Egypt of Tomorrow - Possible Scenarios

Posted in Africa , Democracy | 07-Sep-10 | Author: Dumitru Chican

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak

For several years, Egypt has gone through an acute political and social crisis expressed in the most various forms, from protests and street demonstrations to a worsened economic crisis. It got even to the political crisis manifested particularly at top levels of the pyramid represented by the country's leadership.

Especially during the last decade, the intensity of the manifestations of tension and political crisis was directly proportional to the strength of Gamal Mubarak’s propulsion campaign as head of the state. Gamal Mubarak is the son of the current President Hosni Mubarak and the process is called "hereditary transmission" or "hereditary republic" after the precedent offered by Syria, whose leadership was taken over by Bashar Al-Assad, or that could be taken at that time, by Seif Al-Islam, son of the Libyan leader.

At least in Egypt, the Constitution has been amended to prevent any serious estate ambitions that could turn into obstacles on the road to the supreme dignity of Gamal Mubarak. There are concerns and worries of the Egyptian political class and even of the ruling elite about the relatively rapid health deterioration of Hosni Mubarak. Aged 82, he had to be hospitalized in several European countries where he has undergone surgery. Taking into consideration the context, the role and the regional influence that Hosni Mubarak and, ipso facto – Egypt have in a rough period, and with quite confusing perspectives to unblock the Arab-Israeli peace process, it was natural that the country's leadership succession scenarios in case of biological or political disappearance of the current president were not to be missed.

In the following lines, we propose the development of forecasts – which we call scenarios – referring to possible developments during the forthcoming 15 months i.e. until November 2011 when presidential elections are scheduled for the nomination of the one who will lead Egypt in the period to come. I took into consideration the main elements, which will definitely influence the future presidential elections, and these are:

1. The project for a hereditary transmission of leadership presented as a combination of social alliance of government and personal desires and aspirations of President Hosni Mubarak and his family.

2. The electoral capacity of opposition movements and trends, more specifically of the forces represented by: Muhammad Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, representatives of civil society forces, formal opposition parties, other various groups and movements, the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.

3. The ambitions and aspirations of some of the high representatives of the military leadership.

4. The potential of the internal security apparatus.

5. The wishes and interests of U.S. and of some forces that can influence the state and society: businessmen and representatives of banking, intelligence services, etc.

Possible Scenarios

I. The hereditary transmission of the prerogatives of power is no longer a simple internal, private or family related option of President Hosni Mubarak. It is a choice made by a powerful social, economic and political alliance between the Egyptian financial - banking community and the business circles connected to the governing regime. These circles master about 24% of GDP – about 200 billion Egyptian pounds annually – and they are strongly linked to the United States and Israel. Pre-election appearance of Muhammad El-Baradei has removed much of the ordinary citizens’ electorate. They have polarized around the current pretender to the presidency.

II. In addition to this scenario that somehow is directly related to Hosni Mubarak and his preferred options, there can be four other scenarios that Mubarak must consider:

II/1. Presidential renewal; this would mean that the president himself should decide to extend, for another year the mandate as head of state and to apply for election in November 2011. But such an option contains in itself an unexpected downside: his deteriorating health that would make him unfit to perform the powers and would bring the regime into a state of inactivity. His mental state can degenerate, creating the potential for some competitive centers of power – the presidential office against the Intelligence Services for example, the command of the army, the Interior Ministry, the National Party whose leader is Hosni Mubarak. Such a development could lead to the emergence of fractures even within the ruling party. At present, its cohesion is ensured by the current President Mubarak himself and other officials from circles very close to the leader, such as: Safwat El-Sharif – head of the Shura Council and Secretary General of the National Party, Zakaria Azmi – head of the Presidential Chancellery and of the Divan (the presidential office) and even Gamal Mubarak – the candidate to the "presidential heritage”.

The scenario should not be ignored, given the special appetite for power of Hosni Mubarak and his decision to remain in this position until the end of his life.

II/2. Hereditary transfer scenario, found within the social and political life of the country – not only in personal or family-related plans – is based on hereditary appointment of Gamal Mubarak as President by Hosni Mubarak and the ruling regime, by:

- Provisional installation of Jamal Mubarak as head of the Government and maybe the interim appointment as president of the current prime minister in case Hosni Mubarak's death would occur. The situation will last until the organization of presidential elections according to the new amendments introduced in the Basic Law;

- The appointment of the same Jamal Mubarak as general secretary of the National Party – the former appointment of Safwat El-Sharif and the promotion of the latter in another high-level position.

- Presidential elections that Gamal Mubarak will win due to backstage arrangements, especially because, by presidential decree, legal monitoring of the election process has been abolished recently.

But this scenario is also uncertain, especially after the emergence in the electoral arena of Mohammad El-Baradei: he has strong and broad support from the ordinary electorate and by the intellectual elite and, above all, is supported by the United States and Western Europe.

It has become a phrase so often used the one according to which President Hosni Mubarak will necessarily draw on his side, in support of his hereditary project, the following segments: military, police (internal security apparatus), the ruling party, the acceptance of the hereditary transfer of power by the United States and Israel.

But it can be said that among all these, two elements will decide the fate of heredity, one way or another: the armed forces and internal security apparatus.

