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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Egypt Open Thread, 5 February 2011: See You In September?

The United States is now voicing support for a gradual shift in power in Egypt. Speaking in Munich, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, asserted the importance of supporting the country’s recently appointed Vice-President, General Omar Suleiman, and his reported attempts to work out a compromise with opposition groups. Hosni Mubarak would remain President, at least as a figurehead, if not more, until September.

Photo: Protesters continue their occupation of Tahrir Square.

New York Times/Hannibal Hanschke/European Pressphoto Agency

The New York Times reports that protesters, who are now in the twelfth day of their occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo, have given the statement a cool response.  Leaders of opposition groups continue to insist that, as an opening act in the arrival of true democracy to Egypt, Mr. Mubarak must leave office.

Is the United States correct in this approach?  Myself, I’m concerned that we may be seen as not being true to our values, and as too accommodating of a regime that has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the people of Eqypt.


  1. Shaun Appleby

    That US influence over this situation is running a poor third to palace intrigue and the protesters themselves.

  2. HappyinVT

    Is it a Constitutional question? Is there no one acceptable to all sides who can step in?  Is Mubarak just digging in and/or making threats?

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall.

  3. I saw this from Hillary earlier.

    There are risks with the transition to democracy. (The) transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime.

    Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception, and rigged elections to stay in power, or to advance an agenda of extremism.

    And this has been reported by al Jazeera

    Hosni Mubarak must stay in power for the time being, says Frank Wisner, Barack Obama’s special envoy for Egypt.

    “We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward. The president must stay in office to steer those changes.”

  4. Shaun Appleby

    But this is starting to look pear-shaped as we say around here.  This is looking ominously like the moment when the army turns on the protesters or stands idly by while others do.  Why must it always be this way?

  5. Mubarak represents the legal government.  With a stable transition of power, overseen by third parties to insure the validity of transfer of power, there are more eyes on the process.  There is also less turmoil that might result in an authoritarian grab for power.

    With a vacuum, there will be jockeying for position that can lead to a grab for power for “stability’s sake.”  

    Keeping Mubarak in, while steering a peaceful transition is the only real option we have. It also allows the factions to cohese into more than just a mob that wants “change” as a brand, and gives them time to consider the real challenges ahead. Simply ousting Mubarak opens things up for a hasty and ill considered path, that can do more damage to the country, and open it to outside actors.

    The time table gives the factions in the street to come to a consensus on what they want to do, and gives folks a chance to see folks step forward to represent their interests beyond just a brand of “change.”  

  6. DTOzone

    did anyone else hear OpenLeft shut down?

    They had like a funeral over there. I thought some of the posters were about to take to a ledge.  

  7. Rashaverak

    PARIS – Al-Jazeera’s offices in Cairo were stormed and torched and its Website hacked Friday, says the Pan-Arab broadcaster, while the top U.N. human rights official complained that media covering Egyptian pro-democracy protests are being arrested “in a blatant attempt to stifle news.”

    Qatar-based Al-Jazeera – widely watched in the Middle East – portrayed the attack on its office as an attempt by Egypt’s regime or its supporters to hinder its coverage of the uprising in Egypt. Al-Jazeera said the office was burned along with the equipment inside it.

    Hosni Mubarak, our ally in the Global War on Terror.  With friends like Hosni, who needs enemies?

  8. Shaun Appleby

    Lots of people in Alexandria today, seems almost like the numbers in Tahrir, in other words many thousands.  Also:

    1315 GMT: State TV is reporting agreement between opposition groups and the regime, led by Vice President Suleiman, on the end of military law, free media/communications, and joint committees.

    Scott Lucas – Egypt (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Hunkering Down Enduring America 6 Feb 11

    The persistence and numbers of demonstrators must be upseting calculations.  Though there are again warnings of enforced curfews tonight…  We’ve heard that before too.  And this is costing Egypt $310M daily, we are told.  That’s gotta’ be preying on a few minds among decision makers.

  9. DeniseVelez

    is an interesting read – someone posted the link at GOS.

    Seems like the key point is this:

    To accomplish this, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while sympathetic to the desire of Egyptian democratic forces that want Mubarak step down immediately, in fact have been working toward a solution that would permit him to stay for a brief period as a powerless, defacto head of state. He would remain as such until new mechanisms, and perhaps a new Egyptian constitution, are in place for a stable transition that would also prevent authoritarian and corrupt Mubarak apparatchiks from controlling the process of succession.

    This is particularly true in terms of the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Fathi Surur, who has been speaker of the People’s Assembly since 1990, described by someone familiar with his record as “a corrupt, venal man,” who under the existing constitution would become president of the country if Mubarak should abruptly resign or be removed from office.

