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Egypt: Uncertainty behind the corner

Rumours about President Hosni Mubarak’s demise were exaggerated, but still he has to think about how to transfer power.

Hosni Mubarak poster

Not ready to meet the reaper, yet (via Arndt Hoppe, Flickr, CC)

As Egypts heads into election season, everything seems normal: Though the parliamentary elections only happen in October, authorities have already started to crack down on the “mildly Islamistic” opposition Muslim Brotherhood; they also announced that NGOs will only have restricted access to monitor the voting process; Nobel peaceprize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, who has said he wants to challenge President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 for the oppositional National Front of Change, has already been discredited as being part of a foreign plot against the Egyptian people.

The authoritarian government playing dirty is no news and widely tolerated in the Western world, as Egypt is one of the few moderate forces in the region and even recognizes Israel. But cracks have been starting to show: When Mr. Mubarak had his gallbladder removed a few weeks ago, rumours about his demise made rounds (and the song “Mubarak is dead” found wide appeal over the internet), leading to discussions about the uncertain future of the country. Mr. Mubarak has been recovering, but with his 82 years, he definitely has to find a successor.

This will be difficult: In his nearly 30 years in office, he has made himself irreplaceable, keeping religious fanatics at arm’s distance and the army under control. Before Mr. ElBaradei stepped in, some expected Mr. Mubarak’s son Gamal might already run in 2011 – this seems unlikely now. The younger Mubarak has supporters in the business community, but most people do not expect much from him: Since he came back in 2000 from working abroad as an investment banker, he never lived up to the hopes of him promoting reforms in the country, his role has been held rather low key. Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a succesful businessman and friend of his, was sentenced for murdering a Lebanese model – but an Egyptian revision court overruled the verdict, opening speculations about political influence on the revision court.

Some fear that the army will not be ready to accept the younger Mubarak once his father dies and instead plans to set up a military rule then. This would arguably be worse than the current regime, which violates human rights, but also allows free speech up to a certain degree.  Hosni Mubarak might try to exclude Mr. ElBaradei from the Presidential election to try to push for his son as a candidate once again; he might also call for an earlier election and try to hand over responsibilities to his son step-by-step in the coming years.

Whatever Mr. Mubarak chooses: The decision about who will rule the country will certainly not be made by Egypt’s people.

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