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Edition 39 Volume 5 - October 25, 2024

Egypt after Mubarak

Joining the dynasty club  - Anouar Boukhars
A father-son succession might be the least undesirable outcome post-Mubarak.

Wondering but not dreaming about the future  - Mona Eltahawy
Speculation, wonder and rumors are Mubarak's legacy. The three come together and equal Gamal Mubarak.

US-Egyptian relations post-Mubarak: Plus ca change...  - Hrach Gregorian
Time and space is what the US will give Egypt in the years to come.

A question of moderation  - Waleed Sadi
The future of moderation in the region is heavily dependent on the continued survival and success of moderation in Egypt.

Lessons of continuity  - Abdel Monem Said Aly
The legal framework of the constitution will guarantee a smooth transition of power.

Joining the dynasty club
 Anouar Boukhars

Is Hosni Mubarak's 26-year rule really coming to an end? Persistent rumors of a sharp decline in the health of the Egyptian president and speculation about what will take place after the dictator's death are increasingly being heard. Mubarak has vehemently denied all reports of failing health, accusing "those who spread rumors" of intentionally trying to destabilize Egypt.

Even his wife, Suzanne Mubarak, weighed in, condemning those "renegade" journalists whose sole intent is to "sow anger and mistrust". In a rare television appearance, the first lady called for all rumormongers to be held accountable for their profoundly "un-Egyptian" conduct.

In another move to squash the endless speculation about what will take shape after the end of the "Age of Mubarak", the regime unleashed one of the biggest campaigns against public dissent in several years. The recent detentions of a number of journalists and the ruthless crackdown on the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood are a clear attempt by the Egyptian regime to cripple all its critics and political rivals and ensure a smooth transition of power. The regime is understandably anxious to tighten its control and impose order. In recent months, the country has been plagued by a number of large-scale labor strikes and simmering discontent in the Sinai, where Bedouin protests against state discrimination and police abuse turned into rampages against government buildings and other state symbols. To be sure, Egypt's economy has registered a healthy growth in the last years but food prices have skyrocketed, poverty continues to grow and income remains stagnant.

In the midst of this tense transitional phase, the heir-apparent to the presidency, Mubarak's son, Gamal, is positioning himself as a major player on the political scene, creating a sense of inevitability about his meteoric rise to power. This does not mean that he is a definite shoo-in for the presidency. Recent history has seen the military directly and indirectly dominating Egyptian politics, and it is common knowledge that whoever assumes the presidency must have its blessing. For now, however, the leading contender for the presidency is the president's son, despite his denials of harboring any ambitions to hold "any executive position".

If this scenario materializes, Egypt will finally join the Middle Eastern dynasty club and set a trend for more cases where sons become heirs to their fathers' governments of elites. The leaders of Libya and Yemen will enthusiastically take a cue from this experience. The army and security services, the backbone of these regimes, are unlikely to torpedo any succession that preserves the status quo. Egypt is no exception, and Gamal Mubarak and his coterie of advisors and supporters within the NDP understand that no smooth potential transfer of power is possible without the support of senior officers. In addition to winning the army to his side, Gamal has quickly ascended the ladder of powers within the ruling party and enhanced his credentials as a young liberal reformer. As an economic advisor to his father, he is credited by many in the business community in Egypt and abroad with helping to overhaul the stagnant economy and create the conditions for economic growth.

Debate about Gamal's desire to succeed his father picked up steam with his recent marriage to the daughter of a well-known businessman and contractor, Mahmoud el-Gamal. While tying the knot may have nothing to do with his eventual ascent to power, some observers are convinced that the marriage reinforces his chances of becoming president. But regardless of whether Gamal replicates the feats of the sons who succeeded their fathers in Jordan, Morocco and Syria, one thing is certain. The next leader of Egypt will emerge from Mubarak's inner circle. The government's crackdown on any and all political challengers is part of a wide campaign to mobilize state power, reassure the business community and secure the support of the army. The major players of the system share the same goals of maintaining stability at all costs.

