Lessons of continuity

For more than two hundred years (1805-2007) of the Egyptian polity since Mohamed Ali established modern Egypt, the country has been changing rulers. Whether the rulers of Egypt were walis, khedives, sultans, kings or presidents, the succession of power has been smooth and the essence of the state has remained basically the same.

Even when rulers had to be overthrown, they were sent into exile with dignity. When the revolution of July 23, 1952 sought after three days to get rid of King Farouk, his “majesty” was exiled with a 21-gun salute, while his baby and heir apparent was placed under the custodianship of a council headed by a member of the revolution”s Command Council, with the republic announced only later. When President Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981 his successor, Vice President Hosni Mubarak, maintained his major policies of peace with Israel, closeness to the West and half-hearted economic and political reforms. He thus remained faithful to the same tradition under which Sadat followed Gamal Abdel Nasser and maintained the legacy of the Nasserite period until 1973.

Throughout this seeming consistency of Egyptian politics, Egypt has also been changing, both in its own demographic and socio-economic terms and because the world had been changing. After Mubarak, the situation will be no different. What lies beyond him will most likely correspond substantially to the same traditions. The legal framework for this was established by an amendment to article 76 of the Egyptian constitution in 2005, allowing for competitive elections for the presidency among candidates nominated by “legal” political parties represented by at least one deputy who has served in parliament for five years.

President Mubarak will be 84 years old when his fifth term comes to an end in October 2011; Egypt will then most likely have a new president. The legal framework of the constitution will guarantee a smooth transition of power. However, this will not mean a rigid continuation of policies as they prevailed during Mubarak”s 30 years in power. Most likely, some of the files that have already been opened during Mubarak”s presidency will then be reopened much more forcefully.

First, Mubarak launched a process of reviewing the Egyptian constitution when he asked for the amendment of article 76, then a year later asked to amend 34 more articles. There is no expectation that further amendments will take place in the remaining years of Mubarak”s presidency; but the file has already been opened and debates about it will continue much more forcefully under the coming president. Egyptians will then have to reach consensus on a new constitution. This is a very difficult task, but it is still possible because of the consensus that holds that the current constitution has become unsuitable for Egypt”s democratic future.

Second, Mubarak”s times have witnessed a very measured change toward establishing a market economy in Egypt. The process started with a structural adjustment program in 1991 and gathered momentum with the cabinet of PM Ahmad Nazif in July 2004. It began to bear fruit in Mubarak”s fifth term with a seven percent rate of growth in 2006/2007 and an increase in foreign investment from $450 million in 2002/2003 to $11 billion in 2006/2007. Egypt was classed as an emerging market and a leading reformer by the World Bank”s “Doing Business Report 2007”. In other countries, this process has led eventually to deep socio-economic and political complications that have yet to appear in Egypt. No matter who is the next president of Egypt, he will have to deal first with the continuation of the economic reform process and its results.

Third, for about 30 years of his presidency Mubarak has witnessed the rise and consolidation of the Muslim Brothers as a formidable social, economic and above all political group. They started their preparations for the post-Mubarak period by announcing a program to form a political party that is being debated now in Cairo. As with Mubarak and all who ruled Egypt before him, the new president will have to find a formula for dealing with the Brothers that gives them space in Egyptian politics without jeopardizing the civic nature of the state.

The identity of the next president of Egypt in 2011 is not yet a question that can be answered with certainty. However, there is now a new generation of politicians in all Egyptian political parties and within the ranks of the Muslim Brothers. Under the current system, Egypt will for the first time have a president who emerges through a competitive process among civilians and not from the ranks of the military. The balance of political power in the country will give the candidate of the National Democratic Party a certain advantage. This will not guarantee the post for Gamal Mubarak, as often rumored, not only because of the denials of the Mubaraks, but because Egypt is more institutionalized as a republic than to allow for a Syrian-style succession from father to son, and less democratic than to grant legitimacy to an Indian Rajiv Gandhi family-style change in power.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org