Who Will Lead Egypt?

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Earlier this week, the Egyptian military leadership approved a draft for constitutional amendments aimed at satisfying the demands of the demonstrators and paving the way for free and fair elections. As the Khaleej Times editorial notes, “Reinstating judicial oversight of elections, curtailing the presidential term from six to four years and limiting it to no more than two-terms, the provision to appoint a vice president and constitute an autonomous election commission is a leap forward on the path of democracy.” However, questions still remain on the military’s role in the country in the near future as well as who the potential candidates for president will be.

The daily The National writes in its editorial pages, “In both Egypt and Tunisia, the question that remains is what will happen now that the revolutions have “succeeded.”…Not even the most ardent activist would wish for chaos in the aftermath of the protests. The army has a legitimate role to maintain order, but it has to realize that its de facto control of government is an interim arrangement. The newly discovered people power in the Middle East was not marshaled on behalf of military coups.”

On fears of a military takeover in Egypt, according to reports on Jerusalem Post, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak “said he spoke with current Egyptian leader and defense minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi….He claimed that the Egyptian military leader does not have any ambitions to be the country’s next leader but is committed to leading the country for the time being….Addressing a statement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Egypt’s [revolution] could turn out to be like Iran’s…, Barak said that he doesn’t see any signs of Khameini in Egypt.”

Some within Israel are criticizing their government’s distrust of the Arab masses. Asaf Gefen writes in the pages of Yedioth Ahronoth that he is not surprised “to discover that the new international star for Israelis is Egyptian General Tantawi. Indeed, in a country ruled by generals such as our own, what’s more natural for us than to put our faith in an elderly general?” In order to allay any fears of just such continued military domination, the aforementioned Khaleej Times editorial added that “the military government…is in need of lifting the emergency laws that have been in force throughout Mubarak’s 32 years, which have resultantly bred discontent in the society and ruined its socio-political and intellectual synergies.”

The military doesn’t seem to be the only game in town. Tariq Alhomayed writes in Asharq Alawsat, “Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy…has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to open a dialogue with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Halevy proposed [that Israel negotiate with him] after al-Qaradawi gave his most recent Friday sermon in Cairo, and perhaps even after al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa calling on the people of Libya to kill Colonel Gaddafi.” However, he cautions, “If the Israelis believe that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s sermon last Friday in Egypt was evidence of his influence and popularity, then they are mistakenly reading the situation in the country, for he is merely jumping on the bandwagon, and this is something that many components of Egyptian society are aware of.”

It is difficult, nevertheless, to ignore this charismatic leader of the International Union of Islamic Scholars and prominent Muslim Brotherhood figure after his sermon on Friday, which was attended by large crowd in Tahir square. Following 30 years in exile, his return to Egypt is bound to raise concerns among those who doubt the democratic credentials of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In response, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Rashad al-Bayoumi spoke to Asharq Alawsat’s Shaaban Abdul Sattar. In the interview, al-Bayoumi restated his position that the MB was not seeking office “in the current government, or in any other. We are not asking to be placed in a position of authority, and we do not aim to be in a position of power or have a parliamentary majority, whether in the current phase or in the future.… We are an effective component of [Egyptian] society, and we are keen to engage with members of all faiths, and we do not have any ambition for leadership or rule.”

Others are looking elsewhere for solutions. Abdel-Moneim Said suggests in the Egyptial daily Al Ahram, “Historical experience shows that massive social transformations can be hard to navigate.…I therefore have a recommendation, which is to bring in a president representative of a national consensus of all political forces. This president will be charged with overseeing the realization of a new constitution, the completion of the process of laying the foundations for democratic government, and the establishment of civilian and constitutional legitimacy. He will also have the onerous responsibility of steering the economic salvation process that follows all revolutions in history.”

Two such consensus candidates, Amr Mussa and Mohamed ElBaradei, have begun to lay the groundwork for their candidacies. According to Al Arabiya, “Mussa, 74, is a dynamic figure with a quick sense of humour and charisma that often eclipsed that of his former boss Mubarak. His popularity stems from his strong stands against Israel and language that appeals to the Arab street. Days after the popular uprising in Tunisia, Mussa warned during an Arab summit in Egypt of the ‘unprecedented anger’ across the region, sealing his legacy as an Arab public figure in touch with the people.” News of his announcement that he would run for president, once he stepped down from his current position as the Arab League chief, was generally well received by Egyptians at home and abroad.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, laid out his vision of Egypt’s “Second Republic” in the Financial Times. In making his argument ElBaradei writes, “First, there should be a provisional constitution guaranteeing equal rights and basic freedoms and outlining the purposes and limited authorities of the transitional government….Second, a three-person presidential council should be formed to lead the transition….Third, there should be a caretaker government of highly qualified people of unquestionable integrity, to provide the continuation of basic services, replacing elements of the old regime that have lost credibility….Fourth, all residual instruments of the outgoing dictatorship should be abolished.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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