A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Devil's Advocate: Could Mubarak's Approach Work?

Earlier I noted my first reaction to Mubarak's speech: too little, too late. But let's look at arguments from the other side, play Devil's Advocate for a bit here. Properly handled, and those are the key words, Mubarak's move could be used to initiate a transitional system to usher in genuine elections by September: it will take that long to organize them anyway. Mubarak's continued presence is objectionable to the demonstrators, but if he genuinely steps to the sidelines and lets change emerge, his presence might be tolerable to some opposition elements that also do not want violent or radical revolution but do want change.

The main player is the Army, of course; whatever happens will depend on the Army. They could commit themselves to overseeing a transition during the final months of Mubarak's term. (They could also, Tunisian style, tell him it's time to go. And they could also take over themselves. Aloof from politics or no, they are still the world's tenth largest army.)

Assuming that many of those calling for a change do not want to prolong the economic paralysis of the current stalemate, some sort of credible transition process might be negotiated. Only a few parts of the constitution need revision to open up the political process; if Mubarak is serious, a transitional leadership could oversee the process: though including some opposition figures in the Cabinet would be needed.

The biggest obstacle to making this work is that Parliament, which has the power to amend the Constitution, is completely dominated by the NDP, following the recent elections, which were even more blatantly rigged than usual. Some way would have to be found to give a broader representation to civil society in amending the constitution, if the protesters are to have any faith in the results.

As I've been saying for the last couple of days, the key to any transition will be the Army. It can lead from behind the scenes, as in Tunis, or openly, or through General Suleiman, or in many ways. But ultimately it will decide whether Mubarak goes now or in September.

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