Egypt’s and Tunisia’s interim governments are struggling to enact reforms while preserving stability within their borders mere weeks after two of the Middle East’s veteran rulers were forced out of power by popular revolts.
While the burst of euphoria that initially greeted demonstrations across the Arab world faded amid the bloodshed in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi managed to cling to power by deploying force against protesters, activists in Egypt and Tunisia continued to urge constitutional reforms and parliamentary elections.
Whereas in Egypt, the military claimed control of the government after President Hosni Mubarak resigned three weeks ago, in Tunisia, a civilian administration with some members of the old regime intends to run the country at least until the summer. Interim President Fouad Mebazaa announced on Thursday that elections for a council of representatives to rewrite the Constitution would be held in July.
Tunisia’s existing constitution prohibits caretaker governments from remaining in power for more than sixty days. Mebazaa has argued that the current framework lacks credibility and said that he would stay in office to shepherd the country during its transition to democracy.
Once elected, the Constitutional Council could either appoint a new government or ask the current executive to carry on until presidential or parliamentary elections are held.
In Egypt, the prime minister who was appointed by President Mubarak when protests still seemed containable resigned Thursday, clearing the way for the military council that now governs the country to elevate former transportation minister Essam Sharaf to the position. While Sharaf appears to be popular with longtime opponents of the former regime, he is also noted for opposing normalization of ties with Israel as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.
Contrary to the Tunisian interim government, the generals in Egypt have simply suspended the Constitution but they are struggling in their new role as caretakers, prone to deploying force against lingering protests and ruling by decree. They have reached out to the public by appearing on television talk shows and issuing public apologies for the incidental but forceful crackdown of demonstrations.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June to be followed by presidential elections in August. Aside from the ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, opposition parties are scarcely organized. Among secular Egyptians, there is discussion between leftists and liberals over whether to establish two separate parties which they fear might dilute the secular vote.
The Muslim Brotherhood is keen on early elections because it expects to do well but there have been signs of discord along generational lines with youngsters who actually protested in Cairo in recent weeks demanding a greater voice.