(photo credit: Associated Press)
Against the background of a decline in its regional influence, Egypt is
approaching potentially troubled political waters. Earlier this year, President
Hosni Mubarak, 81, underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder. While he is
thought to have made a full recovery, his temporary absence led to renewed
attention throughout the region to a looming question: What will follow Mubarak?
Who will succeed him? Will the essential contours of the long, stable but
stagnant period of Mubarak’s rule continue, or is there a danger of strategic
realignment in Egypt? For Israel in particular, the matter of Egypt’s future is
of no small concern. The conclusion of the peace agreement with its most
populous Arab neighbor remains a primary achievement of Israeli diplomacy and
the high point to date of the Middle East “peace process.” The agreement
fundamentally altered the strategic balance. It ended with one stroke the Arab
conventional military option (arguably, Iran is currently engaged in an attempt
to develop an “Islamic” military option to replace this). The agreement with
Egypt remains the cornerstone of Israel’s regional stance. It has held through
turbulent periods, and despite the cold atmosphere in which Cairo prefers to
envelop it, the peace is likely to remain solid for as long as the National
Democratic Party (NDP) regime holds the reins in Egypt.
The countdown to
the transition of power from Mubarak to his successor has begun. For any
authoritarian regime, the period of transfer of power is a time when it is at
its most uncertain. For the Egyptian regime, which has presided over economic
stagnation and a sharp loss of regional status for Cairo in recent years, this
is doubly so. A time of internal political ferment is now opening up, with
parliamentary elections due in November and presidential polls next
MUBARAK HAS ruled for 28 years.
Though he has not ruled out
the possibility of running again for the presidency, he is widely
begin the process of handing over power to his successor in the run up
next presidential elections, scheduled for September 2011. In accordance
the unique system of “republican monarchy” developed in the Arab world,
likely successor is his eldest son, Gamal. Nevertheless, an easy
power within the family is not quite a foregone conclusion.
2005, Mubarak consented to a constitutional amendment which allowed for
holding of multi-candidate presidential elections. The regime
harassed and then jailed the only serious alternative to Mubarak – Ayman
But the precedent of multicandidate elections may serve to complicate an
entirely smooth transition of power from Hosni to Gamal Mubarak.
other possible candidates are worth noting. The first is veteran
chief Omar Suleiman. He enjoys close relations with Israel’s defense
establishment and would be the preferred successor to Mubarak for many
Jerusalem. He symbolizes the clear perception of the common interests
acknowledged behind the scenes by the Egyptian and Israeli
These include a joint alignment with the US-led alliance
in the region, shared concern at the advance of Iranian power and
opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions, and a shared concern at the
Islamism and its implications for the future of the region.
significant potential candidate is Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the
International Atomic Energy Association.
He has caught the imagination of
the secular opposition. He has no realistic chance of securing the
but his candidacy is likely to act as a focus for oppositionists calling
genuine democratic reform. Such reforms are likely to continue to be
the NDP regime.
Regarding the parliamentary elections – the regime has
already begun a renewed crackdown against the only truly serious
force – the Muslim Brotherhood.
It performed notably well in the previous
parliamentary elections. Permitted to contest only a limited number of
2005, it nevertheless won 88 of 454 seats in parliament. It is now
illegal, and in 2007 a constitutional amendment was passed to prevent
standing as “independents” in elections. By such measures, and by
prevent the coalescing of a single, secular opposition list, the NDP
intends to ensure its continued dominance of the parliament.
is likely to succeed in this. It is probable that it will also manage to
the appointment of its preferred presidential candidate. This means that
the possibly choppy seas ahead, no radical change in Egypt’s foreign
regional orientation is likely.
But it is far less certain whether the
new president will manage to arrest the ongoing internal stagnation and
decline of the Arab world’s most populous country. Egypt was once the
unchallenged final arbiter of Arab diplomacy. Today, it finds itself
as two powerful non- Arab countries, Iran and Turkey, make the regional
– each in its own way challenging the old US-led dispensation of which
The Middle East is in flux, with new forces sensing US
decline and seeking to capitalize on it. The Egyptian regime is probably
enough to resist Iranian attempts to undermine and subvert it
while Egypt’s presence on the pro-US side remains vital, its role is
help block the advance of others, rather than to initiate and set
motion. Whatever the outcome of the next presidential contest, the
today is a place in which pharaoh is no longer set to be the central
player.The writer is a senior researcher at
the Global Research in
International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.