Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 08:29 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 08:29 | SYDNEY

Four more observations about Egypt


Anthony Bubalo

2 February 2011 11:12

Previous posts here and here.

1. Mubarak's decision not to run in September's Presidential elections is no great surprise. 

Media commentary seems to be portraying this as a ham-fisted effort by Mubarak to placate the protesters, which it is clearly not doing — if anything, it has made people angrier. But I do not think it was intended to get people off the streets. Rather, it is about the rest of the regime trying to save itself. The regime is hoping that in the transitional period that Mubarak has said he would preside over, they can consolidate a transition to Mubarak's newly appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman. 

2. Omar Suleiman is seen as the antidote to uncertainty: by the rest of the regime, including the Army, which fears what will happen to their interests and privileges after Mubarak is gone, and by those Egyptians who want Mubarak to go, but perhaps fear what might replace him, whether it is a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood or just chaos.

Suleiman is also seen as an antidote by Egypt's regional neighbours and international allies, who fear what will happen to the regional status quo once Mubarak is gone. If reports that President Obama sent former US Ambassador Frank Wisner to tell Mubarak not to run in September's election are true, then it may well be that the Administration has settled, for the moment at least, on a conservative approach to change in Egypt. And if Washington is giving its private backing to Suleiman, this will have a big influence on the Army and the regime in Cairo.

Against that, President Obama's statement moments ago, in which he called on Mubarak to bring in the process of change now, may suggest that Washington is not happy to wait to September and that the private message to Mubarak was in fact tougher.

3. The regime's strategy is to wait out the protesters. It is counting on people wearying due to the disruption the protests have caused, including business closures, food shortages and rising prices. It is also counting on some of the counter-protests we are starting to see in Cairo and Alexandria to provoke violence that will wear down the protesters and perhaps even provide a pretext for the Army to step in. The regime knows this strategy won't move the hard core, but it probably hopes it will reduce the numbers of protesters sufficiently for the hard core to be less of a threat. 

4. Will this strategy work' It is very difficult to say. We are witnessing something pretty unprecedented in terms of popular protest in Egypt (and in the region). That makes it very hard to predict how resilient the protesters will be. It is still likely that Mubarak will be forced out before September, but inside the regime, the calculations have changed. While Mubarak is finished, the regime is still trying to save itself. In this regard, it is no longer a question of whether the regime and the Army will stay loyal to Mubarak because it best serves their interests. The question now is whether, for the same reason, they will stay loyal to Omar Suleiman.