The fallout from a direct takeover of power by the military or a turbulent breakdown in the transition process might have a deleterious impact not only on the Arab world's most populous nation but on the whole region. Given the debilitating weakness of the democratic forces in Egypt and the regime's determination to weaken its adversaries and crush its formidable challengers, a father-son succession might be the least undesirable outcome. Gamal is no democrat and no one is under the illusion that, once at the helm of the country, he will take bold steps to move Egypt toward greater freedoms and lead Middle East democratization. The kings of Jordan, Morocco and Syria's president Bashar al-Assad once promised that they would be agents of reform and progress when they succeeded their fathers. Once in power, they reneged on the core of their promises. Today, it is a small and impoverished country like Mauritania that leads the cause of democracy in the Arab world.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Anouar Boukhars is assistant professor of political science and international studies at McDaniel College in Maryland.

Wondering but not dreaming about the future
 Mona Eltahawy

Twenty six years ago this month, Muslim militant Egyptian soldiers emptied their rifles into then President Anwar Sadat as he watched a military parade. Standing next to him was his vice president, Hosni Mubarak, who only suffered slight wounds. The assassins had waved him aside, telling him he wasn't their target.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt ever since, alone, never naming a vice president. Some say he didn't want to tempt fate.

But Mubarak did become a target of assassins. A particularly close call came in Addis Ababa in 1995 when his armored car saved him from the determination of Egyptian terrorists. Without a vice president in place, Egyptians wondered what would have happened had those would-be assassins succeeded.

And we continue to wonder, more because of age--Mubarak is turning 80 next year--and not so much because of a terrorist threat: Mubarak's "war against terror" in the 1990s left dead or imprisoned the members of groups who tried to replace him with a strict Islamic state.

Wondering comes with a price, though. I arrived in Cairo on the day that senior Egyptian regulatory officials told the court trying a newspaper editor that they had no proof that rumors about the president's health led to capital flight in August. Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the independent daily Al-Dustour, is charged with publishing false rumors about Mubarak's health that the government says led to the large-scale flight of foreign investments.

But speculation, wonder and rumors are Mubarak's legacy to us. The three come together and equal Gamal Mubarak, the president's son. Many expect him to take over from his father, creating the kind of dynastic succession that ended in 1952 when army officers staged a coup/revolution that forced the abdication of then King Farouk.

Discussing how much more vibrant politics were under the monarchy at the turn of twentieth century Egypt, an email list I belong to shared its admiration for a television drama that took a sympathetic look at those Farouk years. "Are we really going to take our historic reference from movies and TV series?" asked one group member. "Do you suppose that all of this positive spin on the monarchic era (even though it is highly suspect) might be an attempt to prepare us for an upcoming era of new monarchy?"

But it is by no means certain that Gamal will take over from his father. We have no idea whether the powerful armed forces would accept him as their leader. He would be Egypt's first civilian leader since that 1952 coup; since then four presidents, all with military backgrounds, have ruled us. Unless his accession to power takes place while his father is still alive, he could be a weak and vulnerable leader.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Syria already went down that road. In fact, both Syria and Morocco have useful lessons for us when wondering about a father-son transfer of power. Both Bashar al-Assad in Syria and King Mohammed VI in Morocco were held up as young, tech-savvy leaders who could be friends to reform and the West. Indeed, the "Damascus Spring"--a period of intense social and political debate in Syria--coincided with Bashar's first few months in office.

But it never blossomed. After a couple of years of relative openness, both Assad junior and Mohammed VI clamped down hard against opponents, showing little inclination for business as anything but usual.

But if not Gamal, then who?

Again we can only wonder because his father, like his military predecessors, has eviscerated political opposition. The exception is the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamic organization that is technically banned but that holds 88 seats in parliament. Mubarak and his aides wave the brotherhood as a convenient bogeyman in the face of worried western allies.

The majority of Egyptians have known no other leader than Mubarak. They would have probably heard about the shock to the system that his predecessors represented to the body politic in Egypt. Mubarak's predecessor once removed, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, was a charismatic pan-Arabist closely allied to the Soviet Union. Then along came Sadat to turn Egypt into a US ally and sign the Arab world's first peace treaty with Israel--for which he paid with his life.

