Change expected in Egypt

On July 23, 1952, the Free Officers put an end to the monarchy in Egypt. 68 years and only four presidents later, Egypt seems again to reach a breaking point. Poverty is pregnant, population growth increasing, freedom of expression stifled. Discontent began increasingly to be felt, particularly on the Internet, and the regime has difficulty to find answers to the many ills plaguing the country.

This week, as the country was preparing for the festivities on July 23 and as the President was meeting with the various actors of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in another effort to resume negotiations, the Washington Times said that Hosni Mubarak was suffering the phase terminal cancer, according to sources from the intelligence community (Egyptian leader’s health on radar of U.S.Washington Times, 18/7/2010).

The President has immediately tried to dispel the rumor by a television speech. If he was able to reassure some about his health, he will not succeed to remove the question of his succession from Egyptian and international concerns.

In a special report on Egypt in The Economist, Max Rodenbeck points out the similarities between the current political climate and the one that preceded the revolution of 1952 (Special Report on EgyptThe Economist, July 2010). But if it seems quite certain that change is imminent, it is difficult to now guess its contents.

Gamal Mubarak, long sensed as the successor of his father, sees his chance reducing. Mohammed El-Baradei gained popularity on the Internet forums, but is not yet officially a candidate for the presidency. The opposition is still fragmented and many small groups of civil society are still questioning the relevance of an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter had openly supported the call for change of Mohammed El-Baradei. On Common Ground News Service, Bilal Y. Saab notes that if the Muslim Brotherhood decided to endorse the candidacy of former Secretary General of the IAEA, it could help to bring together the opposition (Muslim Brotherhood and liberals: partners for change in Egypt?CGNS, 20/7/2010).

So many uncertainties are thus hanging over the future of Egypt. The major powers, the United States at the head, begin to consider possible scenarios after the death or the succession of the Egyptian leader. The reign of instability in a country as big, populous and central as Egypt would indeed represent an unprecedented security and humanitarian threat for the area.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée