Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak may have gone but did he matter anymore? Cairo’s ambassador to Washington, Sameh Shoukry, believed the Egyptian intelligence chief and vice president, Omar Suleiman, had become the “de facto” president, presumably with the full backing of the armed forces.
Mubarak always vowed that he would never step down and never leave Egypt. Because of this, his claim that he had set up a constitutional committee to implement reforms ahead of elections to be held in September failed to convince the crowds in Tahrir Square.
Now Suleiman, who has close ties with Israel, has handed power to the military, saying: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country.”
Mubarak has retired to his home in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he spent much of his time anyway.
So what happens now? Here are some possible scenarios:
– Suleiman will use the months leading up to the presidential election in September to consolidate his government, to seek a presidential candidate amenable to manipulation and acceptable to the United States and Israel. During this period, security forces would round up possible opponents.
– The armed forces install a secular Egyptian nationalist as president. This would represent more of the same for the Egyptians in Tahrir Square; it might conceivably lead to a break with Israel and a wave of Arab nationalism across the Middle East. Enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran become strange bedfellows in that they feel threatened.
– The Muslim Brotherhood, which has said it will not take part in the elections, will go back on their decision, or, if persecuted, go underground and resort to violence as it has in the past. Other secular groups may join them in armed rebellion.
– The Muslim Brotherhood wins elections and declares an Islamic state on Iranian lines, plunging the Middle East into uncertainty.
– Many Egyptians, witnessing fraudulent elections or a nationalist or Islamic coup, but who had simply sought change, modernisation and a better life, will be forced to emigrate.
– The best scenario is that Suleiman and the armed forces will keep their word and hold free elections as promised, banning no political movement from the democratic process. Egypt emerges, of its own volition, as a much stronger “beacon for democracy” than Iraq or Afghanistan will ever be.