The ElBaradei campaign in a post-Hosni world

The ElBaradei campaign in a post-Hosni world

Issandr El Amrani has a thoughtful essay on his blog about the potential impact of a Mohamed ElBaradei presidential campaign in Egypt. I agree with most of his points — particularly his observation that some of the ElBaradei criticism is “cynicism, a position that is hardly constructive and offers no solutions” — but I want to highlight one item that concerns me.

Furthermore, ElBaradei’s pseudo-candidacy may have already forced one alternative to a Gamal candidacy in 2011, if this report (عربي) that Hosni Mubarak is likely to run again in 2011 is to be believed.

This “Hosni will run again” talk is catching on: Al-Quds Al-Arabi this morning quotes unnamed Egyptian sources (عربي) who say Hosni will almost certainly run again next year, and will announce his decision publicly after parliamentary elections this autumn.

Let’s push this analysis a little further. There’s a widespread belief that Gamal Mubarak is not ready for the presidency — he doesn’t have much popular support, nor the full backing of the National Democratic Party, and many suspect the military will depose him in a coup. Amrani made this point himself in an essay last month in Foreign Policy. I interviewed one Egyptian dissident last year who said Hosni “would sign his son’s death warrant” if he let Gamal run for office next year.

So Hosni will run again, and he will win (just a hunch!). Now, not to be macabre, but it’s likely that the 81-year-old Mubarak — who looks to be in declining health — will die during his sixth term. Gamal is still the heir apparent, so he will try to take the reins amidst the confusion that will follow Hosni’s death. The military will probably intervene. Back to Amrani:

… ultimately, I’m sure some of [ElBaradei’s] supporters hope, the aim is to create enough disturbance to encourage force majeure: an intervention, most probably by the military, to reset the current political system. In other words, a coup. This has long been the position of some Kifaya leaders as the most desirable outcome of the current Egyptian political crisis…

What happens then, though? The Egyptian opposition is fragmented. Kifaya and al-Ghad are shells of their former selves; ElBaradei’s grassroots campaign, while impressive, is small and organized largely around a single individual. The Muslim Brotherhood needs to fit into this analysis, too, and it’s unclear what they will do in a chaotic post-Hosni Egypt.

And, of course, the opposition is unarmed; it doesn’t control Egypt’s vast security services, which have a vested interest in preserving the status quo (militarized NDP rule). A military successor to the Mubarak(s) would probably use political uncertainty as a pretext to extend the emergency laws.

I think Amrani is right that the ElBaradei campaign, in a vacuum, could eventually force the regime to implement some political reforms (constitutional changes, ending the emergency laws, etc.). But I worry that the timing is bad — that the coming political confusion in Egypt will overshadow the ElBaradei movement, rather than assist it.