Egypt after Mubarak

By Lee Smith

As the Obama administration crosses its fingers in the hope that an Iraq currently without a government will somehow stabilize and justify the American blood and money spent over the last seven years, Washington has started to turn its attention to what has historically been one of Baghdad’s rival centers of Arab power—Cairo.

A Democratic Hereditary Succession?

Things are changing in Egypt as well, for barring any last-minute surprises, the ailing 82-year-old president, Husni Mubarak, is reportedly on the verge of enjoying the highest privilege afforded Arab rulers—to die in bed of natural causes. It seems almost certain that he will be succeeded by his second son, Gamal, the 46-year-old, one-time London financier.[1] The speculation inside the Beltway is that either Gamal will replace his father on the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) ticket for next September’s presidential elections, or that Husni Mubarak will not last that long and the constitutional process will kick in, paving the way for Gamal’s nomination and election.

Another Mubarak would spell continuity of a sort even if it meant an end to nearly six decades of military rule by the “Free Officers” regime. While it is true that Gamal has relationships with the military establishment not only through his father but also by way of intersecting business interests—some Egyptian industries are essentially military-run concessions—the fact remains that he is not a military man. “To be part of the military establishment is not just about your connections or family,” says Muhammad Elmenshawy, Washington bureau chief for the independently owned Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Shorouk. “It means that you’ve worn a uniform, or you’ve fought in a war. Gamal is a complete outsider.”

This perhaps raises a historical analogy: The Mamluk sultans (1260-1517) tried to get their non-slave sons to succeed them and sometimes managed it, but they were not from the military slave caste and eventually petered out, to be replaced by a proper Mamluk. The bulk of Gamal’s task, at least early on, may be to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Most Washington officials are comfortable with Gamal and see no fundamental change in the U.S.-Egyptian relationship on the horizon or adverse effects on the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord that is the foundation of the U.S. position in the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, the fact that Gamal accompanied his father to the pre-Labor Day peace summit in Washington[2] that also included Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas along with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, was read as a signal that the succession issue had been resolved.

Until now, Mubarak has not only declined to appoint a successor, or even name a vice president who would assume the presidency in the event of an emergency, but has also avoided discussing the political prospects of his second son. According to officials from the Bush administration, whenever the president asked after Gamal, the Egyptian ruler would quickly change the subject. It is widely believed that the Egyptian president is less eager to have his son inherit the post than is his mother, the first lady Suzanne Mubarak.

Does Gamal Even Want the Job?

Other U.S. policymakers are not sure that Gamal himself is entirely interested in the job. His background is in finance and economics, subjects that seem to elicit his passion. And indeed, thanks largely to Gamal and his cadre of technocrats in the NDP, the Egyptian economy has enjoyed a period of growth for half a decade or more. Even as little of the wealth has trickled down to improve the lot of the poor—20 percent of Egyptians live in abject poverty, and 60 percent live on $2 a day—the thriving economy has changed middle-class perceptions. Egyptian parents, Elmenshawy explains, are less impressed these days when their daughters are courted by members of the military and security establishment and more apt to be swayed by young men who have made careers in banking, telecommunications, or the big real estate deals taking place in New Cairo.

If Gamal cares about the economy, this seems to come at the expense of his interest in politics, a topic that leaves him cold or, in the words of someone who has been in the room with him, brain dead. This is a dangerous liability for a man required to keep in check competing centers of domestic power—including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian military, and the intelligence services (mukhabarat)—and regional actors while also accommodating his U.S. benefactors without aggravating an Egyptian population that has always been, at best, wary of U.S. influence in the Middle East. On the other hand, it is possible he has just learned well from his father, the stone-faced former Air Force commander who has steered the Free Officers’ regime on a steady course for almost thirty years between the radicalism that devastated Nasser’s Egypt and the then-startling accommodations with the United States and Israel that got Sadat killed. And so the question in Washington is, what will this transitional Egypt look like?

“The physical decline of Husni Mubarak coincides with the decline of Egypt as a regional actor,” says David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Never mind the fact that Iran sets the region’s political tempo while Qatar and Dubai’s satellite TV networks have eclipsed Cairo’s as the region’s media capital. “Egypt can’t even get a veto on upstream Nile development projects anymore from upstream African riparian states, like Ethiopia.”

Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace agrees that the Cairo regime is not what it once was. “Domestic affairs take up so much time that Egypt is far less able to play an effective role in regional affairs. Even the succession issue itself preoccupies them and absorbs energy. Egyptian influence is much less than it was even twenty years ago though part of that is because other Arab states have caught up in terms of education and communication and moved past Egypt in terms of development. But Egypt just can’t present a compelling model, a compelling argument, or philosophy that other Arabs want to imitate.”

The Egyptian opposition, says Dunne, is another matter. “Look at Kifaya, which started in 2004, and then the way Facebook took off and rallied people. These things inspired imitators around the region. Egypt is still an important country that other Arabs look up to, but its energies ensue not from the government but from those that are opposed to government.”

Competition from Mohamed ElBaradei

To be sure, one of the biggest stories surrounding the succession issue is Mohamed ElBaradei’s decision to challenge the regime with his unofficial campaign. Even as the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief is not—not yet anyway—a member of a political party and thus not eligible to run in next fall’s elections, his presence has generated attention both inside and outside Egypt.

“There’s a weird infatuation with Baradei,” says Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to fawning notices in U.S. press outlets including The Washington Post and The New Yorker. “But in a fairly bleak political environment lacking charisma, Baradei shakes things up. He says, ‘I am not going to run unless I can be assured of free and fair elections,’ and this really throws a monkey wrench into the system and shakes up Gamal’s claims to legitimacy.”

“I like the idea of Baradei,” says Schenker. “I like the idea of an ostensible liberal. Baradei came along and said things openly, and no one could touch him. He seems to be in the vanguard of a political culture that is less fearful of the government.” Nonetheless, explains the former Bush administration Pentagon official, ElBaradei wouldn’t be particularly palatable in Washington. “He politicized the IAEA, oversaw the nuclearization of Iran, and maintains that Israel is the most dangerous state in the Middle East,” says Schenker.

Given that ElBaradei was comfortable working with the Islamists who govern Iran, it is hardly surprising that he has joined forces with Egypt’s own Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to focus on political reform.[3] Presumably the Brotherhood is happy to let ElBaradei take the lead since his previous employment and profile afford him international political protection not extended to the Islamists. The Brotherhood, says Joshua Stacher, an assistant professor at Kent State, is not going to make a big deal out of the succession.

“I have talked about it with them exhaustively, including senior leadership,” says Stacher, who has done extensive research on the movement. “All oppose an inherited succession in principle, but they will not mobilize in an organized way, and there will be no overt signs of discontent. Presidential succession is extremely important to the elites in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t want to challenge them on something they hold this close to their hearts. They all think it’s unjust but, as one told me, ‘at the moment of the transfer of power, the Brothers will be silent.'”

In exchange, says Stacher, the Brotherhood is not exactly expecting a quid pro quo. “The MB is not going to be handed the keys to the parliament, but they’re not going to be shut out completely either,” he explains. “Gamal or whoever becomes president will have to renegotiate with a large array of interests and social forces, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Consolidating Power and Shifting Allies

Indeed, Washington policymakers and analysts concur that the real campaigning will take place after Gamal becomes president rather than before. “Arab leaders are always most vulnerable just when they take office,” says Stacher. “They are busy consolidating power and eliminating enemies.”

The two most obvious, and recent, examples are Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, both of whom also followed their fathers. According to press accounts and contemporary scholarship, both Abdullah and Bashar spent a considerable amount of energy during their early years at the helm building their power bases and eliminating the so-called “old guard” remnants from their fathers’ diwans. However, the fact is that both Bashar’s and Abdullah’s paths to power passed directly through regime strongholds. Abdullah was the commander of the Hashemite Kingdom’s special forces, an elite unit that ensures the regime’s survival; and Bashar was handed the extremely sensitive Lebanon portfolio, which during the years of the Syrian occupation was essentially Damascus’ ATM, feathering the nests of the country’s numerous security chiefs.

