Hosni Mubarak has announced his resignation by saying he won’t run in the next presidential election, which is likely to be held earlier as a result of the large-scale anti-government protests in Cairo, Egypt.What concerns analysts the most now is the question whether this revolt was the result of the people’s anger simply reaching breaking point, or was is orchestrated by some external force? RIA Novosti’s Samir Shakhbaz discusses the riots in Egypt with Anatoly Yegorin, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Oriental Studies.
Samir Shakhbaz: Hosni Mubarak has effectively announced his resignation by saying he won’t run in the next presidential election, which will likely be held early. His remarks came after a conversation with U.S. administration officials. Do you think Mubarak’s friends have set him up or have they just failed to save him?
Anatoly Yegorin: He said he wouldn’t run for reelection. But the next election is more than six months away. During this time, [Egypt’s] political parties will hopefully be able to prepare a candidate acceptable for the entire nation, and he isn’t going to interfere in the process, he said. He also said he’d been serving his nation to the best of his ability and had no intention of emigrating.
He’s got a couple of other options to choose from at this point, but it’s very important indeed that he’s promised not to run for reelection. And then again, at 82, he’s getting too old for the job.
The situation changed dramatically last night when supporters of Mubarak took to the streets for the first time since the unrest began. Not just in Cairo and Alexandria, but elsewhere in Egypt as well.
Mubarak told the riot police to stay out [of the clashes between anti-government and pro-government forces]. So they just went home, leaving civilians and their houses unprotected. This led to looting, and homeowners had no one to defend their property but themselves.
S.S.: Is looting taking place on a mass scale?
A.Y.: There is mass looting, yes, and it has reached Hurghada now. Which is hardly surprising. Hurghada has been flooded with looters, and quite a few hotels were reportedly attacked there overnight. So it’s no longer safe for tourists. There are some 42,000 Russian tourists staying in Hurghada. Plus, 8,000 Russian-speakers work in the hospitality industry.
If vacationers stop coming to Hurghada, some 90% of the local population currently working in the hospitality industry will find themselves out of a job.
In Sharm-el-Sheikh, there are 18,000 Russian nationals, and if the unrest continues, these people may soon be faced with food shortages.
Authorities in Bashkortostan have sent a jetliner to evacuate Bashkir students. They should have sent it to Hurghada, not Cairo, where the airport has been ground to a halt, making it impossible for passengers to check in for their flights. That’s the latest developments reported from Egypt.
S.S.: Let’s look at the Egyptian uprising in retrospect. What triggered it, in your opinion? I don’t believe in spontaneous popular revolts. Was this one orchestrated, provoked in some way, or had the people’s anger simply reached a breaking point?
A.Y.: Here’s what I make of it. Algeria hosted a symposium entitled “The United States and North Africa” late last December. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez delivered a keynote speech there, announcing his country’s new economic strategy for the nations of North Africa. This strategy consists of the following two points: providing help for the countries’ youth (the U.S. has reportedly earmarked $8 billion for the purpose) and assisting their small and medium-sized businesses ($4-5 billion). That’s unheard-of in North African countries, where 60% of young citizens are jobless.
Shortly after Fernandez’s departure, young people in Algeria took to the streets. They’ve got a heavy-handed government there, so the situation calmed down after just two or three days.
Young people in Tunisia followed suit. There, the unemployment rate among the young is about 70%. The authorities were not prepared for this turn of events, and the helpless president had no other option but to flee the country. In Tunisia, it didn’t take long to find a compromise because this is a secular state and the government has a lot of experience engaging with the masses.
Egypt came next, and protests have been underway in Cairo for a week now.
We’re seeing similar events in Yemen, which isn’t in North Africa, and now in Jordan as well. And it’s the Americans who’re pulling the strings, I think.
Immediately after Fernandez’s return to Washington D.C., U.S. Secretary of State [Hillary Clinton] set out on a tour of the Middle East. She reproached the leaderships of several Arab nations for failing to provide young people with enough jobs and letting oligarchs squeeze small businesses out of the market. These remarks echoed Fernandez’s speech.
Indeed, those countries are having hard times. In Cairo, for one, the population is 22 million, and all these people need some kind of livelihood to sustain themselves and their families. As things stand now, 90% of the capital’s population can be described as in need. Under President [Gamal] Nasser, they received about 7 Egyptian pounds a month on average (about $1 today), and the wage has been gradually falling since then.
The same is true of Tunisia and other Arab countries. So I think the reasons behind the unrest are primarily economic. Also, many incumbent Arab rulers have grown old by now. Mubarak is already 82 years old; the Saudi king is 87 and his brother, designated as the heir apparent, is 82; Yemen’s president has been in power for 32 years.
The Americans are aware of the situation and have stepped in to offer generous economic aid.
The situation is complicated, obviously, as the protesters are not the only force responsible for the unrest. An outside force with a vested interest in the Arab world is trying to solve the problems in the region in its own way. But it is the responsibility of the people to solve their own problems.
S.S.: Have the Americans thought about possible successors? They backed democratic elections in Gaza and it was Hamas that came to power as a result.
What about Egypt? What kind of party is the Muslim Brotherhood, and how dangerous could it be for the region, do you think?
A.Y.: The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic party. Its members are elderly people trying to spread their own vision of Islam. One should not associate Islam, an inherently peaceful religion, with these conservative party leaders who misrepresent it.
The Brotherhood has been in opposition to the government for quite a while now.
I visited the editorial board of the Al-Ahram newspaper a couple of years ago. The editor-in-chief and all the board stopped work for midday prayer every day. This had never been the case before at Al-Ahram, a democratically oriented paper.
Egypt’s opposition has some influence, but there’s no opposition leader capable of challenging [Mubarak]. The current government has gained political influence, and there are some strong politicians there, but no one strong enough to replace Mubarak.
The time has not yet come for Muslim Brotherhood ideologues to take power whereas militants just cannot do so because the army won’t let them.
I don’t think Mubarak’s successor will declare Egypt an Islamic state, although this can never be ruled out, of course.
Although Islamic trends have become more pronounced in Egypt, it remains pretty much a secular state in terms of translating Islamic values into politics.
This is why I think the situation there will follow the course laid out by Mubarak.
He could step down and remain in Egypt, putting his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, in charge until the election of a new president.
Suleiman is a well-known figure in Egypt. As head of the intelligence service, he gathered a lot of information about opposition leaders, and can now use that information for blackmail.
The army has stayed out so far, waiting to see how the situation will unfold. But it cordoned off streets almost immediately after the protests broke out.
S.S.: Thank you for sharing your time and your thoughts.