As the uprising in Egypt enters day 14, its momentum appears to be in question. The crowds in Tahrir Square are dwindling, and stores and banks are re-opening. In short, life is slowly returning to normal. On the political front, the opposition leaders are facing an uphill battle against a regime that still has many tricks up its sleeve.
Yesterday's reports that Omar Suleiman, long time intelligence chief and now vice president (and by some accounts, de facto president), granted the opposition key concessions need to be approached with scepticism. Suleiman appeared to make all kinds of concessions - cancelling the emergency law that has been in place since 1981, promising a committee to recommend constitutional changes within the next two months, as well as promising more freedom of the press in the future. Lots of vague indications of a regime willing to mildly reform, but hardly any binding specifics that will satisfy the grass roots opposition demands.
Despite the unprecedented events of the last two weeks, real change in Egypt very much faces an uphill battle. The NDP may appear to be crumbling publicly, but I am not convinced that it is a force that is simply going to wither away. The ruling party in Egypt is not an abstract force that has stayed above the fray, it is (or used to be, at least) a powerful corporate entity with deep pockets and tentacles that reach into all aspects of Egyptian society. Extricating it will not be an easy task. The organized goons sent into Tahrir Square on camels and horses armed with clubs, whips and swords to terrorize protesters is a good indication of just how far those with entrenched interests in the survival of the regime are willing to go.
Is Mubarak really the issue anymore? Protesters still demand that he leave the country, and the opposition leaders are making the start of constitutional negotiations conditional on Mubarak officially abdicating. And by the way, constitutional negotiations - if they ever occur - will undoubtedly be painfully thorny. It is a monumental task to write up founding documents that reflect an accurate balance of power amongst Egypt's fragmented political groups. For those interested in a more detailed discussion of this issue, check out this piece by Nathan J. Browne.
Though the demonstrations seem to have changed Egyptian politics forever, much more work remains to be done in order to institutionalize the opposition's demands. The regime has made it clear it is not going to roll over. Rather, it has given every indication that despite these unprecedented acts of revolt, it is still relunctant to cede any real power to the opposition. In this sense, the divided opposition leaders have their work cut out for them.