Unlike those two soon-to-be peers, Gamal has no such foundations in regime management, which is why so many believe that Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence, is the man to watch. While it had been rumored that Suleiman was another presidential possibility, and still may be, he is ineligible, right now anyway, since he is without membership in a political party. At any rate, the key issue is where Suleiman stands on Gamal, and whether or not he will stick his neck out for a novice with no military or security credentials tasked to run what is still a military regime. Certainly the $1.3 billion in U.S. military assistance to Egypt is evidence that Washington, however happy with the country’s recent economic performance, still sees Cairo as such.

Perhaps a more useful question is, how does Cairo see itself? In a sense, Mubarak was only continuing Sadat’s work of extricating Egypt from troublesome regional issues, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict, as it went from frontline combatant to peacemaker and mediator. Gamal is likely to wish for more of the same inward turn and to focus on the economy, but the Middle East has its own energies and forces to which an untested leader, one at the helm of the largest Arab state, may be especially vulnerable.

The main issue right now is Iran, which has effectively patterned itself after Nasser’s Egypt in its struggle to build a regional hegemony and challenge the U.S.-backed order, which presently includes Egypt and the other “moderate” Arab states along with Israel. The Egyptian masses might be infatuated with Iran, says Elmenshawy, “but the elites see it as anti-Western and isolated from the rest of the world. It is not an appealing model for them.” Still, Cairo has decided to restart its own nuclear program but understands that the prospect of an Iranian bomb is only one aspect of Tehran’s regional strategy. Even without a nuclear weapon, Iran is dangerous to Egypt through its allies and assets, from Syria to Hezbollah, and especially Hamas, sitting on Egypt’s border.

“If I were part of the Egyptian elite,” says Stacher, “I’d be most worried about Gaza. If that spills over the border, it can derail everything.”

One way to defend against Hamas is to seek to co-opt them as the Turks have tried. And indeed one possibility considered throughout Washington is what might happen if Cairo follows Ankara’s lead. If U.S. power is perceived to be on the decline, what if Egypt, like Turkey and Iran, questions some of the assumptions of the U.S. order? Egypt could force the issue with the Israeli nuclear program and could even question demilitarizing the Sinai. It is highly unlikely that the Egyptians would take it as far as making war on Israel, but they could make themselves more obstreperous, just as the Turks have done, such as when they dispatched the “humanitarian flotilla” to Gaza. Now that the Turks are bending to the new regional winds, it is hardly clear that Washington has exacted a price for their behavior or even warned them. That it is acceptable to cross Washington is not a message the United States wants to send its regional allies, especially Egypt, one of the foundations of its Middle East strategy.

From Nasser through the pre-October 1973 Sadat, Washington was accustomed to Egypt being the primary regional power that questioned the U.S. order. Sadat’s strategic shift made Egypt one of the pillars of the U.S. camp, which Washington has taken for granted just as it had done with regard to Turkey’s strategic orientation. The passing of Mubarak and the rise of his successor, presumably his son, means that the largest Arab state’s future orientation can no longer be taken for granted.

[1] Daniel Sobelman, “Gamal Mubarak, President of Egypt?Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2001, pp. 31-40; “Gamal Mubarak: ‘We Need Audacious Leaders,'” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2009, pp. 67-73.
[2] Ha’artez (Tel Aviv), Aug. 31, 2010.
[3] Ilan Berman, “The Islamist Flirtation,” Foreign Policy, Apr. 2, 2010.

Lee Smith is a Senior Editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2010, pp. 79-83
(view PDF)

http://www.meforum.org/2792/egypt-after-mubarak

Sudan Set to Split Despite Egyptian Moves

BY Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani

CAIRO, Dec 1, 2010 – The U.S. has rejected an Egyptian proposal for a “confederation” between northern and southern Sudan, insisting that a Jan. 9 referendum – which will determine the fate of the south – go ahead as scheduled. According to Egyptian analysts, the move proves Washington’s determination to see Africa’s largest country split in two.

“The US is dead-set on seeing the emergence of an independent state of Southern Sudan to achieve political aims on the African continent,” Hani Raslan, expert in Sudanese affairs at the semi-official Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told IPS.

A peace agreement was signed in 2005 between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the Kenyan city Naivasha. The agreement aimed at halting the longstanding civil war between north and south that had flared up intermittently since the 1950s.  Contentiously, the agreement – backed by the U.S. and the African Union – stipulated that a referendum eventually be held in the south on proposed independence from the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The agreement also called for a referendum in central Sudan’s oil-rich Abyei region to decide whether it would join the north or the south.

