The Missing Link From the Egyptian Protests

02/02/2011 11:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have come out on the streets and literally paralyzed the Egyptian government. The Egyptian army has stepped in but is not taking any action against the protesters. Police has deserted the roads and squares, running for its dear life after failing to subdue the people. Government thugs have been sent in but they have been unable to tame the brave, and peaceful demonstrators. The embattled president has failed to bottle the public anger and has started seeing the end of his thirty year iron-fist rule. This all looks like the perfect formula for the victory of the public and a revolution that is knocking at the doors. It is not.

Despite the massive protests and glorification of the democracy activists by the western media, a core aspect of sea-change is missing: leadership. Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has emerged as a possible face of the revolution and is widely hailed as the new leader of the post-Hosni Egypt. He, however, has remained aloof from the tenuous struggle for democracy in Egypt. He has started making forays ever since the recent protests erupted but it certainly does not give him the advantage that a leader with on-the-ground knowledge and decades of struggle behind him has.

ElBaradei certainly has received endorsements from the opposition parties and from some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. He, however, has not been able to rally public support behind him, at least in a manner reminiscent of a charismatic, revolutionary leader. He essentially remains an outsider and a person more capable of overseeing global nuclear activities than running a troubled country. This gives rise to the speculation that if, and when, Mubarak leaves, ElBaradei might be sworn in as the interim caretaker. What about a strong pro-democratic leader who could ensure that Egypt stays on course and does not fall victim to anarchy?

This is what is missing from the Egyptian struggle for democracy, and from the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution." Mass protests might cause the government to fall but they may also prove catalysts for mayhem. As a counter argument, one might cite the lack of democracy in these countries as a reason no political leadership was allowed to evolve. This but gave vent to the eruption of public anger and a free-for-all struggle for rights. Things can still work out in favor of the protesters. There is a chance that Egypt will remain immune from absolute anarchy given its position in the Middle East and the global concerns about its security. It has a large army that might break its silence if conditions deteriorate. Protesters have also shown restraint with thousands forming human shields to protect the national museum from looters, among other brave examples of responsible activism.

Despite the odds, this temporary anarchy might help the country in the long run. If the government of President Mubarak actually falls, it will give way to strengthening of democracy in the country. The only condition for stability will be to allow the democracy to take roots and give Egyptians the freedoms that they have been denied of for decades.