egypt - AP - January 29 2011
An army officer who joined anti-government protester tears up a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, downtown Cairo, Egypt, January 29, 2011 Photo by AP
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"The solution cannot be a military one," Mustafa Al-Faki, chairman of the Egyptian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee declared on Friday. Al-Faki, who served in the past as Information Secretary to President Hosni Mubarak, said last year that: "President Mubarak believes that too much freedom is not productive for the people or the regime."

It would seem from Mubarak's response to the protests this week that he is still stuck within the same mentality. For the first four days he was silent, like somebody who does not owe answers to anybody.

After that, he ordered the army onto the streets to make it clear that the military serves the government, and that it can move against the people if necessary. Finally, he agreed to speak - and announced that he was firing the cabinet.

With these steps Mubarak continues to demonstrate the mentality that has served him for the last 30 years: Any reform, if ever enacted, will only be implemented as he sees fit, and if he sees fit.

This is how he determined the scope of the constitutional amendments that permitted a limited number of candidates to run in elections for the presidency; this is how he limited the number of opposition representatives in the last parliamentary elections; this is how he restricted the amount of political protest and free expression that has grown under his rule.

The rules of this game, in which the opposition is also trapped in a cul-de-sac - especially after the last elections - are quickly disintegrating. Until now, the opposition figured that if it cannot boot Mubarak from power or prevent his son Gamal from inheriting a dynasty, it could at least demand reforms that would be implemented by the government - if not by the opposition itself.

After the elections that prevented almost any oppositional representation and in which the Muslim Brotherhood lost all of their parliamentary seats, Egyptian pundits wrote that "Egypt is returning to a single-party era."

It would seem that the opposition movements also did not understand the "Tunisia effect", and it took them at least three weeks to understand the size of the opportunity that lay before them.

Now that the demonstrations refuse to die down, the number of dead rises, and the offices of the government and ruling party go up in flames, the opposition faces a rival that is stronger than ever. Because Mubarak understands himself not only as "responsible for the security of the citizens" - as he said in his televised speech early Sunday morning, in an attempt to paint the protesters as criminals - but as responsible for the old order in the Arab world.

The implication is that toppling Mubarak could set off an avalanche of dominoes. Mubarak cannot accept that Egypt itself has become part of the avalanche in the wake of the fall of the regime in a young and unimportant state like Tunisia.

Mubarak looks eastward and sees the fear from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan, and the cries of joy from Iran, and he knows that he is responsible for an entire era of dinosaurs. He is the finger in the dam. And therefore, despite Al-Faki's warning that the solution cannot be military, the solution that Mubarak is implementing until now has been exclusively military.

The formation of a new government is understood mainly as an attempt to foist responsibility on those who are not really responsible. After all, the prime minister and other ministers are appointed by the president, and it is he who determines their priorities.

Even the ruling party, of which Gamal Mubarak heads the policy committee comprising the ministers, can't say anything about the government. For years, the party controlled the government as part of its apparatus.

What are Mubarak's options?

All of this lends great importance to the president's choice of prime minister. If it will be another party leader that will in turn appoint party hacks, the move will be meaningless. If Mubarak appoints a person with authority, like Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman for example, it might succeed, but then it would throw Gamal Mubarak's chances of running in the next elections for president in doubt.

Another option is to appoint a temporary government and announce early elections for president which are scheduled for September. Such an announcement would send the opposition for a loop, because it would supposedly move the debate from the street to the town hall and force them to establish positions in preparation for the elections.

This kind of opposition would force further constitutional amendments, especially those concerning the suitability of candidates for election, but they would also allow Gamal Mubarak to run for election, and maybe even win.

A third option is for Mubarak to announce a military regime limited to "protecting the public peace and property," instruct the army to enforce the curfew, and establish a national emergency government that could divert major financial resources to calm the portion of the populace that is protesting for economic reasons.

There is also the possibility of a combination of more than one of these options, with the sole objective being that Mubarak must continue to be the president and the public must know its place.