International Affairs Opinion

Too Little too Late

Merely sacking Prime Minister and his cabinet it just appeared too little too late for President Hosni Mubarak who ruled strategically important Egypt for 30 long years after assassination of President Enver Sadat by his own army. In power President Hosni Mubarak had completely forgotten history of his own country. He ruled Egypt with an iron fist. Having complete support of the United States, Israel, Middle East nations and other world players; Mubarak never cared to pull a leaf from history books. He felt comfortable but failed to study currents and crosscurrents which swept away his power-base overnight.

His climb to power remained traditional. Mubarak was a man of Gamal Nassar traditions. He was part of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council that had removed King Farouk in a bloodless coup detat. In April 1975, Mubarak was appointed by Enver Sadat as Vice President of the Egyptian Republic. In this position, he loyally served Sadat’s policies. He took part in government consultations that dealt with the future disengagement of forces agreement with hostile Israel.

As part of his support for Sadat’s policies, he went in early September 1975 on a mission to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Syria, in order to convince the Saudi and Syrian governments to accept the disengagement agreement signed with the Israeli government (“Sinai II”), but was refused a meeting by the Syrian president.

In addition, Mubarak was sent by Sadat to numerous meetings with foreign leaders. Mubarak’s political significance as Vice-President can be seen from the fact that at a conversation held on June 23, 1975 between Foreign Minister Fahmy and US Ambassador Hermann Eilts, Fahmy said to Eilts that “Mobarek [sic] is, for the time being at least, likely to be a regular participant in all sensitive meetings” and he advised the Ambassador not to antagonize Mubarak, as he was Sadat’s personal choice.

While in office, political corruption in the Mubarak administration’s Ministry of Interior has risen dramatically, due to the increased power over the institutional system that is necessary to secure the prolonged presidency. Such corruption has led to the imprisonment of political figures and young activists without trials, illegal undocumented hidden detention facilities, and rejecting universities, mosques, newspapers staff members based on political inclination. On a personnel level, each individual officer can and will violate citizens’ privacy in his area using unconditioned arrests due to the emergency law.

Transparency International (TI) is an international organization addressing corruption, including, but not limited to, political corruption. In 2010, TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index report assessed Egypt with a CPI score of 3.1, based on perceptions of the degree of corruption from business people and country analysts, with 10 being very clean and 0 being highly corrupt. Egypt ranked 98th out of the 178 countries included in the report.

Egypt is a semi-presidential republic under Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958) and has been since 1967, except for an 18-month break in 1980s. Under the law, police powers are extended,constitutional rights suspended and censorship is legalized. The law sharply circumscribes any non-governmental political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned. Some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000 Under that “state of emergency”, the government has the right to imprison individuals for any period of time, and for virtually no reason, thus keeping them in prisons without trials for any period. The government continues the claim that opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood could come into power in Egypt if the current government did not forgo parliamentary elections, confiscate the group’s main financiers’ possessions, and detain group figureheads, actions which are virtually impossible without emergency law and judicial-system independence prevention. Pro-democracy advocates in Egypt argue that this goes against the principles of democracy, which include a citizen’s right to a fair trial and their right to vote for whichever candidate and/or party they deem fit to run their country.

In 2009, United States Ambassador Margaret Scobey reported uncertainty regarding presidential succession, stating “Despite incessant whispered discussions, no one in Egypt has any certainty about who will eventually succeed Mubarak nor under what circumstances.”

She listed likely candidates, stating, “The most likely contender is presidential son Gamal Mubarak (whose profile is ever-increasing at the ruling party); some suggest that intelligence chief Omar Soliman might seek the office, or dark horse Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa might run. Mubarak’s ideal of a strong but fair leader would seem to discount Gamal Mubarak to some degree, given Gamal’s lack of military experience, and may explain Mubarak’s hands off approach to the succession question.

“President Mubarak and his son have denied this, “saying [that] a multi-candidate electoral system introduced in 2005 has made the political process more transparent.” Nigerian Tribune journalist Abiodun Awolaja described a would-be succession by Gamal Mubarak as a “hereditary pseudo-monarchy”. Ambassador Scobey summarised Mubarak’s vision of the presidential succession, stating, “Indeed, he seems to be trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition.”

However, the 2011 Egyptian protests may have scuppered this hope, as tens of thousands of protesters have brought the regime to the point of collapse. Mubarak dismissed his government on January 28, 2011, saying he will replace it with a new one on Saturday. “I have asked the government to resign and tomorrow there will be a new government,” Hosni Mubarak said in an address to the nation in the early hours of Saturday after four days of deadly protests after Sadat’s death.

The president said that change can not be achieved through chaos but through dialogue. Saying he understood that the people of Egypt wanted him to address poverty, employment and democratic reform, he promised to press ahead with social, economic and political reforms. “We will not backtrack on reforms. We will continue with new steps which will ensure the independence of the judiciary and its rulings, and more freedom for citizens,” Mubarak said.

He said new steps will be taken “to contain unemployment, raise living standards, improve services and stand by the poor”.
Reacting to the protests that have erupted in the capital and other cities, Mubarak urged calm, adding that only because of his own reforms over the years were people able to protest.

Mona El Tahawy, an Egyptian columnist and author living in the US, dismissed these comments. “There is no political freedom in Egypt, that’s exactly why the protests happened,” she said. “If there were political freedoms, we wouldn’t see 12,000 to 14,000 political dissidents in Hosni Mubarak’s jails. “He spoke tonight as a man absolutely out of touch with his people … He tells them ‘I’m going to implement reform and I care about the people.’ That’s meaningless. He’s been in power for 30 years, he knows how poor people are.”

