Thursday, April 22, 2010

Briefing: Answering a reader’s questions on Egypt's stability and elections

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By Barry Rubin

Egypt is holding elections for parliament in November and presidential elections in September 2011. President Husni Mubarak is elderly and ailing. Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has announced he will oppose Mubarak. While positioning himself as a liberal reformist, ElBaradei has allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. The future of Egypt and its stability is the big, largely unseen crisis looming on the horizon. The death or inability to function of Mubarak might trigger a transition crisis much sooner.

Question 1. Do you think that Mohamed ElBaradei poses a serious threat to President Husni Mubarak?

"No" since ElBaradei won't win and he isn't the kind of charismatic and well-connected figure who can pose as a real rival in the longer term.

Question 2. Do you believe that Mubarak will simply hand the power to his son?

We don’t know. That seems the most likely outcome. But how long Mubarak survives and his own personal decisionmaking are also factors. It is not a certainty that he will give his son power.

Doing so will pose two problems: First, his son seems well-equipped to make Westerners like him since he is pretty Westernized and has the persona of being a technocrat. But he doesn’t seem the kind of person who would be a strong, charismatic leader capable of ensuring the support of the armed forces and the establishment. In other words, is he up to the job?

Remember, President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria worked a lot harder to prepare his son to rule the country and the country to accept his son—including eliminating all potential rivals from the older generation—than Mubarak has done.

Second, the mere fact that Mubarak is handing power to his son is considered by many to make the republic look ridiculous, like a family property or monarchy.

So will members of the establishment rebel at some point?

Question 3. What role might the Muslim Brotherhood be playing if ElBaradei is allowed to run and in fact wins--do you think that the Brotherhood will easily ascend to power if the authoritarian regime of Mubarak is replaced?

Um, if you understand Egypt, the government won’t let ElBaradei win. The rulers will decide what percentage to let him get! The key question people will be watching is whether the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate can break the 20 percent barrier.

There is a threat from the Brotherhood but it is more medium-range than short-range. The more likely scenario is that Mubarak's successor becomes shaky or there is a split in the ruling establishment over who should govern. If the country were to go downhill for five or ten years while Islamism surges elsewhere in the region--people saying, Iran has nuclear weapons! They are on the right path! Islam really is the answer in politics--then the Brotherhood could become a real contender for running the country. But it will definitely not be easy for them to seize power.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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