Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt's Next Strongman?

The good people at the Foreign Policy website are spotlighting a 2009 piece about "Egypt's Next Strongman."  Of the two men discussed, one - Gamal Mubarak, son of Pres. Hosni Mubarak - is no longer viable.  The current mass protests demand dad step down; they're not going to accept his son in his place.  But the other man, Omar Suleiman, the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service (GIS), known as the Mukhabarat, was this morning appointed by Mubarak as his new vice-president.  The 2009 essay reveals that a number of respected figures in Egypt endorsed him as a possible successor, at least then:

 Publicly, Suleiman has started to gain endorsements for the job from Egyptians across the political spectrum as the increasingly public discussion plays out of who will follow Mubarak. A leftist leader of the Kefaya movement, Abdel Halim Qandil, has urged the military to save the country from a Mubarak dynasty. The liberal intellectual Osama Ghazali Harb -- a former Gamal acolyte who turned to the opposition and founded the National Democratic Front party -- has openly advocated a military takeover followed by a period of "democratic transition." Hisham Kassem, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, also has stated that a Suleiman presidency would be vastly preferable to another Mubarak one. On Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, partisans of a Suleiman presidency make the same argument, often seemingly driven as much by animosity toward the Mubaraks as admiration for the military man.  On the other hand, as the essay notes, Neither offers the new social contract that so many of Egypt's 80 million citizens are demanding in strikes and protests. . . . .The prevalence of the Gamal vs. Omar debate, more than anything, highlights the low expectations ordinary Egyptians have for a democratic succession to Hosni Mubarak's 28-year reign. Those low expectations come with their own quiet tyranny, too.

 Suleiman does have strong links with US military and intelligence figures, so his ascension would likely be welcomed in those quarters - and by Israel.  But it seems likely at this point that Egypt's protesters will see Mr. Suleiman as an unacceptable continuation of the corrupt regime that has bedeviled them for almost 30 years.  On the other hand, if Mubarak somehow weathers this storm a few days more and the protesters grow weary of trying to budge him, he just might try to soothe things by trying to hand off the reins to Suleiman.  Whether that will fly with the Egyptian public is one thing; but Obama/Clinton just might try to pitch it as evidence of Mubarak's responsiveness to his people and do what they can to help ease him in.

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