One Fly Among Many in the Egyptian Ointment

Posted on February 4, 2011

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Nathan Brown at Foreign Policy, notes some problems for protesters demands, and opposition ambitions should Mubarak immediately resign:

According to the constitution, if the President steps down, he is not succeeded by the Vice President.  That’s right — if Mubarak resigns and gets on an airplane tonight, Omar Sulayman, who seems to be in effect acting president at the moment, would not take his place. Instead, the post would be filled by Fathi Surur, the speaker of the People’s Assembly. Surur is a former law professor and a reliable regime stalwart. He is not from the military or the security apparatus and is widely regarded as a figure whose job has been to manage the parliament for the regime. And he has done so effectively. His presidency would delight nobody. (Some elements of the opposition have suggested that Surur should be pressed to turn down the post, in which case the job falls to the chief justice of the Constitutional Court. His profile is much lower than Surur but his career would inspire no more confidence.)

As acting President, either the speaker or the chief justice would appear to be simply a weak, transition figure. And in fact, that is precisely what he would be. If he takes over as acting President, he cannot run for election for the post — and new elections have to be held within 60 days. Since there is not enough time to amend the constitution, that means the existing provisions would have to be used. And those provisions were designed with one purpose in mind: to allow the existing leadership to designate the president. There is virtually no way the opposition could field a viable candidate under such conditions.

So if Mubarak resigned, there would be three choices:

1.) Follow the constitution and wind up with the regime handpicking a successor after 60 days for a full presidential term. That hardly resolves anything. The procedures are written in such a way that Sulayman could be nominated, but it would break the promise both Mubarak and Sulayman made for constitutional reform. This procedure would not even put lipstick on the regime’s current face.

2.) Follow the constitution with the promise that the new president (presumably Sulayman) pick up the constitutional reform process. That puts the crisis on hold for 60 days and offers the opposition promises for reform that might be redeemed later — and might not be. This would put lipstick on, but not much else, particularly given the toxic lack of trust in the regime’s promises.

3.) Suspend the constitution and negotiate a transition between the current regime leaders and the opposition. And then we are in regime change territory, operating outside the existing rules. If the process were successful, it would not produce merely a reconfigured regime but would be moving toward a different kind of political system. The opposition has made clear that it wants such an outcome, but it has not sketched out any vision in detail. The negotiations over transition would be difficult and confusing, demanding that the opposition transform its negative platform (Mubarak must leave) into a positive one.

If Mubarak resigned today, the third option is the only one that offers anything like real political change. It may be the best outcome and it is what the opposition is effectively demanding. It may very well deserve our support, but we should know that when we call for Mubarak to step down, then legally at least this is where we are effectively pushing.

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