In 26 years of power, Mubarak has shown little inclination for such flair or polarization. He eased Egypt back into the Arab fold after Sadat's peace with Israel left Cairo isolated. But under his tutelage, Egypt has lost much of its regional influence to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Should Gamal take over, Egypt's regional role looks set to diminish due to his limited foreign policy experience.

Egypt's average rate of growth for the last three years has risen to seven percent thanks to the new government's wide-ranging economic reforms. Although mass labor unrest over the past few months clearly showed that the prosperity wasn't trickling down to the average Egyptian, the stronger economy will be an asset to Mubarak's successor.

Yet as we wonder whither Egypt after Mubarak, one point of certainty will be this:

Egypt will remain a vital strategic ally to the US. It is the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel and a friend in the war on terror. That at least will guarantee continued support from Washington. As the Middle East spirals from one crisis to another, that is one less thing Egyptians need wonder about.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-born columnist and public speaker who teaches Arab media at The New School in New York City.

US-Egyptian relations post-Mubarak: Plus ca change...
 Hrach Gregorian

President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt for over a quarter of a century. Almost 80, and reportedly in poor health, Mubarak appears intent on quashing all but token political opposition and clearing the path for the ascension to the presidency of his son, Gamal, a 43-year-old former investment banker. It is no accident that the office of the vice president, the usual avenue to the presidency, remains vacant, and the military, where all of Egypt's presidents have come from, is being kept at a distance. The press is also on notice to temper its criticism of the regime or suffer intimidation, jailing, and perhaps worse at the hands of the ever-vigilant state security apparatus.

While recently acceding to some of the demands of workers in what was one of the most widespread strikes seen in Egypt in modern memory, the regime was quick to shut down and ban the activities of the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services, which was instrumental in spearheading the labor protests. Mubarak has vowed to serve out his current term, which runs until 2024. During this period, there will be significant turnover in the political leadership of the United States as well as other key players in the Middle East.

The Mubarak regime's key objective during this period of transition is to ensure stability and continuity. Regardless of who among the frontrunners in the current US presidential campaign ends up in the White House, it is highly likely that Washington will refrain from any further calls for regime change in the region, albeit quietly pressing for political and economic reform in Egypt. For the time being at least, the very public American campaign to champion democratic change in Egypt and in other key states in the Arab Middle East is over. Of course this does not mean that the US cannot nor will not continue to exercise its considerable economic leverage to press Cairo for greater political openness; it does mean that in light of strategic interests in the region as well as the immediate fallout from the democracy experiment, the US will mute further public scolding of the regime and look for much more gradual change. In this regard, it is striking how dramatic the change in rhetoric has been.

It was just June 2024 when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on the campus of the American University in Cairo, delivered a speech apparently marking a major shift in US policy toward the Arab world. Rice noted: "For 60 years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

More arresting than this overarching theme was the explicit call on the Egyptian government to provide its citizenry with freedom of choice, free elections, the right to public assembly and political participation. Given the highly stunted nature of Egypt's political culture, it is not entirely clear why the US administration assumed that such reforms would witness the rise to power of moderate, modernizing elements in the Egyptian polity. What did happen was that in the first round of parliamentary elections held late in 2024, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won most of the races in which their names appeared on the ballot. Only the heavy-handed tactics and outright vote-rigging of the government ensured that these individuals would not achieve victory in subsequent rounds. Still, the Muslim Brotherhood made substantial gains in its share of parliamentary seats. This development, coupled with the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections in January 2024, appears to have substantially tempered the US zeal for democratization.

This was the context for Secretary Rice's pronouncement in Cairo in early spring 2024 that in the parliamentary elections, President Mubarak had "sought the consent of the governed". With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit at her side, she went on to say, "We can't judge Egypt.... We can't tell Egypt what its course can be or should be...." And in what is likely to be the theme of US policy in the region for some time to come, the secretary added, "It [democratic change] takes time.... We understand that."

