Contemplating Egypt’s Political Future

Foreign policy experts discussed the future of Egypt and its president, Hosni Mubarak, on the American Sunday morning talk shows.

As civil unrest continues to linger in the cities of Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak is likely to be sidelined politically while his former intelligence chief and newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, leads the country into a phase of greater democracy. Whether the promised reforms will manage to satisfy protesters remains to be seen however. For now, thousands still gather to call for Mubarak’s immediate resignation.

There are American officials who would rather Mubarak remain in power for several months while the country prepares for free elections. The administration won’t publicly attest to that view. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly called for an “orderly transition” instead, noting that while political change can be tumultuous, it won’t happen instantly.

Even as the United States have been hesitant to embrace the protests, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, professed on Meet the Press this Sunday that President Barack Obama had been perfectly clear about his intentions. “The president wants change; wants it immediately; he wants it to be meaningful and he wants it to be orderly. Those are the terms that the president set out.”

Kerry said to support the efforts of Vice President Suleiman. He has been in dialogue with members of the opposition to lead Egypt through a period of transition. It hasn’t been clear though with whom exactly Suleiman is talking. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition party, hasn’t been involved in negotiations. The senator urged greater transparency on the part of the government.

What is important is that the Egyptian people understand that their demands are being met; that there will be an election; that it will be open, fair, free and accountable; and that they will have an opportunity to go to the polls and choose their future.

Former secretary of state James Baker agreed that the process needed to be more transparent. “There does have to be time for political parties to form,” he said on the same program. Whether Mubarak stays on as president for several more months isn’t that relevant, he said. “The important thing here is that the process is moving in the direction it ought to move.”

One of Baker’s successors at the State Department, Madeleine Albright, agreed that the democratization process was important and added on CNN’s State of the Union that the United States cannot “micromanage” it.

The fear with American and Israeli officials is that extremists, including radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, could take advantage of the situation and take over the Egyptian government. “The question is what the army would do,” said Albright. Egypt’s armed forces are well respected among all segments of the population and the largest in the region.

For thirty years, Mubarak pointed at the dangers of Islamic fanaticism to legitimize his regime. Albright said that there is actually a third way. “There are rising groups within Egypt that are working out a mechanism to go to the next phase.” The huge demonstrations that took place throughout Egypt last week, she suggested, were proof of that.