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Expected scenarios for the future of governance in Egypt

Published in Egypt

By Abd al-Khaliq Faruq

For many years, Egypt has suffered from a complex political and social crisis, which has manifested itself in multiple forms: there have been continuous demonstrations, sits-in, more than 4,000 protests in the last two years alone, an economic crisis with spiralling effects, plus a crisis in political leadership and a lack of clarity regarding the future. Egypt has been subjected to a political process for the past 30 years or more which has often been characterised as either being paralytic or barren.

In the past ten years the crisis has deepened, thanks to a set of characteristics of the regime that has become clear to identify. First, there has been an open push for the son of President Hosni Mubarak, Gamal, to inherit the office of presidency in what can be dubbed a "Caesarian succession". This move has required amending the constitution in an attempt to obliterate any real chance that any other presidential hopeful would be able to engage in a fair competition with the president's son. This situation has also led to the annulment of the essence of Clause 88 of the Constitution, which requires complete and total judicial supervision of the electoral process.

Measures aimed at ensuring forced succession have caused various reactions from multiple corners, with some such reactions being expressed openly, while other voices remain either silent or hushed and subdued by members of influential circles within the state apparatus.

Concern has surged among nearly all members of the opposition as well as within the ruling elite and government departments after successive health issues have required the president being moved to a number of European countries - the last of which was Germany - for critical surgical procedures. President Mubarak's health challenges have opened the door to scepticism regarding the stability of governance in Egypt, and have led some to imagine scenarios wherein Egypt is pushed down a dangerous slope of uncertainty.

This paper will discuss the potential scenarios and probable outcomes of upcoming events which may take place within the next 15 months that separate us from the "Presidential Election" of November 2011. This paper deliberately uses the methodology of painting selected possible scenarios due to the fact that - by definition - the methodology of drawing scenarios is adopted in cases where there is:

  • A severe lack of necessary information;

  • The presence of multiple stakeholders, differing in their respective relevant influence, creating a situation that naturally leads to a multitude of probabilities;

  • A lack of certainty regarding the intentions of some parties and their rivals; and

  • The need to take into consideration the element of surprise and its normal effect upon reactions in and of a "non-institutionalized state".

There are five primary elements that directly impact the future of who will rule Egypt:

  1. The succession plan (the nature of the governing social alliance; and the nature of the personal and family choices of the Mubarak family).

  2. The capacities of the various opposition parties, especially:

    • Mohamad ElBaradei and his followers;

    • Civil society forces;

    • The official opposition parties;

    • Different social groups and movements; and

    • The Muslim Brotherhood.

  3. The ambitions of military leaders.

  4. The actual capabilities of Egypt's security apparatuses.

  5. The desires of and trends within the United States, and their ability to exert pressure on the main centres of influence on the Egyptian state, such as the military, financiers and businessmen, the intelligence service, and so forth.

The Succession Plan

The plan to have the president's son succeed his father is no longer a personal or a family desire confined to the president and the first lady. It has become the preference of an entire social, political and economic alliance comprised of a group of influential and affluent individuals who are involved in those business and finance circles which are closely tied to the regime. These are businesspeople who exercise disproportionate control over Egypt's economy; despite the fact that they number only about 2,000 persons, they control roughly 24 percent of Egypt's GDP. Their collective annual income approaches a billion Egyptian Pounds. They also have strong ties with the West and Israel. However, the emergence of Mohamad ElBaradei as a viable alternative presidential candidate has, thus far, obstructed the acceptance of the option of "succession by Caesarian section" by all parties, including the general public.

Probable scenarios facing President Mubarak and the regime

If the succession project is to be implemented as planned, what, then, are the probable problematic scenarios that may lay ahead for President Mubarak and his regime? There are only four scenarios which definitely will raise their spectres and cannot be avoided, given the facts of the current situation as we know them.