Time and space is what the US will give Egypt in the years to come. There are a number of reasons for this backpedaling on democracy. The Egyptian government has played a significant role in supporting the US-lead campaign against al-Qaeda and other extremist elements in the region. It has even taken on the dirty work of forceful interrogation of suspects where US law would not permit such activity by an agency of the US government. Egypt has tightened the clamps on Hamas, to the point of imposing travel restrictions on the organization; it has increased border security to stem the flow of weapons from Sinai to Gaza; and it has declared its support for Fateh and its leader, the US-backed Mahmoud Abbas. Furthermore, the US can count on the Egyptians to act as a stabilizing force in Arab-Israel relations. Egypt is also lending Uncle Sam a helping hand in Iraq and Iran.

Most notably, the Mubarak regime is undertaking all these steps in the face of domestic sentiment that has been characterized as the most anti-American in the region. For now, at least, Washington's strategic interests and the Mubarak government's political interests are in close alignment. This being the case, there is little reason to believe that significant change in US-Egyptian relations is in the offing, regardless of who wins the upcoming presidential elections and as the mantle of power in Egypt is slowly passed from father to son.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Hrach Gregorian is president of the Washington, DC-based Institute of World Affairs, a partner in the consulting firm Gettysburg Integrated Solutions, and associate professor in the Graduate Program in Conflict Analysis at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada.

A question of moderation
 Waleed Sadi

The recent controversy in Egypt over unfounded newspaper reports regarding the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has prompted people in the region and beyond to reflect on what post-Mubarak Egypt might look like.

The issue that is uppermost in the minds of the leaders and peoples of the Middle East obviously goes beyond the state of health of Mubarak per se and has more to do with the future of the political landscape in Egypt and how that future may impact other countries in the region. But first it should be determined whether the era of Mubarak is a personal one that will end with him, or whether his rule has become so institutionalized that it is safe to conclude that it will survive his physical or political lifespan.

As with his physical health, there are no signs that the political lifespan of Mubarak's regime is under any immediate danger. He faces no significant threat from any political or religious faction in Egypt including the Muslim Brotherhood. Lest we forget, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has a long history of opposition to practically all governments in Egypt dating back to the King Farouk era.

What is more important in this context is the survival of moderation in Egypt with which Mubarak is so closely associated. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Arab Gulf countries have all served as the bedrock of moderate policy in the region for some time. They are, in other words, generally pro-West. If moderation in Egypt ends in the post-Mubarak era, then other moderate states in the region could come under threat as well.

Put in a regional context, the continuation of Mubarak's moderate policies beyond his term in office will crucially affect the survival of moderate forces beyond the boundaries of Egypt. It is likely that moderation in one form or another will survive. After all, Egypt has enjoyed moderation over the past decades notwithstanding the era of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. When it came to the basics, the Nasser era was relatively moderate where it counts most for Egyptians, including on the religious dimension in Egyptian life.

Likewise, Jordan has in the past withstood all the trials and tribulations in the region and succeeded in maintaining moderation on both the national and regional fronts. There is every reason to expect Jordan to remain steadfast in its long-standing opposition to extremism on both fronts.

Still, the future for all moderate countries in the region may not be so clear as in the past. There are now new regional players, especially after the rise of Iranian hegemony. Tehran appears bent on making changes in the region and is busy concluding alliances with certain countries and movements in the Middle East. There is, in other words, a new ball game in the region and unless the moderate camp succeeds in checkmating the forces of extremism and radicalism, the future may not augur well.

What could determine the balance of power between the forces of moderation and the forces of radicalism is the resolution, or lack thereof, of the Palestinian question. In this respect, the survival of moderate Arab states lies in the hands of Israel. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to be the major flashpoint in the politics of the Middle East. The lack of a just solution to this question is the one thing that unites moderates and radicals in frustration. It continues to feed anger and extremism, not only in Palestine, but in all the countries of the region, notably Iraq and Lebanon.

The future of moderation in the region is heavily dependent on the continued survival and success of moderation in Egypt, whether in the continuation of Mubarak's policies or the elements that serve to justify his moderation, e.g., a negotiated and fair settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Investing in Egypt's security and in the security of like-minded states would be an investment in the stability and security of the entire region as well.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Waleed Sadi is a former Jordanian ambassador to Turkey and the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. He is currently a columnist for the Jordan Times and Al Rai newspapers.

