Friday, February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak is no longer President of Egypt!--What's Next? [Updated 2/14/2011]

The nonviolent revolutionaries of Egypt have achieved one of, if not their foremost, short-term goals, namely, the removal of Hosni Mubarak from office as President of Egypt. Mubarak “gave up” the Presidency. It is a sweet day in Egypt, indeed, across the Arab world. In fact, all of us around the planet who believe in democracy and social justice have cause to join our brothers and sisters in Egypt in this moment of celebration. The highest political power in the land now formally rests with the Egyptian armed forces. Egyptian activists are right to feel--as one of them said on Al-Jazeera while I'm composing this--that “now, anything is possible.” Egyptians have discovered afresh that with intelligence, passion, courage, and determination, they too can, as individuals-in-collective-and-concerted-action, “make history.”

What’s next?* (After all, this is only the beginning of the ‘new Egypt.’) Well, this reader hopes that the new Vice President, Omar Suleiman, will also soon resign or be removed from office (without a president do we have a vice president?).** Why? First, as Lisa Hajjar reminds us, Suleiman has played the role of “the CIA’s man in Cairo and Egypt’s Torturer-in-Chief.” Hajjar fills out the requisite contextual bio-political background:

“He has been from 1993 until last Saturday (29 January 2011), when he was appointed vice-president - he was the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, which is similar to the CIA, but actually with much closer ties to the military. And he had, starting in the first years of the twenty first century... He’d really been very much in the shadows - he was Egypt’s spy chief, and that was, in fact, his title, from 1993 until just very recently.

He also became, when the ‘war on terror’ started, and the centrality of Egypt to the United States is ‘global war on terror,’ he was very much, perhaps, the most important person in Egypt for the United States, particularly as I would say, in his ties with the CIA. But he did, however, come out of the shadows in the early two thousands, because he started taking over a number of important dossiers in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, including the dossier for Israel, and in fact if one does a Google image search on ‘Omar Suleiman,’ the overwhelming majority of pictures that will emerge of him are him shaking hands with various Israeli leaders. So he’s definitely ‘Israel’s favorite Egyptian,’ one could say that, and he has been helping the Egyptian/Israeli... The crushing of Gaza, for example is very much a somewhat shared project between Israel and Egypt. So Suleiman, for example, has been responsible for the demolition of tunnels through which both weapons and foodstuffs have gotten into a besieged Gaza.”

And why have we heard precious few of those in power, or their sycophantic servants in the mass media in this country for that matter, say anything critical of Suleiman? Perhaps this explains it:

“The reason Omar Suleiman is so liked by the United States and by Israel is because of the fact that he’s been ardently anti-Islamist. One could say, if he was in the United States, he’d be a Fox News type [laughs] of personality, in terms of his anti-Islamism - And very much loves to ‘rattle the saber’ around Iran, so he’s very popular among American neo-conservatives who aspire to see Iran as our next military target. And that’s partially why he's been so willing to participate in the crushing of Gaza, which is currently controlled by a Hamas government.”

The appointment of Suleiman to vice president was thus an uncommonly shrewd move on Mubarak’s part, as Hajjar notes, for “he knew that America knows Suleiman — at least American administrators, political leaders in Washington, and the neo-cons, who are very influential in America. And appointing Suleiman would assuage Israeli anxieties, because he’s also known to be someone who’s ardently committed to maintaining the peace treaty with Egypt.”

In addition to the article by Hajjar linked-to above, see the interview with her, also at Jadaliyya, here.

* It’s an auspicious occasion to return our attention to some recommended reading from a previous post relating to issues, constitutional and otherwise, that the people of Egypt will face in the coming months and years in the “transition from Tahrir Square to democracy:”

Jon Elster, Closing the Books: Transitional Justice in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Jon Elster, ed., The Roundtable Talks and the Breakdown of Communism (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1996); Jon Elster, Claus Offe, and Ulrich K. Press (et al.), eds., Institutional Design in Post-Communist Societies: Rebuilding the Ship at Sea (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Tamir Moustafa’s The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Bruce K. Rutherford’s prescient book, Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); and Cass Sunstein, Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

There may be some lessons to be derived from the following book as well: Mona N. Younis, Liberation and Democratization: The South African and Palestinian National Movements (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). Indeed, while many of the transitional problems faced by post-apartheid South Africa were (and are) clearly of a different order than those Egyptians will face, I think the South African experience is worth studying in-depth. Perhaps later I’ll find the time later to post some titles from the growing literature documenting and critically examining that experience.

Last and by all means not least, see the posts by Clark Lombardi (the first three) and Tamir Moustafa (the last) at the Comparative Constitutions blog (a project of ConstitutionMaking.org): here, here, here, and here.

**Update: At Jadaliyya, Bassam Haddad writes that “It appears that Omar Suleiman, the recently appointed Vice President, will have no role in the emerging political formula, but details have not yet surfaced.” Let’s hope he’s right.

Update no 2: Hani Shukrallah provides the revolutionaries with a “to do” list at Ahram Online.

Update no. 3: See the “Statement by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations” – 2/12/2011: Long Live the Egyptian Popular Revolution...Roadmap for a Nation of Rights and the Rule of Law

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