    Fathi Surur link embedded in Bernstein’s piece led to this:

    What Mubarak must do before he resigns

    By Hossam Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    key points:

    Egypt’s constitution stipulates that if the president resigns or his office becomes permanently “vacant,” he must be replaced by the speaker of parliament or, in the absence of parliament, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In the event of the president’s temporary inability to exercise his prerogatives, the vice president is to take over as the interim head of state. In both cases a new president must be elected within 60 days. Significantly, the constitution prohibits the interim president from introducing constitutional amendments, dissolving parliament or dismissing the cabinet.

    If today Mubarak were no longer available to fulfill his role as president, the interim president would be one of two candidates. If he chooses to leave the country, say for “medical reasons,” the interim president would be Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief who was recently made vice president. Egyptians, particularly those of us calling for an end to Mubarak’s three-decade rule, see Suleiman as Mubarak II, especially after the lengthy interview he gave to state television Feb. 3 in which he accused the demonstrators in Tahrir Square of implementing foreign agendas. He did not even bother to veil his threats of retaliation against protesters.On the other hand, if Mubarak is pushed to resign immediately we would have an even worse interim president: Fathi Surur, who has been speaker of the People’s Assembly since 1990. Surur has long employed his legal expertise to maintain and add to the arsenal of abusive laws that Mubarak’s regime has used against the Egyptian people. Since neither Suleiman nor Surur would be able to amend the constitution during the interim tenure, the next presidential election would be conducted under the notoriously restrictive election rules Mubarak introduced in 2007. That would effectively guarantee that no credible candidate would be able to run against the interim president.  

    Don’t know if this was posted elsewhere here – I’m getting lost in long threads and multiple diaries, but if all of this is true – Mubarak exiting stage right immediately would be a disaster in the making.

    Sounds like it would be like if we had removed Bush from office and wound up with Cheyney as POTUS (only worse).

    I hope someone who understands Egypt’s laws will weigh in.

    As much as I support the groundswell of protesters, I am wondering who is discussing this behind the scenes.

    Tried to figure out who the authors of the Post piece were – the same piece is posted at the Human Rights Watch website:

    with this blurb:

    Mr. Baghat has worked in coordination with Human Rights Watch and was a recipient of HRW’s 2010 Human Rights Defenders Award. He is not an HRW employee.

    Hossam Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty are, respectively, executive director and deputy director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights


  10. jsfox

    Money quote:

    It’s very easy to criticize him about how his country supported a dictator for three decades, how it abandoned the dictator when he weakened, how it continues to support other dictatorships in the region while there is no way of knowing what will come of the Tahrir revolution. These are empty words. Recognizing the limits of power, Obama couldn’t have done anything to topple President Hosni Mubarak before the Egyptian people were ready for it, and he couldn’t have done anything to save Mubarak, whose fate was sealed by his people.

    Even if the worst scenario happens (which is doubtful ) and the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power in Egypt, the United States will be perceived as having stood in the right place without inflaming the hatred against it. The Muslim Brotherhood will have to remember this, and with them the masses of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims.

  11. HappyinVT

    stopped arms sales to Egypt.  Not sure how much that will affect things in and of itself but drip, drip, drip.

  12. Rashaverak

    A friend points out that anyone interested in understanding the spirit of resilience displayed by the protesters in Tahrir Square should watch the video below, of a Newsweek interview with Dr. Nawal El Saadawi, a leading Arab feminist, conducted last Wednesday in Cairo. After the violent assaults on the protesters, Dr. Saadawi explained to Newsweek why she had no intention of leaving Tahrir Square:

       They gave them bribes to beat us, to beat us here. My friends here, my friends, my daughter and son, who are here among the people, who are here together, they want me to go home. I said no. I have to stay here, because we have to fight back together. I’m 80 years old, but I’m ready to fight. So we shouldn’t go home. I demonstrated against King Farouk during the 50s. We demonstrated against King Farouk, against Nasser, against Sadat, against Mubarak. I went to prison under Sadat. I lived in exile under Mubarak. But I am here, I’m 80 years old, and we’re not going to submit.

  13. Rashaverak

    Protesters Vow to Escalate Pressure on Mubarak


    CAIRO – Representatives of the Egyptian democracy movement vowed Sunday to escalate their pressure for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, even as his government sought to portray itself as well on the way to successfully negotiating an end to the uprising now in its 13th day.

    In a historic first, Vice President Omar Suleiman met with representatives of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as part of a group of about 50 opposition members that included prominent politicians and some youth organizers.


