Needed in Egypt: A Potluck, Not a Hosted Dinner


potluck diversity.jpgEgyptians are still in the streets. There is violence in some parts of the country. The demands for Mubarak to go are still echoing through Tahrir Square.
And Vice President Soleiman seems to be scrambling to find the point of equilibrium between the ego of his former (and current) master, Hosni Mubarak, the broad Egyptian establishment which I think is still very much on the sidelines hedging their bets, and the people on the streets who are genuinely diverse and broken up into a great number of frustrated political factions.
The problem in the equation is that what we are seeing Egyptian political incumbents offer deals to the Opposition, some of which is organized and some in great disarray, but the incumbents still have the power, determine who is or isn’t in the room and generally still control the pivots of power and the instruments of force available to the state.
I think that the people in the streets want regime change in the form of anything other than the Mubarak franchise. If Soleiman and the Army would get Mubarak on a plane to any one of his many international homes, they would seal their position as champions of the people — despite some very sordid issues in his and the military’s past.
As one senior White House official said to me yesterday:

The way we want to see the negotiations go is that we want to see the government have a potluck — not a dinner party.

This is exactly right.
Soleiman can’t be the host of a dinner party to which he controls the menu and the guest list. People representative of most aspects of Egyptian society need to bring their own views and stakes to the dinner.
The power and vision Egypt needs now at the top should be shared by a collective set of stewards — not focused on the one holding an incumbent position.
That’s the challenge today — getting to a “potluck” version of negotiated regime change.
— Steve Clemons


12 comments on “Needed in Egypt: A Potluck, Not a Hosted Dinner

  1. Franklin says:

    A pot-luck is usually a meeting of equals. A dinner party, not necessarily.
    If the Mubarak regime was psychologically capable of hosting the equivalent of a pot-luck dinner, there’s a very good chance they would have never stumbled into this crisis in the first place.
    I suspect the fear of the Mubarak regime is that if they hosted a pot-luck, they’d end up being served up as the main course. Of course that possibility exists anyways if they aren’t able to broker some kind of a graceful exit.


  2. Dan Kervick says:

    More on the topic of this post from Josh Rogin. According to Rogin, Steve was at a White House policy advisory meeting on Tuesday:


  3. Will says:

    Mao Zedong sounds like an appropriate reference right about now:
    “Revolution is not a dinner party.”


  4. JamesL says:

    I second JohnH @4:27. Obama missed his big opportunity last week, choosing to deploy his own silence to placate a short-sighted Israel, and speaking, when he did speak, to past US allied Mid East dictators, when he should have spoken directly to the Egyptian people. All he needed to say was “We are with You”, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Now he’s waist deep in a hole of his own making. So it goes. Reminds of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.


  5. JohnH says:

    The rubber hits the road: “The people want regime change in the form of anything other than the Mubarak franchise.” But is there any tangible evidence that Israel and the Obama administration want anything but Pharaonism without the current Pharaoh?
    As the protest intensifies, more and more of the Israeli/American status quo will be put at risk…or there will be a very bloody crackdown that will make Tianmen look like child’s place. Such a crackdown would be the clearest signal yet to the world on the US security state’s position on freedom, democracy and human rights.
    So, Mr. Obama, which will it be? An Egyptian government that is much more accountable to the people? Or destruction of the US brand of freedom, democracy and human rights?
    The administration’s worst nightmare–having to make a decision– is quickly arriving. Soon the administration will be forced to stop finessing the situation, abandon the transparent PR game of cosmetic change without substance, and pick a side. Which will it be?


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    Palestinians also rallying in support of Egyptian protesters, despite opposition and pro-Mubarak tilt of Palestinian Authority.


  7. Dan Kervick says:

    The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that police were directly ordered by the Interior Minister El Adly to leave their posts on January 29th, clearing the coast for looters, gangs and snipers:–by-order-20110209-1amz5.html


  8. questions says:

    Here’s a psych MA paper on physiological anxiety symptoms in gift giving when the recipient is a pain in the ass (I think that’s the way to put it!)
    So what are you going to bring to this dinner…..


  9. questions says:

    A little something on the potluck/potlatch system.
    Levi-Strauss has much to say, most of which is on my to-be-read list rather than my already-read and processed list.
    I’m guessing there’s fun for everyone in Levi-Strauss!
    And for the idea of the basically undirected generosity of bringing a dish for everyone, there’s always the other side…. Do I bring something I can eat, will there be anything else I will like, will anyone poison their contribution (or just have really bad kitchen hygiene habits), do I trust that there will be no razor blades in the apples, will I get my serving dish and silver back, or do I use cheesy plastic dishes instead, how much will be wasted if we all bring too much food, will some deadbeats bring nothing at all — in which case FUCK if I bring anything! — what if someone brings something really disgusting like burgers or steak…..
    In any coming together of people, the risks are pretty big. Not even a pot luck dinner is going to take us outside the communication, coordination, coercion, social sanction, expectation, reputation system.
    Yes, giving and non-direction are really good. They work better when you’re having your three favorite couples over, and EVERYone knows everyone else’s dining preferences ahead of time. It also helps to have no expectations that you’ll like what’s there, so that you can be pleasantly surprised, or at least not massively disappointed.
    Good humor and good attitude on the way in, good conversation and acceptable food while you’re there, and your car hasn’t been towed by the time you get back to it.
    It’s all fraught.


  10. Kathleen says:

    Heard that El Baradei was not invited to the dinner or the potluck


  11. Dan Kervick says:

    “… and the people on the streets who are genuinely diverse and broken up into a great number of frustrated political factions.”
    No doubt factions will emerge over time, but right now you don’t get any impression of factionalism among the people in the square and on the street. It’s all love and unity and humor and utopian enthusiasm. It’s like Woodstock on the Nile.
    The divisions are more noticeable among some of the older and established opposition groups, and perhaps between some of those groups and the protest movement.
    “If Soleiman and the Army would get Mubarak on a plane to any one of his many international homes, they would seal their position as champions of the people.”
    Only if the departure of Mubarak were coupled with a the kind of pot luck outreach you describe and very clear signs that it is the regime that is ending, not just the Mubarak posse. The protesters already seem deeply skeptical of Suleiman, and regard him as part of the regime. They have moved way beyond the point where they will be suckered by a mere change in the regime leadership.
    Wael Ghonim reiterated his call today for the NDP to be disbanded.


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