The Latest from Egypt

February 5th, 2011
in Background, econ_news

EGYPT PROTESTERS large 300 Econintersect:  The headline on the latest article tonight in The New York Times (Saturday evening) says:  "As Mubarak Digs In, U.S. Policy in Egypt Is Complicated."  The Obama administration "struggles to stay on the right side of history and to avoid accelerating a revolution that could spin out of control," according to the Times."  The article quotes conflicting statements from special U.S. envoy Frank G. Wisner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both quoted on Saturday.

Follow up:

Many news sources reported that many members of the ruling party have resigned, but President Mubarak has not left office.  From The Huffington Post:

State TV says the top leadership body of Egypt's ruling party, including the president's son Gamal Mubarak and the party secretary-general Safwat el-Sharif, resigned Saturday in a new gesture apparently aimed at convincing anti-government protesters that the regime is serious about reform.

Protesters have shrugged off other concessions by the regime in the past 12 days of unprecedented street demonstrations, saying they will settle for nothing less than the immediate ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's ruler for nearly 30 years.

State TV said the ruling party's six-member Steering Committee of the General Secretariat stepped down and was replaced. The council was the party's highest decision-making body, and el-Sharif and other outgoing members were some of the most powerful -- and to many Egyptians, unpopular -- political figures in the regime.

El-Sharif was replaced by Hossam Badrawi, a party figure who had been sidelined within its ranks in recent years because of his sharp criticisms of some policies.

The new appointments to the body were largely young figures, one of the replacements Mohammed Kamal told The Associated Press. "It's a good change. It reflects the mood of change that is sweeping the country," he said.

A big problem for many countries in the region and the world is that if Mubarak were to leve office, under the Egyptian constitution he would be replaced by a man that nobody wants and certainly not someone that reform minder demonstraters would be likely find acceptable.  Carl Bernstein writes, in The Daily Beast:

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while sympathetic to the desire of Egyptian democratic forces that want Mubarak step down immediately, in fact have been working toward a solution that would permit him to stay for a brief period as a powerless, defacto head of state. He would remain as such until new mechanisms, and perhaps a new Egyptian constitution, are in place for a stable transition that would also prevent authoritarian and corrupt Mubarak apparatchiks from controlling the process of succession.

This is particularly true in terms of the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Fathi Surur, who has been speaker of the People's Assembly since 1990, described by someone familiar with his record as “a corrupt, venal man,” who under the existing constitution would become president of the country if Mubarak should abruptly resign or be removed from office.

Thus, Obama and Clinton, with help from other world leaders, including figures in the Arab world, have been trying to achieve a consensus among prominent Egyptian politicians, academics, bankers, cultural leaders, and representatives of the fledging democracy movement personified by young people in Tahrir Square, that Mubarak should be effectively stripped of his power and convinced to cede his presidential powers while briefly retaining the title of president. Ideally under ths scenario, Mubarak would leave the presidential palace in the next few days, but retain the presidency as a means of keeping it from passing—under the existing constitution—to the Parliamentary speaker, Surur. 

Except Thursday, when a gang of pipe wielding thugs rode camels and horses through crowds of demonstraters, the demonstrations have been largely free of major violence.  This is because the Egyptian army is viewed as friendly by the demonstrators and has taken obvious steps to protect the demonstraters from violence.  However, just where the loyalties of the military ultimately lie is not at all clear.  From The Washington Post:

"Egyptian military officers are in the upper echelon of society," said one former U.S. general with extensive experience in the Middle East and Egypt who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his relationships in the region. "The biggest question for the Egyptian military is whether or not there will be a whole-scale change in the Egyptian elite, because the senior military officers are so much a part of that elite. . . . They may be indifferent on whether Mubarak stays or leaves."

But current and former U.S. officials described the Egyptian General Staff as fairly unified in its support of Mubarak. "If you are a general in the Egyptian army, you are beholden to Mubarak. You were handpicked by Mubarak," said a former U.S. military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still consults with the Egyptian armed forces. "What you have is bureaucrats who were promoted because they were good managers and were loyal to Mubarak.

 Sources:  The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and The Washington Post 


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