Sunday, 30 January 2011

Emergency plan to cling to power

On the face of it, President Mubarak's decision to appoint intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president and Ahmed Shafik as prime minister is hard to understand, and the analyses I have heard and seen haven't been very profound or convincing. Perhaps that's because outsiders assume that Mubarak's purpose was to placate the uprising in some way, so they have jumped to the conclusion that the appointment of Suleiman was a superficially 'honourable' way to abandon any plan to have his unpopular son Gamal succeed him. Others see it as part of a plan to arrange a safe exit for himself at some future date, under some highly speculative deal with the army which has saved him. Others, including many of the protesters, suspect that Suleiman has the approval of the U.S. government, but reactions from the United States don't corroborate that theory in any way. Certainly that theory was widespread in Tahrir Square this morning and this has given Egypt's relationship with Washington more prominence in the uprising than at any time in the last five days, when the foreign dimension was largely absent. Protesters this morning called Suleiman a U.S. agent and banners recalled his collaboration with Israel and the United States in imposing the blockade of Gaza, which most Egyptians see as criminal.
    My interpretation of Mubarak's appointments starts from the basis that Mubarak is a stubborn autocrat who cannot give up power willingly. On Friday night, when he dismissed his government, his only concern was to stay in power for another day, another two days, perhaps to the end of the week. He was not thinking about presidential elections in September or the presidential aspirations of his son Gamal, perhaps even of his own 'legacy'. He was thinking that the longer he could cling on, the greater chance he would have of regrouping his forces to fight another day and maybe restoring some credibility. The greatest danger he faced in the last two days was that those around him, especially the army, would tell him he had to go, in order to save the country -- in just the same way that the Tunisian generals and government seem to have told Ben Ali he must leave. His quick fix was to lock Suleiman and Shafik, a former air force commander and Mubarak associate, into the centre of power. They at least have shown their loyalty by accepting the appointments, though one can only guess at the deliberations now underway between the rest of the military leadership. If he survives this week, then he can think again about his long-term plans. Whether this emergency survival plan will work depends, as in Tunisia, on the determination of the people in the street and on the power dynamics within the army command.   


  1. No mention of Suleiman and Gaza?

  2. Yes, Charles, as I said, the people in Tahrir Square did recall Suleiman's role in Gaza

  3. I remember you were there at the time of the last regime change. This seems very different, much more democratic and deeply rooted. Fascinating that its owned through the web, seems to transcend old party divides, and is appearing in so many places at once.