The author of a new book says the next U.S. president will need to pay close attention to the volatile political situation in Egypt, one of America's strongest and most important allies in the Middle East. The author believes U.S. policymakers now face a difficult choice: continuing to support the iron-fisted rule of Egypt's current president and his likely hand-picked successor, or backing a beleaguered democratic opposition that some believe could open the door to Islamic fundamentalist rule.
his new book, The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of
Egypt in the Volatile Mid East, Egyptian-American writer Aladdin
Elaasar offers the next American president his
blunt assessment of Egypt's near-term outlook.
Elaasar believes President Hosni Mubarak, America's "strong
man" in Egypt and the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. military
and development aid, is losing his grip on power after 26 years of autocratic
The author believes there are many signs that time is running out for Mubarak, who succeeded President Anwar Sadat after the 1981 assassination and who won a controversial multi-party election to a six-year term in 2005. Elaasar says Egypt's severe economic problems are just one sign that Mubarak's grip on power is loosening. "There is about 37% unemployment in Egypt," Elaasar notes. "There is about 2% to 5% of the people who monopolize the economy and these people are elites around Mubarak and his party. And there is at least 40% of the people in Egypt who live under the poverty line. So there are a lot of indications of social ailments and illnesses and we need to pay attention to that."
Elaasar cites the Mubarak government's well-documented use of repression and police-state tactics to intimidate or silence its political opponents. Those tactics earned Mubarak strong rebukes from the U.S. and other countries following the 2005 presidential election, which critics claim was massively rigged to ensure a Mubarak victory. And Elaasar sees a rising tide of popular frustration and dissatisfaction with Mubarak that encompasses labor unions, teachers, lawyers, judges and youth throughout the country.
Elaasar says the situation in Egypt today reminds him of Iran just before the 1979 overthrow of the Shah by Islamic fundamentalists. "Mubarak reminds me of the last days of the Shah," the author says. "He was living a life of extravagance and surrounded by his elites. He was so oppressive. And that paved the way for the extreme right to come in. And we know the rest of the story."
In The Last Pharaoh, Elaasar writes that the next American president can expect one of several difficult scenarios to unfold in Egypt in the months ahead. "The Mubarak regime is preparing itself for the next step," the author explains, "which is making his son, Gamal Mubarak, to be the next president of Egypt. But the other scenario that can play out is that there are other political powers, so it could be the extreme religious right that can take over, or things can get out of control because of the poverty level and the suffering of the Egyptian people, so the people in the street can do something when things reach a very desperate level."
Author Alaadin Elaasar urges the next American president to shift U.S. policies on Egypt toward strategies that promote democracy in the country.
"We really need to make sure that there would be democracy and change," Elaasar warns, "because if this does not start, people reach the extent of desperateness. And then desperateness breathes out all kinds of violence and all kinds of extremism that opens the door for extremists to jump in and pretend they have the solution."
The author says the worst-case scenario in Egypt would be a military coup, which would turn Egypt into what he describes as a "God-knows-what" regime.
Elaasar's belief in the imminent collapse of the Mubarak government is not shared by the former U.S Ambassador to Egypt, Nicholas Veliotis, who served under U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Ambassador Veliotis says he hopes the Mubarak government will respond to the Egyptian people's powerful yearnings for democracy. But whether it does or not, Veliotis does not expect the Mubarak regime to go the way of the Shah of Iran. "I personally do not see anything happening like what happened in Iran," he says. "I believe there are broader institutions in Egypt. They were not in Iran. We are not dealing with a pre-Iranian revolution situation. If you ask my view, I think the successor, whoever it is, should be a civilian. Egypt is far beyond the time when it needs another general to come in."
The veteran American diplomat believes the political scenarios facing Egypt today are neither as stark nor as limited as those described by Alaadin Elaasar in his new book, The Last Pharoah. With the support of the U.S. and the international community, Veliotis says, Egyptians might not have to choose between the Mubarak regime or the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, but could instead pursue a middle path toward a peaceful, stable democracy.
the fate of the Mubarak regime, author Alaadin Elaasar believes significant
change in Egypt's government will have profound effects on the region, and on
U.S. interests in the Middle East. For that reason, he believes, the next U.S.
President will need to follow developments in this Arab nation with a watchful
and wary eye.