Adam Shatz writes:
Mubarak, when he stands down, is not likely to be missed by many people in Egypt, where he has pledged to spend his last days, but he will be missed in Washington and, above all, in Tel Aviv. Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, now the interim vice president, worked closely with Israel on everything from the Gaza blockade to intelligence-gathering; they allowed Israeli warships into the Suez Canal to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza from Sudan, and did their best to stir up tensions between Fatah and Hamas. The Egyptian public is well aware of this intimate collaboration, and ashamed of it: democratisation could spell its end. A democratic government isn’t likely to abolish the peace treaty with Israel – even some of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have said they would respect it. But Egyptian foreign policy would be set in Cairo rather than in Washington and Tel Aviv, and the cold peace would grow colder. A democratic government in Cairo would have to take public opinion into account, much as Erdogan’s government does in Turkey: another former US client state but one that, in marked contrast to Egypt, has escaped American tutelage, made the transition to democracy under an Islamist government, and pursued an independent foreign policy that is widely admired in the Muslim world. If Egypt became a democracy, it might work to achieve Palestinian unity, open up the crossing from Gaza and improve relations with Iran and Hizbullah: shifts which would be anathema to Israel.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Obama administration’s latest moves to back Mubarak II: Egypt’s torture chief, Omar Suleiman:
The United States and leading European nations on Saturday threw their weight behind a gradual transition in Egypt, backing attempts by the country’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, to negotiate with opposition groups without immediately removing President Hosni Mubarak from power.
The strong endorsement came as Mr. Suleiman, a longtime security official and confidante of Mr. Mubarak, told opposition leaders that he would not press his boss to resign before September and ruled out any delegation of Mr. Mubarak’s power, central demands of the opposition.
Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party then announced a shake-up that removed its old guard, including his son Gamal, while installing younger, more reform-minded figures as a modest gesture to protesters.
The moves amounted to a rebuff to protesters who have posed the most serious challenge to the nearly three-decade rule of Mr. Mubarak, a pillar of the American-backed order in the Middle East.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have demanded faster and more sweeping changes to the military-dominated government that has relied on an ossified ruling party, police, and a powerful clique of businessmen at the center of power.
By emphasizing the need for a gradual transition, only days after emphasizing that change there must begin immediately, the Obama administration was viewed as shifting away from protesters in the streets and toward stronger backing for Mr. Mubarak’s hand-picked elite.
Issandr El Amrani adds:
There is a vast repositioning taking place in elite Egyptian politics. Just an hour ago or so it was announced that Hosni and Gamal Mubarak had resigned from their positions in the NDP (chairman and deputy sec-gen / head of Policies Committee respectively), as had Safwat al-Sherif (formerly Secretary General). You can see the old structure in the chart I put up a few days ago. Moufid Shehab has also lost his position, as has Zakariya Azmi (crucially, Mubarak’s longstanding chief of staff). No doubt we’ll hear of more.
This is a game of musical chairs to install a new political elite, some of which will be those who survived the old one. The new secretary-general of the NDP is Hossam Badrawy, once a enthusiastic backer of Gamal and MP between 2000-2005. Badrawy one was of the liberal, reformist NDPers who wanted to bring change from the inside. He was one of the most reasonable figures in the party and did not simply ignore problems like human rights. However, we was also associated with efforts at educational reform that bore little fruit and an attempt at a reform to the health sector that seemed to benefit his main business, private healthcare.
In part of the ongoing coup carried out by Omar Suleiman and his army buddies (with Mubarak remaining as a fig leaf so it is not seen as such) they need a new political class. Badrawy has class, money and social clout.