We believe that, in the same context of competition, the U.S. and the West in general, are less enthusiastic about the "hereditary project" after the appearance on the scene of Mohammed El-Baradei. After many government formulas that were experienced in the Arab world, and after the "trouble maker" experiment of the transmission of power from father to son – as in Syria – the idea of a "Hereditary Arab Republic" creates apprehensions and suspicions as regards the risk that such a state organizational formula can evolve rapidly from "inherited" to dictatorship.

II/3. The power transfer within a collegial, quasi-military framework: This is an alternative that starts from the assumption that President Hosni Mubarak will proceed to a simple and peaceful transfer of power to a collective leadership with paramilitary character which could be achieved by:

- Appointment of a Vice-President of the country from the upper hierarchy of the military;

- Establishment of a framework of collective leadership consisting of a National Security Council, having as members the Minister of Defense, the Head of the Intelligence, the Minister of Interior, Foreign Minister, Secretary General of the ruling party and, of course, The Prime Minister of Government.

Such an option is unlikely for several reasons:

- The psychological and temperamental nature of the president Hosni Mubarak, strongly inclined to assume and practice individually the act of power and decision on one hand, and his strong desire to continue the presence of Mubarak clan at the helm of state, by investing his son Gamal Mubarak as successor, on the other hand.

- The presence of the collective leadership body will be by no means, a nucleus of conflicts and disagreements between the component members, each of them with their own power ambitions and their desire to own the tools of executive decision-making.

- A quasi-military collective leadership is not approved by the United States and by the influential Western states. It is well known the attitude of Hosni Mubarak to take account of the views and suggestions received from overseas and from Western Europe.

To those developed above, we can appreciate that, according to the most reliable forecasts, Hosni Mubarak will choose either to extend its presidential term, with all the risks and unexpected actions that would result from this option, or to go for the "hereditary project"; this could also bring the risk of dangerous internal conflicts and social and political frictions.

Consequently, the key to the door that will open the way to either one of the alternatives that may be considered for the post-Mubarak Egypt configuration is in the hands (or in safes!) of one of the players from the center of the Egyptian internal chessboard. It is about one of the three factors, which I have already mentioned: the military institution, the security institution and the acceptance and support of the West, led by the United States, for one of the presented alternatives.

Regarding the first two factors – the national army and the security forces – it is well known that the latter institution is deprived of the opportunity to take independent positions and decisions, being subordinated to the military and its headquarters. Some issues connected to the situation must be observed:

- Army and its commanding and decision structures do not know a position or a discussion on investing Gamal Mubarak as a successor to his father's leadership. The Egyptian army remains therefore, loyal to its true and longest master – the President Hosni Mubarak.

- There are, of course, "whispers" of discontent or dissatisfaction within the army, but they are related to general situation of the economy, to the permanent drift of the living standard, also within the institution. Nevertheless, nobody can speak about the least germ of discontent organized under the forms of protests, official attitude taken, or public inciting protests against the ruling elite or against President Hosni Mubarak personally.

- As a formal institution since 1979, the Egyptian army needs the U.S. support in the areas of weapons and ammunition, spare parts, military training and, of course, financial support. The army of Egypt receives annually grants ranging between 900 and 1300 million dollars from America – this determines the assessment that the Egyptian army will support the alternative to the power transfer approved by the United States and by the Western world in general. Army and its commanders are not committed to a certain ideology that they should defend if necessary. It is a professional structure, no matter if its members are Muslims or other religions and denominations, and except for the deep hostility towards the Marxist and communist ideology, the institution is not involved in any games or arrangements built on ideological foundations.

II/4 The unexpected death of the President as a fourth possible scenario for future developments is built on the reality that his age (82 years) and his weakened health can turn this scenario into a reality at any moment. The first consequence of such a development would be that the military and security institutions, the "hereditary" candidate Gamal Mubarak and the banking and business world would find themselves, one way or another, in the concentric circles of power. The consequent question refers to the extent that between them and Gamal Mubarak there could be a state of harmony and normality that should help overcome such a moment. The answer to the question depends largely, on two elements, which can have a decisive role in shaping future developments. The first one is the power of influence that the Egyptian political opposition will have upon the "street" campaign. Then, to the same extent, it is the U.S. and West Europe plans, and their interests that Egypt remains an allied Arab country and one of the most active supporters of Western policy in the Middle East region.


If the Egyptian opposition imposes control over the vast majority of "street" voters and reaches a broad mobilization against the governing National Party, and against the hereditary transfer of power to Gamal Mubarak, we can expect a military intervention to stop all the succession projects that we have presented as scenarios. If, on the other hand, the opposition will remain a mere decorative presence with no significant influence and also under U.S. influence, one will be able to speak about a harmonization of positions supported by both power and opposition. It can also be considered the support for a National Party presidential candidate, whatever his name.

Egypt expects an inevitable change, and this should not be considered simply a matter of domestic nature. The way the post-Mubarak Egypt will know and agree to adapt in a normality of all Egyptians will determine whether it represents the factor of equilibrium that will influence political and military developments in the region, or it will be the element to bring additional tension and instability on the regional scene.