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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 05:34 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 05:34 | SYDNEY

Five more observations about Egypt

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31 January 2011 09:48

1. Mubarak is finished. In my previous post I wrote that it was too early to tell If Mubarak would be overthrown. Less than a week later, I think his presidency is mortally wounded. 

In particular, the decision to send the Army onto the streets after only a few days of protests shows the way in which Tunisia has both inspired the protesters and played with Mubarak's head. Moreover, the fact that the Army seems to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the protesters underlines how perilous Mubarak's position has become — although this might change, and the Army may well have been tougher outside of Cairo.

Even if Mubarak survives the current unrest, I think the rest of the regime (and the US) will be looking for circuit breaker, and this means neither he nor his son Gamal will run in September's scheduled presidential election. The alternative would be for Egypt to become the kind of ultra-repressive, internationally-isolated regime that I do not think is sustainable in the Egyptian context. 

2. Mubarak undoubtedly sees things differently. As Jonathan Wright has observed, Mubarak probably figures that, if he can survive the next few weeks, he may eventually be able to re-float the wreck of his presidency from the very large sandbar he has hit. 

By appointing the head of intelligence Omar Suleiman as Vice-President (the first time he has ever appointed a VP) and former Air Force Chief Ahmad Shafik as Prime Minister, he is not appealing to the protesters but to the real kingmakers, the military. He probably feared that the military was not going to save him for the sake of seeing his son (in whom they don't seem to have much confidence) come to power. Now he is saying to them, 'help me and your guys will run the show after I am gone'. 

But the military may figure it no longer needs Mubarak, particularly if it can portray itself as 'saviour of the nation'. Nor does the military necessarily trust that Mubarak won't re-institute the succession to his son once the situation is stabilised.

3. Mubarak might be finished, but this does not mean the regime is — not yet, anyway. 

Even if, as I suspect, the regime will push Mubarak out, the real credit for this will lay with the people on thee streets, who have withstood the onslaughts of the police, state security and other assorted regime thugs, a number paying for this steadfastness with their lives. The problem for the protesters is that it may be difficult to do more. While this diverse bunch could coalesce around the demand of Mubarak's ouster, it is going to be harder for them to force out the rest of the regime. 

For one thing, agreeing on what that means is not going to be easy. The protesters can refuse to accept the 11th hour appointment of Suleiman and demand the departure or arrest of some other easily identifiable Mubarak cronies. But the regime — or perhaps more accurately, 'the system' — goes well beyond Mubarak's family and a few hangers on, and extends to an entrenched network of corruption and patronage throughout the political sphere, the economy and society. Real change is going to have to be deep and be negotiated over weeks, months and even years. The protesters, meanwhile, will eventually have to go home.

4.  Who gets to stay and who has to swim' 

Notwithstanding my previous point, it won't be easy for the regime as a whole to survive Mubarak's ouster. There will be winners and losers as the remains of the regime search for the minimum necessary to placate the protesters. Or, to continue the wreck on a sandbar metaphor, the rest of the regime will be throwing things overboard hoping that each item will be just enough to refloat the boat without everyone being forced to abandon ship. 

So, first Mubarak goes, then if that doesn't work, you throw some of his close cronies overboard, promise constitutional reform etc, etc. And, as always occurs, it is usually the guy with the gun (ie. the military) that gets to decide who and what is thrown overboard.

5. El-Baradei is probably not the long-term solution. Much has been made of former IAEA head Mohammed el-Baradei's appearance at the protest in Cairo overnight and the apparent agreement among the opposition that he might serve as some form of transitional figure. This is plausible in the short term. A key task will be to change the constitution that makes it very difficult for anyone outside the ruling National Democratic Party to run in presidential elections. This can't be negotiated from the street and needs someone to unify and articulate the protesters and opposition demands. 

But unless El-Baradei does spectacularly well in any transition, it is less certain he will emerge as a long-term leader. Some protesters already see him as 'Mohammed-come-lately', not just to these protests, but to the reform movement in Egypt, having spent more than a decade living outside the country.

Photo by Flickr user Collin David Anderson.

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