ruled as an anti-Western dictatorship ever since. And in Egypt, there’s a significant presence of Islamic extremism in the Muslim Brotherhood.

“This may be the easy part. The tough part is still ahead. And as things are still unfolding, it’s too early to predict anything.”

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