Scenario One: Extending presidential tenure

The first scenario is that the president will extend his rule for another term (by himself running as a presidential candidate next year). This course of action is, however, risky as it could encounter the following obstacles:

  1. It is quite likely that Mubarak's physical health will deteriorate, casting the regime into a serious crisis.

  2. His mental health might deteriorate, contributing to the emergence of a few power centres within the regime which are likely to rise and compete against one other. Possible contenders include the Presidential Staff, the intelligence infrastructure, military commanders, the Ministry of the Interior, and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
  3. The president's inability to govern might lead to mutinies or the coming to the fore of uncontrolled ambitions either within or without the control of the military institutions or other actor(s) within the existing power structure.

  4. His vulnerability might cause a disintegration of the "party of the regime" - i.e. the ruling party - and intensify conflicts among its major leaders, allies and special interests. This is because the partisan institution's existence, in its current form, is directly contingent upon a few individuals, including the president's son; President Mubarak himself; the Head of the Egyptian Upper House - known as the Shura Council; the Secretary General of the NDP, Safwat El-Sherif; and the Head of the Presidential Staff, Zakria Azmi.

Despite the dangers inherent in extending the president's tenure by re-election, such a course of events may still be the one closest to the nature of the personality of President Mubarak who is, as he has promised before, clinging to his office "until his last breath" in an effort to ensure the loyalty of the military.

Scenario Two: Succession

This scenario is based upon the assumption that the president and the ruling regime are already stepping up the process of succession in order to ensure that Mubarak's son will assume the presidency in the next few months. That could be achieved either by:

  • Promoting Gamal Mubarak to the office of prime minister. According to the latest amendments to the constitution, the office of the presidency is temporarily held by the prime minister in the case of the president's death.

  • Appointing him Secretary General of the NDP - while simultaneously appeasing Safwat El-Sherif by offering him another office.
  • Holding presidential elections and having Gamal Mubarak run as a presidential candidate. This seems especially likely now that there are no guarantees of the integrity of the electoral process, particularly due to the ratification of recent amendments which provide for the total elimination of judiciary supervision over the election.

However, this scenario is fraught with many risks, the most obvious of which is the presence and influence of Mohamed El Baradei, who has highlighted the deep problems with such a course of events in a manner which could compromise its implementation (whether through the sentiments and actions of the public, a mixed group of different types of elites, certain leaders of the military and security apparatuses, or - more importantly - the US and Western Europe). Within this context, it is useful to mention that the regime of President Mubarak will rely exclusively on the following four elements in passing its plan for succession:

  • The consent of the Armed Forces;

  • The endorsement of the interior security apparatuses;

  • The support of the NDP; and

  • Acceptance by the US, the West in general, and Israel.

However, in my assessment, there are ultimately two deciding factors: 1) The Armed Forces; and 2) The interior security apparatuses.

It is also, according to my analysis, true that the West generally, and the US in particular, has become less enthusiastic towards the succession plan since the emergence of ElBaradei on the national political scene.

 Scenario Three: Transfer of power to a collective quasi-military structure

This scenario is based on the assumption of a successful and peaceful transfer of power to a collective quasi-military structure through:

  • The appointment of a vice president from the military establishment; and

  • The creation of a collective structure with people drawn from the National Security Council (which includes the Minister of Defence, Chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, the Minister of the Interior, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Secretary General of the ruling party).

However, the probability of this scenario unfolding is very low due to many factors which must be taken into consideration. These include:

  1. On the one hand, the psychological and mental make-up of the president favours his maintaining a monopoly on power and decision-making, and, on the other, he favours the plan for his son to succeed him.
  2. By its very nature, any collective measure will cause conflict among its adherents and figureheads, as well as within the institutions that stand behind them.

  3. This scenario may be inherently unacceptable as a means of deciding succession to the US and the West in general. It is well-known that President Mubarak takes into consideration the attitudes of these powers when making most of his decisions and before taking action.

Based on the above - in my estimate - the most likely of the four scenarios to come to fruition is either the first or second: President Mubarak will either extend his presidency for another term - despite all the dangers and risks associated with such a course of action, or he will ensure that his son succeeds him, despite the avoidable dangers and slippery slopes involved.

