The Fall of Mubarak
Egypt: The key questions answered
After the momentous events that climaxed in the deposing of Egypt's oppressive dictator, our experts look at where the country goes from here
Sunday 13 February 2011
Why did the protesters prevail?
Many of the younger protesters in what has been become known as the 25 January revolution told stories of being stopped in the street by older Egyptians and told how proud they should feel. Clearly those with longer memories were impressed at the speed of Mubarak's fall from grace. One of the things which facilitated it was the internet. As one administrator of the Facebook page which first called for the protests said: "Before our webpage went up people were interested only in football. But afterwards everything changed."
Then there was simply the steely grit of the protesters, which the army initially acknowledged, and then supported. Anyone who witnessed the 28 January clashes with police will know that, without the bravery of the first wave of activists, the anti-government movement would never have reached Tahrir Square in the first place. Ultimately, Egyptians felt they had had enough. One of the economic aspects of Mubarak's legacy most mentioned on the streets since 25 January was the yawning gap between rich and poor. Striking busmen in Cairo last week showed The Independent of Sunday payslips for wages of about 400 Egyptian pounds a month – about £42. A hospital anaesthetist told us his gross pay was 700 EP a month – just over £70 – from which he had to find £11 for taxes and £15 for electricity. Angered by this and years of repression, spurred on by the success of Tunisia's jasmine revolution and determined enough to resist Mubarak's thuggish supporters, they turned the screw until their leader broke.
What role did the US and foreign governments play in the revolution?
For a while, Mubarak thought he could blame interfering "foreign powers" for the turmoil in his country. But the bogeyman gambit didn't work. The dilemma for Washington and European capitals throughout was how hard to press Mubarak to relinquish power. In they end they nudged more than they shoved. Contacts between the Pentagon and Egypt's top military officers run very deep; the message to them was very clear and apparently was heeded: do not open fire on your own people.
Who is in charge now?
The military. After Hosni Mubarak shocked his people by handing power to his armed forces on Friday night, Egypt's generals hold all the cards. The success of the 25 January revolution now depends on how they play them. For the moment the army is basking in the goodwill of the demonstrators, who throughout this crisis have perceived the military as impartial arbiters between the people and the regime. The generals have vowed to oversee the transition from military rule to democracy, yet until now they have not given any kind of timetable or blueprint for how this will happen. There are also concerns about whether the people who have been close to Mubarak for so long will really be willing to give up the resulting perks of power by permitting free and fair elections.
When will there be an election?
The timetable set out by Mubarak as he struggled to stay in power was for elections to take place in September 2011 at the latest, and this is what a majority of those who took part in the 25 January revolution would like to see – though not on his terms, of course. But Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel peace laureate, wrote in The New York Times yesterday of a process overseen by a presidential council, including a representative to oversee the constitutional changes required to ensure free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections "within a year". The problem is how to achieve such reforms – which include lifting emergency powers, guaranteeing freedom of speech, limiting presidential terms, allowing any bona fide candidate to stand, and perhaps transferring some presidential powers to a prime minister – without recourse to the current parliament, whose legitimacy is so low because of last November's rigged elections.
Will Islamic fundamentalism become a factor?
Not if the statements of leading Muslim Brotherhood members are to be taken at face value. The Islamist organisation, which is Egypt's most entrenched opposition movement despite having been banned for most of the past half-century, is suspected by some in the West of harbouring fundamentalist political ambitions. And yet the Brotherhood long ago abandoned any pretence of violent revolutionary ideology. According to Dr Essam El-Erian, an executive bureau member of the Brotherhood, the organisation is looking forward to a "free and democratic" Egypt. His view is supported by Egyptian political expert Emad Gad, who said that although any Brotherhood-dominated government might well revise Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, there would be no threat of an Iran-style seizure of power.
Who is likely to run Egypt?
For now, of course, it's the army. But if Egypt moves to the kind of open, pluralistic democracy the Tahrir Square demonstrators want, then it is almost impossible to predict the outcome. Mubarak has long predicted that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood would take over if he went, but few Egypt experts believe that, at the very least in the medium term. There are opposition or liberal figures waiting in the wings, and all have their detractors as well as their supporters. Names that have been mentioned include ElBaradei, the former IAEA nuclear inspections chief whose campaign group helped to organise the protests; Ayman Nour, the dissident politician jailed in 2005 by Mubarak; Ahmed Zewail, the super-eminent Egyptian-American scientist; and possibly Hossam Badrawi, appointed as a reforming secretary general of the hitherto ruling National Democratic Party. While the feared Mubarak henchman Omar Suleiman can't be ruled out, it's far from clear that any party would support him. One name frequently mentioned by Western diplomats is Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League. But this wasn't a revolution in support of an alternative leader; it was one against the existing one. It's possible that a telegenic and as yet unknown candidate could emerge from the ranks of the street protesters themselves.
