Last night Egyptian president Mubarak addressed the country in an attempt to end the mass protests that have brought the country to a standstill. With many expecting that the president would follow Tunisian ex-president Ben Ali’s play book and step down after thirty years in power, it seemed something big was coming. Unfortunately, for the protesters and their supporters, Mubarak’s speech was simply another show of defiance by the out of touch leader. Mubarak promised some changes, specifically, to not run for re-election in September, but did not repeal emergency law or offer any concrete reforms that would appease the protesters. Mubarak’s stubborn refusal to step down led to US president Obama calling the president after his speech and urging an immediate transition.
[tweetmeme] It is unlikely that the protesters will allow Mubarak to stay in power, as he has become the main target for the entire uprising. Moreover, the fact that Mubarak refused to give any specifics on social, economic, constitutional or electoral reforms means that it is entirely possible that no real changes are made. The new vice president – and longtime Mubarak lackey – Omar Suleiman would likely win elections in September without serious reform and oversight. Moreover, this week has the potential to get violent. The army has urged protesters to return home and to end the protest; protesters have refused and given Mubarak until ‘Departure Friday‘ to step down (though I am unsure what would happen if he didn’t); and Mubarak supporters (many with state security IDs) have begun counter-demonstrations and attacking protesters in Cairo and Alexandria.
Jonathon Wright, who is in Egypt, makes the point that Mubarak’s speech could be, and probably is an attempt to pacify, rather than reform, and that he probably should not be trusted:
- The new constitution would be drafted and approved by the existing parliament, which is completely controlled by the ruling National Democratic Party after rigged elections last year. Even if the government fulfils its promise to respect court rulings invalidating the voting in some constituencies and holding a new round of voting in those areas, the opposition has no guarantee that the police and ruling party will ensure a fair vote. Even if improved elections are held, it would probably dilute the NDP’s dominance only to a marginal extent. The authorities have habitually ignored court rulings that do not suit their interests.
- The government and ruling party have a long record of making merely cosmetic amendments to the constitution, as they have done twice in the last six years. Although billed as ‘reforms’, the amendments have even had the effect of restricting the right to stand for election, especially for the presidency, and diluting the provisions for electoral fairness. In fact, under the existing ‘improved’ constitution, only the NDP presidential candidate would have the right to stand.
- Mubarak did not mention the crucial question of judicial supervision of elections, which proved so irksome to their rigging efforts in 2005 and which was abolished under the subsequent amendment. Likewise, he gave no guarantee on election monitoring, either by Egyptian or international organisations. Without judicial supervision or independent monitoring, the door is wide open for more electoral abuses of the traditional variety.
- In theory, Mubarak and his vice president are offering dialogue with the opposition during preparations for elections. But past experience, not just in Egypt but elsewhere, is that dialogue without a balance of power can only end in favour of the strong. The regime would simply ignore opposition proposals that it does not like.
- Over the eight months before presidential elections are due in September, the police corps and especially the Central Security riot police would be reconstituted and would be available for use in suppressing all forms of public protest. The government has used Central Security in the past for preventing access to police stations while intimidated civil servants and NDP thugs stuff ballot boxes and perpetrate other forms of electoral fraud.
- The NDP’s presidential candidate in September is most likely to be newly appointed vice president and former army general Omar Suleiman, who has been intelligence chief and is one of Mubarak’s trusted lieutenants. The most likely outcome is that Suleiman would win and remain president of Egypt for at least two full six-year terms, or until he dies, whichever comes first. This is hardly an attractive prospect for Egyptians seeking a break with the past. That would leave the country in the grip of the NDP and its corrupt ion until at least 2023. If Mubarak feels strong enough when the time comes for elections, he might even consider reactivating the plan to install his son Gamal as president, though at this stage, given the damage to his credibility, this scenario seems implausible.
- With the exception of former Interior Minister Habib el-Adli, referred to the military prosecutor’s office for investigation (in effect as a scapegoat for the regime’s failure to crush the protest movement), no one is likely to face investigation for the killing of the 138 people who have died in the last week of protests mostly protesters killed by riot police. The investigation of Adli could easily be dropped once the situation comes down.
Wright makes a lot of good points and is spot on. Though, it strikes me as rather unnecessary analysis. Mubarak, for all the reasons that Wright mentioned, probably should not be let to rule until elections. If you have even remotely followed the unrest in Egypt, it is clear that the Egyptian people are not planning on leaving until the president is gone. People already distrust the president, and most probably saw the speech as empty rhetoric (though the part about dying in his country was touching). I think it is safe to say that the Egyptian protesters are not spending much time mulling Mubarak’s offer.
Photo from BQL