Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mubarak chooses a familiar general as the first Vice President in thirty years

“My analysis is, the government will leave them until they reach a level of exhaustion---Abdel Moneim Said, who heads the state publishing house al-Ahram.
Egypt is in a moment of enthusiasm when the people are propelled by adrenalin, coffee and anger.  Don’t stay up waiting for them to nod off to sleep in exhaustion.  The Mubarak regime has relentlessly worked to depoliticize society, but the people are now highly politicized, meaning that they share the view, many of them at least, that there is a political solution—Mubarak must go.

One impact of the Days of Anger gripping Egypt is that the plotting to put Husni Mubarak’s banker son Gamal on the presidential throne has likely been thwarted.  The demonstrators don’t want Mubarak, and they surely don’t want his son.  [An report on al-Jazeera-Arabic reports that the two sons, Gamal and 'Alaa, and their families, have arrived in London.  If true, Gamal's political future is bleak.] 

General Umar Suleiman is the head of Military Intelligence and he has been at the nexus of U.S.-Egyptian relations.  The 74-year old general has been deeply involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, especially in Gaza.  Regime intellectuals have told me that Suleiman is disdained by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi the Armed Forces Commander in Chief and Minister of Defense.  Tantawi views Suleiman as a subordinate who has been accorded undue prominence.

Suleiman is known to have worked closely with Suzanne Mubarak, whose major goal is to put her son Gamal in place as President.  Suleiman’s appointment might be intended to eventually ease the way for an attempt to engineer the succession, but that scenario does not look very feasible.  Suleiman has also been thought to have his own ambitions for the presidency.

The news that Mubarak, after waiting thirty years, has finally found a man suitable for the Vice Presidency (once held by Anwar Sadat), reflects several elements:
  • Mubarak is trying to insure his grip on power by appointing someone who the Americans can be comfortable with, while keeping in place his ambitions for Gamal's eventual ascension.
  • Suleiman is a general, but he is on the periphery of the army not from its core.  It is widely suspected that the senior generals have so far thwarted plans to install Gamal.  Suleiman’s appointment would be intended to fend off those generals rather than bringing them closer to the centers of power.
  • Most important is that Mubarak’s game has usually been to promise reform and then to renege when the pressure relents.  This is evidenced by the repeated promises to lift the State of Emergency that has been in force almost every day of Mubarak’s tenure.
  • Real reform requires opening up political space in Egypt.  This regime has suppressed legitimate political life and repressed civil society.   
  • If we take President Obama at his word, this sort of resuscitation of political life will be a litmus test for Mubarak’s willingness to engage reform. 


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