What happens to Mubarak now?
Many of the Tahrir Square protesters wanted to see Mubarak put on trial, and were equally adamant that he must not be allowed to leave Egypt with his vast fortune, "stolen" from the Egyptian people and now apparently in secret bank accounts frozen by the Swiss authorities. Others were content simply to see him go. But the chances are that as more emerges about the regime's financial dealings – and perhaps also about the darkest aspects of his security state – the calls for trial could intensify. Some Egyptians believe that Mubarak actually spent his last 48 hours in office doing everything he could to preserve his wealth and to make himself and his family, including his son Gamal, safe from the threat of prosecution.
Will Egypt's peace with Israel hold?
The $64,000 question for the international community, of course. It's important to realise that this was not at all a revolution about Israel or against the treaty; it was much more domestic than that. Many of those on the streets actually stressed Egyptians' lack of interest in a war with Israel, while often also citing the importance of a fair deal for Palestinians. Some fear that if the Muslim Brotherhood had a big share of parliamentary seats it could seek to end the 1978 Camp David treaty. The Brotherhood itself has been enigmatic, saying it is a "heavy question" or it will be for the people to decide. But most officials of Western governments familiar with Egypt believe that the likeliest course for a freely elected government will be to stick by a treaty needed for Egyptian peace and so retain access to the billions of US dollars in aid which the country will need for some time to come.
What will be the impact in the rest of the region?
Algeria Thousands of Algerians defied a government ban on protests and a massive deployment of riot police to march in the capital yesterday, demanding democratic reforms. Thousands flooded into central Algiers, clashing with police who outnumbered them at least three to one. A human rights activist said more than 400 people were arrested. Islamic groups are a potent force here. Under Algeria's nearly two-decades-long state of emergency, protests are banned in the capital, but repeated government warnings for people to stay away fell on deaf ears. Some called Saturday's protest a turning point.
Yemen Combustible situation which could blow at any time. Yesterday, thousands clashed with government supporters in Sana'a.
Morocco Even this, one of the region's least bad regimes, has seen protests, the most recent bringing 1,000 on to Rabat's streets on Thursday. Their cause: the lack of promised public sector jobs. Graduates, among whom unemployment runs at 18 per cent, are not happy.
Libya The least likely candidate for revolution. Political parties are banned, public dissent rare, and Colonel Gaddafi's regime swift to jail even incipient subversives. Only last week a writer who called for peaceful mass protests was arrested. The pretext was a traffic offence, but Jamal al-Hajji, a dual Libyan-Danish national, remains in jail.
What does the revolution mean for the US and the West, and how will they react?
The West loves to preach the gospel of democracy. But now what? At risk of collapse suddenly is the central pillar of Western policy in the Middle East, namely the 30-year treaty between Egypt and Israel, the single most important bulwark against a new Arab-Israeli conflagration. That post-Mubarak Egypt is likely to turn its face away from the West is probably a given, not least because few imagine that the Muslim Brotherhood will not have some significant part in the country's future. But by how many degrees is now the crucial question. Western capitals will use what influence they have to ensure several things: that the military allows a transition to democracy to happen, that it is orderly and, of course, that it does not result in an Egypt controlled by an Islamist theocracy. In that regard, the West will be seeking assurances that before the Brotherhood is included in the country's political structure, it first must forswear violence and any support for terrorism.
All this will require light treading in Cairo. The US, at least, does have some leverage, thanks mostly to the $1.5bn in military aid it gives to Egypt annually, money that has to be approved by the US Congress. Even during the revolution, there were murmurs of withholding the money if the military were to abet Mubarak's attempts to stay in power. Washington is already warning other Middle Eastern states with less than perfect democracies to start making changes of their own now if they want to avoid a popular revolution.
And finally, what about the economy and tourism?
The unrest is costing Egypt £193m a day, and will shave two per cent off its projected 6 per cent growth this year. The highly lucrative Suez Canal is now open again, but at least £620m has already been lost in tourist revenues. River cruising on the Nile has ground to a halt, and the Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez. The most popular Red Sea resorts remain accessible. During the uprising, Mubarak raised some state salaries and pensions by 15 per cent. He also pledged to keep subsidies in place in a nation where 40 per cent of the 80 million people live on less than $2 a day.
Answers by Donald Macintyre, Alastair Beach, David Usborne, Kunal Dutta and David Randall
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