Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt: An uncertain transition - who's who in the Supreme Council

Some have termed the departure of President Hosni Mubarak from office on February 11,2011, as a resignation. Some others have called it waiving the office or powers of the President. The Egyptian Constitution provides for both contingencies. When a President resigns, the Constitution requires that he should address his letter of resignation to the President (Speaker) of the Parliament. When he stops exercising the powers of the President, he addresses his letter to the Vice-President. Article 82 provides for this interesting contingency of the President leaving office without formally resigning. It says: “If on account of any temporary obstacle the President of the Republic is unable to carry out his functions, he shall delegate his powers to a vice-president.”

2.Mubarak, while leaving office much to the jubilation of the protesters, did not inform the President of the Parliament and submit a formal letter of resignation as required under the Constitution. Nor did he ask the Vice-President Omar Suleiman to take over. Instead, he asked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to take over. It is a coup without seeming to be a coup.

3. One can go on analyzing the circumstances of Mubarak’s departure. Whatever be the circumstances, Mubarak is gone from office for ever. It is time to discuss what next. Egypt is now in a state of transition under the leadership of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which consists of the following:

* Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has been the Minister of Defense and commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces since 1991. He has been a Field Marshal since 1989. After the protests broke out on January 25, Mubarak promoted him as Deputy Prime Minister and asked him to continue to hold the defence portfolio. He visited the Tahrir Square on February 4 and met the troops deployed there as well as the protesters. He is the Chairman of the Supreme Council.

* Air Marshal Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, the chief of the Air Force since March 20,2008.
* Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Anan, Chief of Staff of the Army.
* Lt. Gen. Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen, Commander of Air Defense.
* Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish, chief of navy.

4. Is Lt.Gen. Omar Suleiman, the Vice-President, who made the televised announcement regarding Mubarak leaving office after handing over his powers, a member of the Supreme Council? The position is not clear. Al Jazeera says he is. Others do not say so. However, since he is only a Lt-Gen and since the Supreme Council is headed by a Field Marshal, it stands to reason that Suleiman may have to work under the orders of the Supreme Council and not vice versa.

5. What next? The present Constitution has become untenable since the post-Mubarak transitional arrangements are not in accordance with the Constitution. This gives rise to the possibility that the Supreme Council may suspend the Constitution and dissolve the Parliament. Mohamed El Baradei has said that Egypt will now have a provisional Constitution.

6. What will be the duration of the transitional arrangements? Till September when the election of a new President is due or for a longer period? The political elements, who participated in the protest movement, are already saying that it may not be possible for the Supreme Council to restore political and economic normalcy before September and, hence, according to them, it should be for a longer period. El Baradei has been quoted by the BBC as stating as follows: “ "What I have been proposing is a transitional period of one year. We will have a provisional constitution. We'll have a transitional government, hopefully a presidential council, including a person from the army and a couple of civilians. The main idea is that the army and the Egyptian people will work together in a systematic way for a year to reach the point where we can hold a genuine free and fair election, a parliamentary election and a presidential election. I think the people of Egypt, who have been suppressed for at least 30 years, are ready to wait for a year as they see things are going in the right direction."

7. The younger non-political elements, who played a leading role in the revolution, have not clearly indicated their view on this subject apart from expressing their trust in the Army. Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive, who is credited with rallying many young people behind El Baradei, has tweeted to his followers as follows: “The military statement is great. I trust our Egyptian Army”.

8. The Armed Forces’ statement to which he had referred said the Supreme Council would lift the country's emergency law but only "as soon as current circumstances end". It also said that the "Armed Forces make a commitment to caring for the people's legitimate demands, and to seeking to follow their implementation within the time frames with full precision and resolution, until the complete transfer of power, and the achievement of the democratic free society which the people aspire to". It pledged not to prosecute "the honest men who called for an end to corruption and for reform". While it spoke of time-frames for the transition, it refrained from specifying those time-frames. If Ghonim comes out ultimately in support of El Baradei’s call for a longer transition, will other youth leaders support him?

9. Who will be in any transitional Government or council that may be constituted? Everybody wants that it should be a civilian council possibly headed by El Baradei and including a representative of the Armed Forces. It is not yet clear whether the Supreme Council would accept a transitional council of which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a member. The MB has been supportive of El Baradei till now. He has been advocating a role for the MB in the transitional set-up, but the MB has said it does not want any role. The youth leaders are not opposed to it. The Supreme Council has not yet spelt out its views.

10. What now of Mubarak? Will he be allowed to lead a quiet life in Sharam-el- Sheikh, where he has reportedly taken up residence or will he face further humilitation. The youth elements want him to be held accountable for his alleged misdeeds and enquiries ordered against him. This is clear from the following Tweets of Ghonim to his followers: “Soon the ugly face of the regime will be supported by documents and evidence “ and “the money Mubarak and his family stole out of the Egyptian people should go to families of martyrs and to reconstruct Egypt.” The Supreme Council and El Baradei have kept quiet on any further action against Mubarak,but the youth leaders are now saying that now that Mubarak is gone, they should focus on action against his dictatorship. It is evident they want action against all those closely identified with Mubarak. Omar Suleiman was very close to Mubarak for 20 years. He was part of the Mubarak dictatorship. Will they demand action against him?

11. Ghonim emerged as a legendary leader of the youth component of the revolution. But he was also a senior executive of a US multinational (Google). Some of his statements could now be interpreted as business and corporate houses friendly. One of his Tweets says: “ Lets work on raising 100 Billion EGP from Egyptians to rebuild Egypt. Talked to one business man and he is ready to put the first 1 B”. Will other young leaders, who come from middle and lower middle class families, feel comfortable with his policies towards the business world? All the business families, which minted billions, were with Mubarak.

12. What are the chances of the prairie fire of revolution spreading to other Arab countries? The immediate danger is to Yemen, Algeria and Libya. Ghonim has already tweeted as follows to anti-Govt protesters in Algeria: “My heart and prayers to the Algerian brothers and sisters. “ Yemen has been in turmoil for nearly three weeks now. There have been sporadic protests in Algeria and Libya. Developments in these countries can move fast now. ( 12-2-11)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.