Egypt: double or quits for President Hosni Mubarak?



Even if the situation is extremely tense and volatile in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, the game is not yet over for President Mubarak.



-          General assessment



In some aspects, his situation is better than President’s Ben Ali was, in Tunisia two weeks ago: he continues to enjoy the support of the army and has the support of the United States. But if he doesn’t succeed in restoring security and order and implementing reforms, or if the price to pay for the security is a bloodbath, everything could change dramatically.



On the other hand, Ben Ali was not confronted to an organized opposition as this one didn’t exist in Tunisia. But President Mubarak is. The Egyptian opposition is multiple and active, from the Muslim Brothers which have a huge capacity to mobilize the society to “liberal opponents” like Peace Nobel Price Mohamed el-Baradei who haven’t this capacity but enjoys the support of many in the western world. Coalition of the street and the political opposition could prove deadly for Mr Mubarak if they really coordinate.



-          The security situation



Today the situation continued to deteriorate with new riots and confrontations in several cities, including the capital.



Tens of thousands protesters defied the police and the army in Cairo, al-Ismaliya, Suez, Luxor, Rafah and other cities, security forces using tear gazes, rubber bullets or live rounds to stop or disperse them.


The real figure of killed and injured is unknown but it is thought that at least 15 to 20 people were killed in various incidents.



Some, parts of Cairo and other cities were looted.




-          The political evolution



The most important news of the day was the appointment of a Vice-President and of a new Prime Minister. Both of them Army Generals



In a spectacular move, President Hosni Mubarak decided today to appoint his Chief of Intelligence and live long friend, General Omar Suleiman, as vice-President. This move could have a huge significance for two reasons: the constitutional and political context and the personality of General Suleiman.



-          The constitutional and political context



It must be reminded that, since Gamal Abdel Nasser took the power in 1954-1956, the vice presidency was a vital institution, as the vice president succeeds naturally to the President: in 1970, when Nasser died, his vice-president,  Anwar el-Sadate became President and Hosni Mubarak, vice president of Sadate acceded the supreme power after the assassination of his boss, in October 1981.



This system – even criticized because all the president and the vice president came from the army – was a gage of stability of the Egyptian institutions.



But when he became president, Hosni Mubarak refused to appoint a vice-president and, for thirty years, he resisted all the pressure to do so. This situation allowed him to play a more open and more personal game. Since a few years now, it was obvious that Hosni Mubarak was preparing his son, Gamal, to take the succession. This decision was largely disapproved by the Egyptian society, and not only in the opposition ranks.




-          The personality of General Omar Suleiman



General Suleiman enjoys a very good reputation in Egypt as he was always discreet and modest.



As the chief of the General Directorate of Intelligence (Gihaz al-Mukhabarat al-Amma) since 1993, he knows everything on everyone in the country. With a mostly external competence, his service was not involved in the repression of the opposition and, even if he is a close adviser to the President for the last 22 years, general Suleiman is not too associated to the failures of the regime.



He has, obviously, a strong support in the army but not only: for more than 20 years, he was sent in delicate missions abroad by Hosni Mubarak and has extremely good relations with the world intelligence community, the political leaders of the Arab world and several western Chiefs of State. 



He is generally seen as an intelligent and efficient man, a work-alcoholic and a skilled and cleaver negotiator.




-          How will Suleiman play?



It is very likely that his nomination open a transition phase.



The appointment of General Suleiman has multiple significances, each being equally important:



-          First of all, it a clear signal that Gamal Mubarak will never rule Egypt



-          It’s a return to the “orthodoxy” of Nasser’s legitimacy



-          It means that Hosni Mubarak rely entirely on the army



But another meaning could be seen in this decision. It is impossible, today to assess if President Mubarak took the decision freely or was pushed by the army in a “tit for tat” bargaining. Anyway, it opens various possibilities.



As everyone knows, Hosni Mubarak is not in a very good health (euphemism…).



So, with a vice-president he hadn’t until, tonight, if he surmounts the current crisis, he could decide to leave the power in, say a few months. But if the situation continues to deteriorate (let’s say: if riots and civil unrest increases or continues for a few days more), he could be gently ousted of his seat: the vice-president will immediately have all the power in his hands and the stability of the regime will be preserved (as long as the Egyptian society accepts this evolution…) 



It must also be underlined that, in a separate move, today, another general, General Ahmed Chafiq (who spent time in a French military school) was appointed Prime Minister.



General Shafiq has a good professional reputation and strong international relations (he studied in Paris and was military attaché in Rome). Distant of the political circles, he is perceived as a “technocrat.



Two “new” generals at the two most important posts after the Presidency: this could be the beginning of the “internal solution” our Egyptian military sources were talking about this morning….

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