Both referendums are slated for Jan. 9 next year. As it now stands, the majority of southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote in favour of independence.

Hardly relishing the notion of a brand new country to its south – with whom it would presumably have to share coveted Nile water – Egypt has, since 2005, consistently worked towards maintaining Sudan’s political unity.

“Egypt has stepped up investment in southern Sudan, where it has launched several major infrastructure projects,” said Raslan. “It has also been dispatching frequent high-level diplomatic missions to the provisional southern government in Juba.”

On Nov. 3, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit noted that within the last five years Egypt had pumped more than 500 million Egyptian pounds (87 million dollars) into projects in southern Sudan – including hospitals, schools and power stations – “in hope of convincing the people of southern Sudan to choose unity over secession.”

The minister also stressed Egypt’s concern over the fact that, with the referendum right around the corner, serious issues – which could eventually lead to conflict – remained unresolved between the two sides. These, he said, included border demarcation, distribution of natural resources, especially petroleum, migration issues, and the fate of the Abyei region. 

Aboul-Gheit went on to suggest that, rather than choosing outright independence, southern Sudan should opt for a “confederation” with the north. “This means they would be two independent countries, but would share a single currency and have a single foreign policy,” he explained.

In light of the several outstanding issues between north and south, secession, he warned, “could lead to violence.”

A study released Nov. 25 by international NGOs Frontier and Aegis warned of the possibility of renewed civil war if outstanding differences were not resolved. Besides bringing death and displacement beyond measure, the report noted, such a scenario would likely cost Sudan alone more than 100 billion dollars.

The cost of such a war to Egypt, the report suggested, “could average over 7 billion dollars per year.”

“Egypt made its confederation proposal in hope of preserving the close north- south relationship, through which secondary issues might be worked out amicably,” said Raslan. “But without such a close relationship, Egypt fears these issues could lead to war if the south becomes independent before they’re resolved.”

Despite Egypt’s concerns, the U.S. soon stated its rejection of the proposal. A week after Egypt first tabled the idea, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declared that the fate of southern Sudan would be left to its people to decide.

According to Raslan, Washington’s insistence on seeing an independent state of Southern Sudan “has less to do with the popular will of the southern Sudanese people than it does with U.S. geo-political ambitions.

“In the final days of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Defence Department established Africa Command, or AFRICOM, mandated with handling military operations in Africa. And a central component of this new regional command will be a massive military base, which the U.S. hopes to set up in southern Sudan. By establishing a strong military presence in the new country, the U.S. also hopes to contain the decidedly Islamic nature of northern Sudan,” he said.

The population of northern Sudan is predominantly Muslim, while that of Southern Sudan is mostly Christian and animist. 

Helmy Shaarawi, director of the Cairo-based Arab-Africa Research Centre, agreed. He contrasted Washington’s enthusiasm for the Sudan referendum to its indifference to a similar referendum proposal for India’s disputed Kashmir region.

“In 1948, the UN Security Council issued resolution No. 47 calling for a referendum in Kashmir to determine whether the region would join India or Pakistan,” Shaarawi told IPS. “Yet despite the fact that most Kashmiri people want the referendum, and even though Kashmir continues to suffer political violence, U.S. and western officials remain entirely indifferent to the idea.”

The first tangible steps towards the independence of southern Sudan were taken in mid-November, when the provisional Juba government began registering voters.

“Secession at this point appears a fait accompli,” said Raslan. “As for the referendum itself – that’s merely a formality.” (END)

 

Inter Press Service (IPS) , Rome   –   2 Dec 10

 

 

About Inter Press Service (IPS) is the world’s leading news agency on issues such as development, environment, human rights and civil society. However, at its outset, IPS had a more focused goal: to fill the information gap between Europe and Latin America through a snail mail-borne feature news service. It was to this end that a non-profit international cooperative of journalists by the name of IPS was founded in 1964 by Italian-Argentinean economist Roberto Savio and Argentinean political scientist Pablo Piacentini, both of them still involved in IPS.

