Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Mubarak resignation option

The U.S. administration, perhaps inevitably, has better information about the thinking at the top of the military/security establishment in Egypt than anyone other than the participants themselves, and the participants aren't speaking in public in a way that is easy to interpret. My reading is that Washington is pressing Mubarak and the Egyptian army to unite behind the immediate resignation option, which would automatically put Vice President Omar Suleiman into the presidency, an outcome which would satisfy U.S. and Israeli interests while simultaneously reducing the protest movement to a hard core of maximalists. Suleiman of course would guarantee Egyptian adherence to the peace treaty with Israel and the continuation of Egyptian policy on Hamas in Gaza, which means collaboration with Israel in the blockade of Gaza and hostility towards Hamas. That's what seems to matter most in Washington, whereas democracy and the welfare of the Egyptian people are much lower priorities. When Mubarak said on Tuesday night that he would stand down in September, many ordinary Egyptians said the protest movement had won a substantial victory and should call off its campaign to drive him out of office. In the meantime their disgust with the behaviour of Mubarak's thugs on Wednesday may have won the protest movement more allies, but it's not certain they would have the strength to mobilise enough support to challenge Omar Suleiman's legitimacy after Mubarak resigned.
    Would the protest movement have gained much if Mubarak resigned? Would it have been worth all the sacrifice? It would be a mixed picture:
    They would have established the right to peaceful protest and put future Egyptian leaders on notice that they can come out on the streets if Suleiman or his successors do not live up to their promises. This would strengthen their hand during the consultations over the next few months over constitutional amendments and new laws on elections and political rights. Suleiman would be in the spotlight internationally if he reverted to the thuggery and police brutality which the interior ministry has practiced under Mubarak.
    The ruling National Democratic Party would be greatly discredited. Although Suleiman is (probably?) a member of the NDP, in his capacity as a cabinet member, he has not been active in the party and is not known to have close associations with the business elite who dominated the party -- people such as Mubarak's son Gamal, steel magnate Ahmed Ezz (who has resigned) and many others. In fact Suleiman, who comes from a military/intelligence background, is assumed to be unsympathetic or hostile towards that clique.
    On the downside, Suleiman has never given any indication that he is a closet democrat or someone willing to share power or consult widely when he takes decisions. Suleiman has hardly ever said anything in public, but his background and his empathy with Mubarak do not suggest any liberal inclinations. Without any fundamental overhaul of the political and security system, Suleiman could hold the presidency for many years to come, possibly till he dies (he is already 74) and then transfer power to a someone from the same "security and stability" school of thought which Mubarak belongs to.
    For those seeking to change Egypt into a functioning democracy, with regular changes at the top, that outcome would be a bitter pill to swallow.       


  1. According to Hossam Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty writing in the Washington Post on
    Friday, February 4 (see, it's not the vice-president who succeeds to the presidency if the president resigns:

    Egypt's constitution stipulates that if the president resigns or his office becomes permanently "vacant," he must be replaced by the speaker of parliament

  2. They are correct. But Mubarak can resign in effect by delegating all his powers to the vice president and withdrawing from the political scene. There is a clarification in my posting Constitutional chaos in Egypt