Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Really Fast Transition"

Arlene Kushner

Well, I wasn't off the mark when I wrote briefly on Friday. I acknowledged readily enough that the situation was very much in flux and that no one knew what was coming; I saw matters pointed in the direction of military control.

And yet...I did not imagine that by the time I had removed myself from computer and TV, and had lit my Shabbat candles, Mubarak would already be gone. Really fast, indeed! Thank G-d for Shabbat, which gives me rest and perspective, and nourishes my being.

By the time I had rejoined the on-going secular world last night, the army was firmly ensconced.

The military that had originally spoken about protecting Mubarak had (apparently) reversed itself and told him that he had to leave. (Perhaps the fact that this was coming accounts for the ambiguity of Mubarak's remarks last Thursday night.) Mubarak and family are said to be resting safely in Sharm el-Sheikh at the tip of the Sinai, where he hopes to live out his days; it may be in this respect that the army will "protect" him because young people who are part of the uprising would prefer to gather evidence against him with regard to his rule, and then prosecute or pursue him.

Mubarak's money is resting, presumably also "safely," out of the country -- I'm reading that he started sending his funds out of Egypt months ago. Whether this money will also be pursued as not legitimately his is yet another question.


So, where are we, in this situation that is still so much in flux?

I would like to cite B. Raman, who is Former Head of the Counter-Terrorism Division of India’s Intelligence Agency. His material comes to me by e-mail from time to time (with appreciation to Judith N.) and I find it helpful.

You can find his comments here:


Raman has provided not just an overview of the situation in Egypt, but some very specific details:

"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 [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.

"...Mubarak, while leaving office...did not inform the [Speaker] of the Parliament and submit a formal letter of resignation...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." (Emphasis added)


Continues Raman:

"Egypt is now in a state of transition under the leadership of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," and he lists its members:

Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, 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...Mubarak promoted him to Deputy Prime Minister and asked him to continue to hold the defense portfolio. 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.

These are names we are likely to become familiar with.

Raman then asks, "Is Lt. General Omar Suleiman, the Vice-President, who made the televised announcement regarding Mubarak leaving office...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-General and...the Supreme Council is headed by a Field Marshal...Suleiman may have to work under the orders of the Supreme Council and not vice versa."

Not seeing a great deal about Suleiman at the moment.


Raman explains that:

"The present Constitution has become untenable since the post-Mubarak transitional arrangements are not in accordance with the Constitution."

Then there is the question of duration of a transition. Originally the thought was that it would last until September, when elections for president are supposed to be held. But already there is talk about a transition that takes a year, and certainly it is more complicated if the transition includes parliamentary elections and a new constitution.

Raman cites El Baradei in this regard:

"...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."


And indeed, what has now been announced by the army is that the parliament has been disbanded and the constitution has been suspended. The Supreme Council will remain in control for six months or "until elections are held," which makes it rather vague. The prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, while promising reforms that respond to the people's demands, declared that right now the Cabinet's main concern is security.


It is said that the people trust the army.

But I have to ask, how often in history has it happened that there has been a military coup and that the military has then voluntarily relinquished power to a civilian government (democratic or quasi-democratic)? I'm having trouble thinking of any instances, which is why I consider a good deal of what is being promised moot.


Nor is it at all clear to me, El Baredei notwithstanding, that the people who have been protesting in the street will wait a year (or however long) for such a turnover to take place. They had been told to go home and return the nation to normalcy. This is no small matter, for the toll on the nation during the time of protest has been horrendous. Many had done so, but some remained in the square and military police began to move in on them, arresting leaders.

Other people then began streaming back into the street, declaring that they would stay there until the military kept its promises. In addition, police are starting to protest for better salaries. We are still talking about a state of unrest, then, with the possibility that the military, which is said to be "with the people," will get tough. This is why the prime minister talks about security, and this is what may be considered necessary if Egypt is not to collapse entirely.

Fox News


I've written about the fact that the people of Egypt have no tradition of democracy, and I believe what's going on in the street provides evidence for this. Even if the military's intentions are golden, it will take time to plan elections, write a new constitution, etc. Doesn't happen in a day. Or a week. Or a month. But the people in the street have tasted power -- they have seen Mubarak chased from office. Now they seem to think that their continued presence will guarantee their rights and fulfillment of all their demands. There is no talk about respect for law or due process or negotiated arrangements. Or patience. Or beginning the process of grooming leaders and defining platform issues.

As Ilan Berman -- expert on regional security in the Middle East -- has put it:

"Egypt's democratic forces, meanwhile, are still inchoate. Without clear leaders or a defined set of demands, the protesters on Cairo's streets may know what they are against, but they don't yet know what they stand for. And because they don't, their democracy drive could be co-opted by more organized elements (like the Brotherhood), or wither under the pressure of its own internal contradictions..."


The Supreme Council of the military has said that it would lift the country's emergency law only "as soon as current circumstances end." The greater the unrest, the more likely that the military will in the end come down hard.


Other issues to monitor: Will El Baradei -- a frightening man -- play a significant role in the transition process? And what about the Muslim Brotherhood, which backed El Baradei? Raman says the youth leaders are not opposed to involvement of the Brotherhood, which rings alarm bells for me, as well.

The opinion of the Supreme Council on this matter is not yet known.

I note here that the Brotherhood has said it doesn't want to be involved in the transition process or put up a candidate for president. But lest you imagine that this means that there is no cause for concern, think again. The Brotherhood knows how to move slowly, and wait for the right moment to pursue its agenda.


This is what Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is in the US, said on ABC TV today with regard to the Brotherhood:

The Muslim Brotherhood ...could be the "real winners" of [an election that's held too quickly], "they are already ready to jump."

"Usually [in] revolutions, if they are violent, there is an eruption of idealist sentiment at the first moment. Later on, sooner than later, the only group which is coherent, focused, ready to kill and be killed, if necessary, takes power.

"That should be avoided in Egypt. That could be a catastrophe for the whole region."

Asked if he believed claims by Muslim Brotherhood leaders that they did not seek to take power in Egypt, Barak said he tended "not to believe radical Muslim movements."

"I should admit, to the best of my understanding, they did not initiate [the revolution]." However, "they are always deployed to take advantage of it."


One of the pieces of good news, at this point, is the announcement by the Supreme Council that it will honor Egypt's past agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel. This news was greeted warmly in Jerusalem.

According to a US diplomatic cable from 2008, Muhammed Tantawi, who is now the boss man, lived through several wars between Egypt and Israel, and is "committed to preventing another one ever."

And on TV today, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry said that the Israeli peace treaty has been beneficial to his country for 30 years and he expected it to remain in place:

"We have derived a peace dividend from the treaty. We've been able to establish security and stability in the region. And I believe it is a main element in terms of our foreign policy."


John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN, spoke about Egypt and the US response, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, yesterday. He's one of the straight-talking good guys in my book. Here is what he had to say:


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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