Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's mode of operation, at least to this point, indicates he has no intention of yielding to the protesters' demands and leaving the presidential palace. The policy guiding him throughout this crisis is the same policy that has guided him throughout his presidency: minimal response to pressure and criticism, and undertaking reforms, should they be deemed necessary, in a top-down fashion.
Mubarak's directive to the prime minister to begin negotiating with the opposition is part of the same policy: It's meant to confound the opposition not only with question of whether to negotiate with the government, but also with questions of who should negotiate and who, in fact, represents the opposition. Mubarak awaits the controversies these questions are sure to provoke in order to prove to the public that while demonstrations may be wonderful, the demonstrators have no alternative for realizing their hopes.
This policy has already brought about significant change with Mubarak's appointment of Omar Suleiman as vice president, pushing his own son, Gamal, out of the political race; the ousting Ahmed Ezz, a wealthy businessman whose name has been tied to huge corruption scandals, from the policy committee of the ruling party; and the appointment of a new government headed by Ahmed Shafiq.
Twenty-nine ministers were appointed yesterday, 13 of them new names. The big news was the ousting of all the wealthy businessmen from the government and their replacement with technocrats and academics, many of them unknowns. The members of Ahmed Nazif's outgoing government were supposed to have advanced the Egyptian economy, privatized public companies and encouraged foreign investment. It's enough to scan a list of their names, though, to understand just how detached these people were from the economic difficulties facing most of the nation. The wealthiest member of the group, Housing Minister Ahmed al-Mughrabi, was estimated to be worth $3.5 billion. Granted, the bulk of his wealth was accumulated before he assumed his position in government, from investments he made in the U.S. stock market and from his corporate and real estate holdings. Still, the fact that he owned businesses whose welfare depended on government policy while he sat in government made him a target of public criticism.
By contrast, there are three notable appointments in the new government: Finance Minister Samir Mohammed Radwan, Culture Minister Gaber Asfour and Interior Minster Mahmoud Wajdi. Radwan served until recently as adviser to the state comptroller and was a member of the ruling party's policy committee. Never one to mince his words when it came to criticizing the government, he warned at one point that unless the wage crisis was resolved, the country would go up in flames.
These appointments would have clearly been welcomed by the Egyptian public on any other day. The ousting of rich businessmen from government, in particular, is significant, and had the president carried out these changes before the election, as he had planned, he would have saved himself some face. Now, however, the move seems almost too little and too late.
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