On the Verge of Succession

In her recently published paper by the Carnegie Endowment Institute, former specialist at the US State Department Michelle Dunne gave a comprehensive overview of the current political discourse in Egypt in an attempt to re-activate the US role in this critical phase of Egypt’s political history which indeed have a significant impact not only on Egypt, but on the whole region. 

President Mubarak proposed constitutional amendments which have been lately endorsed by parliament and sent for a public referendum due in April; have created a heated debate in the political arena regarding the nature and essence of these amendments and the sincerity of the incumbent regime towards true reform. The paper discusses these proposed amendments which are mainly concerned with the issues of eligibility of presidential candidates, the power relation between the executive and legislative branches and the parliamentary electoral process. Drawing on the regime’s history with superficial constitutional amendments as in 2005; Dunne is cynical towards the Mubarak initiatives as they are believed to be cosmetic in nature. She acknowledges that the regime’s main concern is to secure a smooth power succession from Mubarak to his son Gamal mainly through the marginalizatin of any major opposition represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptians know that a leadership succession is underway, the key question now is whether there will be enough pressure from opposition and civil society groups to compel the ruling party to make reforms that will pave the way for meaningful competition in the future.

They also aim at managing the Egyptian opposition making sure there is enough competition to lend an air of credibility to future elections while marginalizing the Muslim Brotherhood

However, Dunne advocates a more proactive US role in Egyptian politics to pressure president Mubarak regime for more political space and freedom. The key issues proposed by Dunne for the US administration to focus on are: presidential term limits, greater freedom for political parties and movements, independent election oversight, and limiting executive branch powers under a new counter-terrorism law. It is believed that if the US administration lends its support to the Egyptian opposition and NGOs on these issues, the regime would be pressured to undergo more serious and genuine reforms. However, it is unlikely that an authoritarian regime such as Mubarak would compromise on such a strategic issue. It is becoming more evident every day that the succession agenda pushed by the Mubarak family is not only on the top of the regime’s interests but also shaping the Egyptian domestic and foreign policy. Almost every political or economic government decision or plan could be directly related to the ascendance of Gamal Mubarak to power. 

For the incumbent regime, the upcoming constitutional amendments are a question of survival which makes the regime quite antagonistic against any domestic or external pressures to alter its ongoing plans. For the US it is a challenge to support its claims of promoting democracy throughout the region especially after a series of failures and conflicts. Egypt’s political opposition and civil society has most of the share of the burden in this phase. It is pivotal for the Egyptian opposition to act proactively against any amendments that would further curtail and cripple the already weak political environment. Being the major opposition faction in Egypt, the brotherhood has an important role to play in the coming period to establish common grounds for unified national demands to push for serious reforms through dialogue with all factions involved in shaping Egypt’s future. 

[pdf] Time to Pursue Democracy in Egypt Michele Dunne