Op-Ed Contributors

Military holds key to future of Egypt

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-14 07:46
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Editor's note: Now Hosni Mubarak has gone, what does the future hold for Egypt? A Xinhua analysis examines some of the variables, which may decide whether the country will quickly regain stability or remain mired in unrest:

Egypt's dynamic political situation has entered a new phase now that Hosni Mubarak has relinquished his 30-year-old hold on power and handed the reins of government over to the military in the face of an 18-day wave of popular protests. Analysts and observers in Egypt and beyond agree that what comes next depends on three critical variables.

The nationwide protests have taken a heavy toll on the country's social stability and economic activity. Now that Mubarak's resignation has met the key demand of the protesters, will the demonstrations end anytime soon?

Under the current circumstances, the answer is probably, no.

That's because following Mubarak's departure, protesters have raised new demands, demands that vary widely among the country's different factions.

For example, a group called "Jan 25 Revolutionary Youth" has announced that it will continue "the revolution" until its demands are completely satisfied, the conditions listed by the group, which has been demonstrating in Cairo's Tahrir Square, include abolishing the current constitution, the dissolution of parliament and the establishment of a transitional government. Such demands strike a chord with many Egyptians long weary of government repression and corruption.

The second question is whether the military will be able to control the situation. Many daunting challenges now confront the military, a powerful part of the state apparatus that includes around 500,000 active personnel. An immediate priority for the military is to crack down on violent crime and terrorism, and rapidly restore social stability. Extremists and terrorists will waste no time in exploiting Egypt's current upheaval to pursue their own agendas.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian army has never taken the helm of national politics before and might lack adequate experience in running the country. Therefore, the military must figure things out quickly so as to get Egypt's paralyzed political system and economy functioning again.

Another issue is that with the opposition cranking out more demands, it remains to be seen whether the military will retain its stance of dialogue and cooperation. A standoff could occur should the two sides fail to reach agreement.

The third variable is whether the presidential election can take place as scheduled. The military's takeover of Egypt is an expedient measure. Facing huge domestic and foreign pressure, the ruling military has to quickly transfer power to a new president who, according to the Egyptian constitution, should be elected within 60 days of Mubarak's resignation.

Analysts say the military will face serious challenges as it makes the necessary preparations for the election.

First, the military has to prepare the legal ground that will pave the way for the presidential election. During the massive protests that ousted Mubarak, amending the articles of Egypt's constitution relating to the presidential election was one of the main changes protesters sought.

Before his resignation, Mubarak had agreed to amend the constitution to relax the qualification requirements for candidates and limit the tenure of the president. However, now that Mubarak is gone, it is hard to say whether an amendment to the constitution can be introduced smoothly.

Another challenge that the military has to face is ensuring a fair and smooth presidential election. The task will be a tough one. More parties than usual are expected to participate and that will make the balloting much more complicated than expected.

Differences may also appear on some issues, such as the formation of the election commission, the timetable, and procedures of the election as well as corresponding monitoring mechanisms. Disagreement from any group will likely disrail the process and could become a new source of political instability.

An acceptable outcome is a prerequisite for the peaceful transition of power. If any standoff develops after the election because of disputes over the results, it will be difficult for the military to hand over power as scheduled.

(China Daily 02/14/2011 page8)