 

As it grew, IPS acquired a new mission: bear the hopes of Third World countries and peoples for a new international economic order and, as a consequence, a new information and communication order within the framework of the United Nations; in other words, make the voice of the voiceless heard. This broadened objective presided over the rapid worldwide expansion of IPS in the 1970s and 1980s with a daily news service in English and Spanish.


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The elections in both Sudan and Egypt have generated much international attention and speculation. To reflect and discuss the possible impact of these historical events, the Middle East Institute will be hosting a seminar on December 10th, 2010. Please visit: http://www.mei.nus.edu.sg/coming_soon.html 

The regime in Iran isn’t about to fall

Editor’s Choice

26 July 2010
The regime in Iran isn’t about to fall

 
Fareed Zakaria
AS Barack Obama goes through one of his most difficult periods as president, you might wonder what it would have been like if the other guy had won. We will never know, of course, but in one area, John McCain provides us with some clues. He would have tried to overthrow the government of Iran.
In a speech on June 10, later published as a cover essay in The New Republic, McCain urged that we “unleash America’s full moral power” to topple the Tehran regime. The speech highlights one of the crucial failings of McCain’s world view, one in which rhetoric replaces analysis, and fantasy substitutes for foreign policy. By now, it’s become something of a mantra among neo-conservatives that we missed a chance to transform Iran a year ago. Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in The New York Times, compares Iran’s Green Movement to “what transpired behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s” and accuses Obama of being passive in the face of this historical moment. Bret Stephens, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, imagines that a more forceful Western response could have set off a revolution.
I have been deeply supportive of Iran’s Green Movement. I wrote glowingly about it, highlighted it on television, and showcased its advocates. But I do not think there is much evidence that it was likely to overthrow the Iranian regime.
To believe that, one has to believe the government in Tehran is deeply unpopular with a majority of Iranians, holds onto power through military force alone, and is thus vulnerable to a movement that could mobilise the vast majority in Iran who despise it. None of this is entirely true. The Iranian regime has many, many opponents, but it also has millions of supporters. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have actually lost the presidential election of 2009, but it was a close contest in which he got millions of votes. What little polling has been done in Iran, coupled with the observations of people who have been there, all suggest that the regime has considerable public support in rural areas, among the devout, and in poorer communities.
Newsweek’s Maziar Bahari, who was jailed by the government for four months on trumped-up charges, believes that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains the single most popular political figure in Iran.
McCain reveals a startling ignorance about the Iranian regime when he argues, in his speech, that it “spends its people’s precious resources not on roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all Iranians — but on funding violent groups of foreign extremists who murder the innocent.”  While Tehran does fund militant groups, one of the keys to Ahmadinejad’s popularity has been his large-scale spending on social programs for the poor. The regime lays out far more money on those domestic programs than on anything abroad.
The comparison of Iran’s Green Revolution to the velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe is mistaken. In 1989 dissidents had three forces on their side; nationalism (because communism had been imposed by force by a foreign power), religion (because communism repressed the church), and democracy. The Green Movement has only one; democracy. The regime has always used the religiosity of the people to its advantage, but it has also become skilled at manipulating nationalism.
In May, the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty was awarded to Akbar Ganji, one of the bravest advocates of nonviolent agitation and secular democracy for Iran. Ganji was jailed for six years in Evin Prison, mostly in solitary confinement, for his writings against the government. In his acceptance speech, Ganji explained that US foreign policy does have an impact on Iran’s freedom movement but not quite in the sense that neo-conservatives mean.
“Even entertaining the possibility of a military strike, especially when predicated on the nuclear issue,” Ganji said, “is beneficial to the fundamentalists who rule Iran. As such, the idea itself is detrimental to the democratic movement in my country.”
The regime bends international issues to its favour, and has become vocal about what Ganji calls the “gushing wound of Palestine … [which] worsens the infection of fundamentalism.” He pointed out that Tehran continually reminds Iranians of America’s “double standards” in opposing Iran’s nuclear program while staying silent about Israel’s arsenal of atomic weapons.
Ironically, those hoping to liberate Iranians are the very same people urging punitive sanctions and even military force against Iran. Do they think that when the bombs hit, they will spare those who wear green?
Fareed Zakaria is Editor, Newsweek International.
 
Newsweek International, USA   –   25 July 10
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