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May 19, 2010

What's good for U.S. is good for Egypt?

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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With Egypt's presidential elections scheduled for October 2011, there is a high degree of uncertainty in the country. But one scenario will likely happen:

The U.S. will “ask” 82-year-old president Hosni Mubarak to do three things: not to run for another term after leading the country for some 30 years; to allow international observers to monitor the presidential elections; and to change the law so that candidates may run as independents.

This last “request” would allow Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, former chairman of the International Agency for Atomic Energy and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to run. (During his inaugural term, Mubarak promised to amend the constitution to prevent a lifetime presidency. He didn’t keep his promise.)

In Egypt, opposition leaders have the same three “requests,” but have added one more: the president’s son, 47-year-old Gamal Mubarak, must not be allowed to run. If he won, his rule would be like his father’s since he would have the same advisers. If that should happen, the opposition says Egypt’s government would turn into a hereditary monarchy.

If the young Mubarak ran, he would certainly win by a comfortable margin, and that would disappoint Egyptians belonging to the Al-Tagyeer (Change) movement. Egypt’s state media would be behind him. More importantly, businessmen, who are getting too rich too fast under the current regime, would strongly endorse him, as would their privately owned media.

Gamal Mubarak was appointed head of the ruling National Democratic Party’s Policies Committee and then promoted to the post of assistant secretary-general. He is a member of the NDP’s 45-member Higher Council, from which the party will choose its presidential candidate.

In a recent speech, though, President Mubarak hinted that he has no intention of stepping aside. “Today, as a citizen, I find myself more determined and more convinced than ever before that I must keep on and move forward,” he said. But he will change his mind upon receiving the U.S.’s “advice.”

Egypt’s next president will have to govern a country with a population of 83 million, limited economic resources, an ailing economy, and deteriorating public education and health systems. The courts recently ruled in favor of striking government and public sector workers, stating that they were entitled to a minimum wage equal to 10 times what they are getting.

Mubarak promised to take the side of workers against all those who “try to undermine their rights,” and to push for legislation that would secure the rights of workers, and give retired civil servants more generous packages.

“Any increase in salaries is possible only if it is matched by a similar increase in productivity; otherwise the increase would be swallowed by the inflation it causes,” he said.

Adding to the country’s problems is the possibility that its share of Nile water could be cut.

To be sure, the U.S. will still dictate Egypt’s foreign policy, so it really doesn’t matter who wins. Current policy towards Israel, Iran the Arab world will not change. The difference will be in the details, not the principles. 

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