    But the results appeared less momentous. […]

    The opposition groups, a disparate array that has no central leadership but has unified around the demand for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, swiftly dismissed the government’s claim of progress as mere propaganda. Brotherhood leaders said they were meeting with Mr. Suleiman – the intelligence chief who has become the public face of the Mubarak government – only to reiterate the movement’s demands and show they were not refusing to talk.

    However, the statement played differently in Washington, where it appeared to convey the sense that Mr. Suleiman was listening to the Obama administration’s behind-the-scenes counsel. [….]

  14. Rashaverak

    I’m so deeply moved by the grit that Egyptians have shown in struggling against the regime – and by the help that some provided me, at great personal risk, in protecting me from thugs dispatched by America’s ally. Let’s show some faith in the democratic ideals for which these Egyptians are risking their lives.

    I think of Hamdi, a businessman who looked pained when I asked whether Egyptian democracy might lead to oppression or to upheavals with Israel or the price of oil. “The Middle East is not only for oil,” he reminded me. “We are human beings, exactly like you people.”

    “We don’t hate the American people,” he added. “They are pioneers. We want to be like them. Is that a crime?”

  15. Rashaverak

    There is a better way forward. It begins with Mubarak’s departure. It involves the installation of a three-member presidential council, including a representative of the army, and a caretaker government of respected figures to oversee constitutional and other reforms needed for free elections a year from now. How can credible political parties emerge by September in Mubarak’s wilderness?

    That investment banker talked to me about how, early in the uprising, people formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum to protect the nation’s culture. It was one in the stream of acts that have dignified Egypt.

    “Look,” he said. “If we’re capable of doing that, surely you can give me the benefit of the doubt.”

  16. Shaun Appleby

    So now the information needs to be gathered and understood as to who it will be that fills now the void in the government.

    That’s easy for you to say, Sarah.  Well…  Maybe not.

  17. Rashaverak

    CAIRO (Farrag Ismail)

    Egypt’s general prosecutor on Monday opened probe on former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly’s reported role in the New Year’s Eve bombing of al-Qiddissin Church in Alexandria in which 24 people were killed, an Egyptian lawyer told Al Arabiya.

    Laywer Ramzi Mamdouh said he had presented a proclamation to Egyptian prosecutor Abd al-Majid Mahmud to investigate news media reports suggesting that the former interior ministry had masterminded the deadly church attack with the intent to blame it on Islamists, escalate government crackdown on them, and gain increased western support for the regime.

  18. Rashaverak

    The above link is to the New York Times blog, The Lede, which contains a subtitled interview with Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing executive who was apprehended nearly two weeks ago, for his administration of a Facebook page, We Are All Khaled Said,

    Khaled Said was a 28-year-old Egyptian man beaten to death by the police in Alexandria in June of 2010.  His beating, and the Facebook page dedicated to his memory, helped spark the protests which continue across Egypt.

    The interview aired on Egyptian television last night.

    One protester in Tahrir Square on Tuesday, Ahmed Meyer El Shamy, an executive with an international pharmaceutical company, told The Times, “many, many people” had resolved to join the demonstration “because of what they saw on TV last night.”


    52% of the people polled said they had little or no knowledge of the protests in Egypt.

    The survey finds that majorities of Democrats (69%) and independents (57%) say the Obama administration is handling the situation in Egypt about right; fewer Republicans (43%) give the administration positive ratings. Roughly equal numbers of Republicans say the administration is showing too much support (19%) and too little support (15%) for the protesters.

    Republicans and independents are more likely than Democrats to say the Egyptian protests will end up having a bad effect on the United States. Nearly four-in-ten Republicans (37%) say the protests will have a negative effect on the U.S., while just 8% think their effect will be positive. Twice as many independents say the protests will end up having a negative (28%) rather than positive (14%) effect on the U.S. Among Democrats, as many say their impact will be positive as negative (21% each).

    Among those hearing a lot about the anti-government protests, 35% think they will have a bad effect on the U.S. while 18% think the impact will be positive. Among those who have heard little or nothing, 21% say the protests will end up having a bad effect on the U.S., while 12% say the impact will be positive. Fully 67% of those who have heard little or nothing about the protests in Egypt say they will not have much an effect on the U.S., express no opinion or volunteer another response, compared with 48% of those who have heard a lot about the protests.

    • HappyinVT

      I’m in no way suggesting that it’s going the way of the dodo bird but the same diaries have been on the rec list all day.  Used to be a time when you needed to run in order to check a diary even on the weekends; now…not so much.  It’s been that way, off and on, for a few months.  I initially chalked it up to the holidays but unless there is a major holiday I don’t know about (and I don’t count the Super Bowl) then it’s mighty quiet these days.

      On the other hand, it is quite refreshing to have a selection of diaries to choose from here.

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