Lessons of continuity
 Abdel Monem Said Aly

For more than two hundred years (1805-2007) of the Egyptian polity since Mohamed Ali established modern Egypt, the country has been changing rulers. Whether the rulers of Egypt were walis, khedives, sultans, kings or presidents, the succession of power has been smooth and the essence of the state has remained basically the same.

Even when rulers had to be overthrown, they were sent into exile with dignity. When the revolution of July 23, 1952 sought after three days to get rid of King Farouk, his "majesty" was exiled with a 21-gun salute, while his baby and heir apparent was placed under the custodianship of a council headed by a member of the revolution's Command Council, with the republic announced only later. When President Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981 his successor, Vice President Hosni Mubarak, maintained his major policies of peace with Israel, closeness to the West and half-hearted economic and political reforms. He thus remained faithful to the same tradition under which Sadat followed Gamal Abdel Nasser and maintained the legacy of the Nasserite period until 1973.

Throughout this seeming consistency of Egyptian politics, Egypt has also been changing, both in its own demographic and socio-economic terms and because the world had been changing. After Mubarak, the situation will be no different. What lies beyond him will most likely correspond substantially to the same traditions. The legal framework for this was established by an amendment to article 76 of the Egyptian constitution in 2024, allowing for competitive elections for the presidency among candidates nominated by "legal" political parties represented by at least one deputy who has served in parliament for five years.

President Mubarak will be 84 years old when his fifth term comes to an end in October 2024; Egypt will then most likely have a new president. The legal framework of the constitution will guarantee a smooth transition of power. However, this will not mean a rigid continuation of policies as they prevailed during Mubarak's 30 years in power. Most likely, some of the files that have already been opened during Mubarak's presidency will then be reopened much more forcefully.

First, Mubarak launched a process of reviewing the Egyptian constitution when he asked for the amendment of article 76, then a year later asked to amend 34 more articles. There is no expectation that further amendments will take place in the remaining years of Mubarak's presidency; but the file has already been opened and debates about it will continue much more forcefully under the coming president. Egyptians will then have to reach consensus on a new constitution. This is a very difficult task, but it is still possible because of the consensus that holds that the current constitution has become unsuitable for Egypt's democratic future.

Second, Mubarak's times have witnessed a very measured change toward establishing a market economy in Egypt. The process started with a structural adjustment program in 1991 and gathered momentum with the cabinet of PM Ahmad Nazif in July 2024. It began to bear fruit in Mubarak's fifth term with a seven percent rate of growth in 2024/2007 and an increase in foreign investment from $450 million in 2024/2003 to $11 billion in 2024/2007. Egypt was classed as an emerging market and a leading reformer by the World Bank's "Doing Business Report 2024". In other countries, this process has led eventually to deep socio-economic and political complications that have yet to appear in Egypt. No matter who is the next president of Egypt, he will have to deal first with the continuation of the economic reform process and its results.

Third, for about 30 years of his presidency Mubarak has witnessed the rise and consolidation of the Muslim Brothers as a formidable social, economic and above all political group. They started their preparations for the post-Mubarak period by announcing a program to form a political party that is being debated now in Cairo. As with Mubarak and all who ruled Egypt before him, the new president will have to find a formula for dealing with the Brothers that gives them space in Egyptian politics without jeopardizing the civic nature of the state.

The identity of the next president of Egypt in 2024 is not yet a question that can be answered with certainty. However, there is now a new generation of politicians in all Egyptian political parties and within the ranks of the Muslim Brothers. Under the current system, Egypt will for the first time have a president who emerges through a competitive process among civilians and not from the ranks of the military. The balance of political power in the country will give the candidate of the National Democratic Party a certain advantage. This will not guarantee the post for Gamal Mubarak, as often rumored, not only because of the denials of the Mubaraks, but because Egypt is more institutionalized as a republic than to allow for a Syrian-style succession from father to son, and less democratic than to grant legitimacy to an Indian Rajiv Gandhi family-style change in power.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Abdel Monem Said Aly is a writer and political analyst at Al Ahram newspaper in Cairo.

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