“Ultimately in Egypt, the power lies with the president, an independent parliament and an independent judiciary is on papers but every Egyptian will tell you that at the end of the day, power is concentrated in the hands of the president. “Very few institutions can challenge his authority, so the sacking of the cabinet is not going to end the grievances of the people.

Mubarak’s speech is likely to be seen as an attempt to cling to power rather than take concrete steps to solve some of the more pressing problems facing many Egyptians, primarily unemployment and rapidly rising food prices. Egyptians calling for change would say the sacking of the government is not enough.

“Over the past thirty years, the president has sacked many cabinets before, this time is no different. Some of these cabinet ministers that are serving, like the ministers of interior and defense, two of them have been serving for decades. A sombre looking Mubarak called anti-government protests “part of a bigger plot to shake the stability and destroy legitimacy” of the political system.

He in his speeh also defended the security forces’ crackdown on protesters, saying he had given them instructions that the protesters be allowed to express their views. But, he said, acts of violence and vandalism left the security forces with no choice but to react to restore order. Even after Mubarak’s speech, protesters defied the night curfew and shouted slogans like “Down with Mubarak” in Cairo and other cities. “We don’t care if the government resigns, we want him to resign,” Khaled, a 22-year-old demonstrator, said, in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria

“The president will announce who will be the next prime minister. But what I understand from the president (in his speech) is that the government should be formed very fast today,” Magdy Rady, a cabint spokesman, told Reuters news agency.
Mubarak said on Friday that change cannot be achieved through chaos but through dialogue.

Protesters are returning to the streets of Egypt, following violent overnight demonstrations across the country staged in defiance of a curfew. Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Saturday, shouting “Go away, go away!”. Similar crowds were gathering in the cities of Alexandria and Suez. A regime change is demanded not cabinet change. According to reports in Suez 1,000-2,000 protesters had gathered, and that the military was not confronting them.

Analysts are of the view that the current unrest was “for Mubarak to leave”. 1,700 public workers in Suez had gone on an indefinite strike seeking Mubarak’s resignation. The latest protests reflected popular discontent with Mubarak’s midnight address, where he announced that he was dismissing his government but remaining in power.

According to news the several hundred protesters in Tahrir Square demonstrated in full view of the army, which had been deployed in the city to quell the popular unrest sweeping the Middle East’s most populous Muslim country since January 25. They repeatedly shouted that their intentions were peaceful. The road leading from Tahrir Square to the parliament and cabinet buildings has been blocked by the military.

Reports from Cairo revealed the normally bustling city looked more like a war zone early on Saturday morning. Tanks have been patrolling the streets of the capital since early in the morning, and a statement from the Egyptian armed forces asked citizens to respect the curfew and to avoid congregating in large groups. An extended curfew has now been ordered, running from 4pm to 8am local time, in Cairo and other major cities, by the military. State television is also reporting that all school and university exams have been postponed.

The ruling National Democratic Party’s headquarters in the capital is still ablaze, more than 12 hours after it was set alight by protesters. The Egyptian army says that it has been able to secure the neighbouring museum of antiquities from the threat of fire and looting, averting the possible loss of thousands of priceless artefacts. Armoured personnel carriers remain stationed around the British and US embassies, as well as at the state television station.

Some mobile phone networks resumed service in the capital on Saturday, after being shut down by authorities on Friday. Internet services remain cut, and landline usage limited. Authorities had blocked internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt planned demonstrations.

Maged Reda Boutros, a member of the ruling National Democratic Party, told that the political regime in Egypt was “admitting” that it was not meeting the expectations of the people, and that was why the cabinet was resigning.
“It shows a response to the demands of the people,” he said. He alleged that the protests have been taken over by “mobs” from the “lower part of the society”, who are now engaged in “burning, looting and shooting”. Now it has turned from a noble cause to a criminal cause,” he said, saying that most of those involved in the protests were criminals. He said that half of those killed are members of the security forces, who died while acting in self defence. “People should wait and see what’s going to happen. But if they continue doing protests and letting those criminals loose in a large city of 17m people … we cannot play with the stability of the country.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure, said that protests would continue until the president steps down. He also stressed that the political “system” will have to change in Egypt before the country can move forward. He termed president Mubarak’s speech “disappointing”, and called on him to resign. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency also expressed “disappointment” with the US reaction to the protests, though he did stress that any change would have to come from “inside Egypt”. ElBaradei added that he was not aware of his reported house arrest.
Friday’s demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people were the biggest and bloodiest in four consecutive days of protests against Mubarak’s government.

Input from Agencies/ Wikipedia

About the author

Azhar Masood

Azhar Masood is Controller of News in PTV, and Chief Instructor of PTV Academy, working for Arab News. He has Covered Iraq War from Baghdad for CNN, BBC, FOX News, and Al-Jazeera and other regional channels. He covered conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina. He interviewed Yasir Arafat of Palestine, Paul Wolfoweit, Prime Minister Jean Ghteyan of Canada, Dr. Amar Musa of Egypt, Mr. Haris Slajic, Prime Minister of Bosnia Dr. Akbar Ali Vallayati, former Foreign Minister of Iran, President Kumaratunge of Sri Lanka, Mr. Kumar Su Bramanyem, Director of National Defence Institute of India, Mr. Hamid Karzai President of Afghanistan, Dr. Ahmad Chalabi of Iraq National Congress, Mr. Hoshyar Zubari, Vice President Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq

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