Leaders Are Gone, But Regimes Are Not

The Presidents Left, the Regimes are Still Here
by Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Middle East Center

The removal from power of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were historic moments for the entire Arab world. But the old regimes—the submerged icebergs of personal connections, institutions, and common interests of which the presidents and their immediate entourage were the visible tips—are still there and they are fighting back to retain as much power and control as they can. These are still only the early days of a long process of transition, but it is clear that the battle to disband the regimes will be difficult. In this battle, street protest remains essential.

Early moves by the members of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces suggest that it intends to preserve as much of the regime as it possibly can. It has announced that the present government, composed entirely of Mubarak appointees, will remain in power until the end of a transition period lasting a maximum of six months. It has dissolved the parliament and abrogated the constitution, measures demanded by the opposition because last year’s parliamentary elections were rigged to the point of absurdity and the constitution was designed to protect the regime from real competition and perpetuate its power.

But the military has given no indication that anybody but government-aligned experts will participate in the drafting of the new constitution and has announced that the constitution will be ready in ten days, with a popular referendum to approve it held within two months. This time table does not allow adequate time for a broad process of consultation with the opposition and a period of public discussion over the document. Without consultation and discussion, the popular referendum will be as meaningless as referenda have always been in Egypt. And if elections are held within six months, as the military council has announced, the long-repressed—hence weak—opposition parties will be poorly prepared when voters go to the polls. The plan, in other words, appears carefully designed to limit change, not promote it.

The military will probably be forced to modify its plan. It seems unlikely that opposition parties and protesters will be content to let the military, which is still led by Mubarak loyalists, and the members of a government appointed by Mubarak to govern single-handedly for the next six months and draw up the new rules of the game. But the reforms proposed so far make it clear that the regime wants to hold on.

Tunisia, which is now a month into its transition, offers some inkling of how difficult it is to dismantle a well-implanted regime. As in Egypt, the regime forced the president’s resignation in order to protect itself. The continuity was striking, with Parliament Speaker Fouad Mebaaza, replacing Ben Ali as president and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi remaining in his position. Most ministers also remained in their previous spots. Attempts to add a few new members—drawn from small opposition parties and trade unions—to the government, did little initially to change the face the government; in fact, most of the new appointees—including those from the official labor union—resigned.

Complete article via Carnegie Middle East Center

[Ed. Note: A more recent commentary concerning real vs. perceived regime change by this author is available here.]


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