Consequently, from the perspective of the regime and its ruler, the key to the entire situation lies within three factors:

  1. The senior-most command military;

  2. The security apparatuses (controlled by the Ministry of the Interior); and

  3. US and Western approval of either of these scenarios and their support for them.

With regard to the first two elements, it is a well-established policy that the Ministry of the Interior cannot take an independent or a solitary course, leaving most power in the decision-making process in the hands of one institution - the military. In relation to this conclusion, there are a number of indicators which must be considered:

  1. There is no political movement or organised political stance within the armed forces and its departments with regard to the issue of succession and the president's son. The military is - seemingly - loyal only to its Commander-in-Chief, President Mubarak himself.

  2. There is a general state of speculation and uncertainty among the Armed Forces' highest echelon of lieutenants towards the alarming situation which currently prevails, and the idea of succession. Notwithstanding this, none among these top commanders has stepped in to the realm of action, declaration or even disclosure of his personal opinion.

  3. Since 1979, the Armed Forces has been in great need of the United States for:

    • Weapons;

    • Spare parts;

    • Military training; and

    • Financial aid. The Egyptian military receives, annually, around 1.3 billion dollars in aid from the US, which is vital to the development of its abilities as an institution.

  4. The Armed Forces and its supreme commanders do not adhere to a particular ideology. Nor do they defend, fight for, or organise their relations around any ideology, whatever that ideology may be - whether Islamic or secular. The only exception is their shared disdain of communism. As a result, the military can be characterised as a professional institution with a typical hierarchical model in its administrative, structural, and operational make-up.

Based on the above, the only plausible case that might cause the emergence of a political reaction from the military institution - other than plans for succession or extending President Mubarak's term in office - is the occurrence of widespread disturbances on the streets of Egypt that cannot be controlled by the Ministry of the Interior. In case of such an eventuality, the Supreme Council of Military Command would oppose such disturbances based on the following factors:

  1. The legitimacy of any action taken to preserve public stability; and

  2. Not appearing publicly to be attempting to overthrow the regime, in order to preserve its relationship with the US, and to avoid joint sanctions against it by the US and Europe - especially with the cases of Mauritania and Niger being fresh in recent memory.

There are a number of indicators that strengthen the probability of this scenario. These include:

  1. The military's having recently held a number of partial military manoeuvres with massive field deployment of military police brigades, equipped with light military armour, in the urban areas of a number of Egyptian cities;
  2. The presence of military intelligence officers in most demonstrations from December 2004 onwards; and

  3. The preparation of emergency plans and operational maps of Egyptian cities, in case a direct military intervention is required.

Scenario Four: The Sudden Death of the President

This scenario is based on the probability of the sudden death of 82-year-old President Mubarak. Should this come to pass, the responsibility for resolving the situation will fall to one of two institutions: a) the military institution, or b) the NDP and its ruling elite, and the businesspeople who control its centres of influence.

If such a scenario were to arise, the critical question would be: Could there be a compromise between the ambitions of Gamal Mubarak and those of persons who are in positions of leadership within the military? In order to answer this question accurately, consideration must be given to two factors that are bound to play a major role in deciding the course of future events:

  • First, the effect of the Egyptian opposition on the street (and its immediate impact during the decisive moment of the death of the president); and

  • Second, power trades-off of the US (along with Western Europe), especially in relation to the Egyptian role in preserving their interests in the region.

In my assessment, if the Egyptian public moves effectively on the street and across Egyptian governorates against the succession of Gamal Mubarak and against the NDP, the military is likely to block a plan for his succession altogether. However, should the opposition remain inactive, both the military and the ruling circle of the NDP might - under the influence of the US - synchronise their interests, leading to a transfer of power to the "candidate of the ruling party" who is approved by the commanders of the military (whoever that person may be).

It is within this context that the historical and decisive role of national Egyptian forces should come into play in an attempt to foil all such scenarios and adopt a more "natural" scenario, one that is based on providing all the needed guarantees for the holding of transparent presidential elections that reflect the true choices of the people, in order to save the country from the perils of slipping into dangerous and uncertain territory.

 * Abd al-Khaliq Faruq is an expert in economic and strategic issues

** This paper served as a discussion catalyst at a symposium that included a select group of experts and analysts who are members of the Jama'at al-'Amal al Watani (Group for National Action), which was formed in March 2010 during a major conference of the Journalists' Syndicate.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 February 2015 10:24