Suleiman with Opposition 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Nothing is settled yet in Egypt. Two weeks of violent demonstrations throughout
the country have not toppled the government headed by President Hosni Mubarak.
At the same time, the demonstrations show no sign of abating.
opposition is divided and some of its delegates have started a dialogue with the
new vice president, Omar Suleiman, with a view to getting as many concessions as
they can, among them a constitutional reform which would make democratic
elections possible and pave the way for a smooth regime change.
Though there were
two representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood at the talks, the movement
insisted they had just come to listen and that what had been agreed was not
acceptable since it did not answer the demands of the protesters, first and
foremost the departure of Mubarak. A few days later, another communiqué
attempted to assuage the fears of many in Egypt and around the world. The
Brotherhood, it said, would not present a candidate for the presidency and would
not take part in the transition government or in one which might be formed
following the dialogue with the opposition. The Brotherhood seems to be weighing
its steps very carefully so as not to frighten the public while quietly
preparing to seize the occasion at the right moment.
WHILE THE talks are
continuing and their outcome is still uncertain, the government is making an
all-out effort to restore normalcy.
Banks have reopened and citizens were
instructed to go to the post office to get their national insurance payments.
Shops opened and the government saw to it that thousands of tons of food and
staples were made available. A first sum of 5 billion Egyptian pounds was
allocated to pay compensation to the victims of the riots.
freedom of speech was granted to the media and even state television now reports
honestly what is happening in Tahrir Square and broadcasts interviews with
This being said, the opposition is still deeply
divided. A hard core of protesters, mostly young and encouraged by the Muslim
Brotherhood, clamor for the resignation of Mubarak and his departure from the
country. They are continuously recruiting more people and are demonstrating near
the government buildings and parliament – with the army watching and doing
nothing. The protestors assert that they will not desist until their demand is
met and Mubarak is gone.
TALKS BETWEEN government and opposition groups
do not always go smoothly. Among the burning issues is the dissolution of the
recently elected parliament (due to massive fraud), a sweeping demand to
eliminate the extensive prerogatives of the presidency and for effective human
rights and freedom of expression. There are some murmurings of setting up a
temporary “national unity government,” which would include opposition
representatives until the September presidential elections.
chief negotiator, says that the country’s institutions are based on the
constitution and the rule of law, and they must not be circumvented. Changes
must be according to the laws. Therefore, only Mubarak can appoint the
committee, which will discuss amending the constitution, and only Mubarak can
ratify the changes.
Suleiman said that dissolving parliament is not
constitutionally feasible but accusations of fraud will be thoroughly
investigated and by-elections held on a case-bycase basis. Parliament is the
proper forum for voting on the changes in the constitution; therefore it is
imperative to allow its continued function and to protect it.
taking a very active part in all these moves. He is very sure of himself and,
with utmost competence, deals with difficult situations. Early this week, he
held a press conference, which included opposition and independent media, and
said the government had not fallen and would not fall and that Mubarak would
remain in place because removing him would shame all Egyptians.
choice, he said, was between restoring calm and revolution – meaning an army
takeover or chaos.
Intense pressure has been placed on him by the US and
the European Union which want quick reforms. Suleiman has already turned down a
German proposal to have Mubarak go to Baden Baden, Germany to undergo medical
tests. His excuse was that the president was feeling quite well and had no
intention of leaving Egypt. He added that the proposal was nothing less than
unwelcome interference in internal affairs.
ON THE other hand, Suleiman
refrained from commenting on President Barack Obama’s frequent policy changes –
which first demanded Mubarak’s immediate departure, then requested a smooth
transfer of power without mentioning departure. Obama also requested the Muslim
Brotherhood’s inclusion in any talks.
As of this moment, it is difficult
to understand exactly what US policy is, since it hastened to abandon its most
important ally in the Arab world for the past 30 years. By doing so, it severely
damaged its credibility in the region, including among such traditional allies
as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan, Yemen and Morocco, all of which are
having second thoughts about the “assistance” they might receive from America
should the need arise.
At this stage, the revolution is still raging, but
appears to have reached a stalemate. The government is busy reasserting its
authority and there is an all-out effort to return to normal. There are ongoing
talks with part of the opposition. However, protesters are still on the streets
and have sworn not to give up until Mubarak is gone. At any moment, protests
could turn ugly again. The fate of the revolution is still unclear.
Muslim Brotherhood and other radical elements in the region – Iran, Hizbullah,
Hamas and even al-Qaida – are waiting in the wings. They may already have
started subversive activities to push for anarchy and the fall of the
government. No one knows what the future holds. No one can remain indifferent to
what is happening in Egypt - certainly not Israel, which has legitimate concerns
about the fate of the peace treaty and fears for the fragile equilibrium of the
region.The writer is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden
and a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.