The Egyptian president appeared on national TV yesterday and made a couple of concessions. Here is my attempt to summarize these concessions and provide an amateur analysis of the speech.
- He promised not to run for re-election
- He promised to modify the constitution to change the rules governing the Presidential elections (articles 76 and 77 in the constitution)
- He promised to conduct re-runs for parliamentary elections in districts whose results are being challenged in court on charges of alleged forgery
- He promised social and economic reforms
- He promised not to leave Egypt
It seems to me that points 1-3 meet the demands of most of the protesters. Protesters do not want him to continue in power, point 1 concedes this point. His current term runs out in September, so point 1 essentially promises that he will be leaving power in September.
Point 2 ensures that other political parties, and perhaps independent candidates, will be able to run in the up-coming presidential election. This removes the concern that the constitution was tailored to ensure that only the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) could field a viable candidate.
Point 3 is perhaps the most important. In order to make constitutional changes, within the current framework of government, a parliament needs to be in place to make the changes. The concern that some protesters had, was that since the NDP had a near monopoly in parliament, any such changes would be tweaked in favor of the ruling party.
According to a person I heard on TV, I cannot confirm this since the Internet is still out in Egypt, more than half of parliamentary seats are being contested in courts on charges of forgery. So, point 3 means that half of parliamentary seats are up for grabs by opposition parties. This may result in a more balanced parliament that can change the constitution without any worry of bias.
Point 4 is meaningless. These protests are not mainly about economics, rather, they are about political freedoms. He probably just brought up this point to appeal to the “Egyptian streets” in an attempt to turn the tide and get some of the economically disadvantaged Egyptians back on his side.
The last point is rather comforting. It tells the Egyptian people that he does not intend to flee ala the Tunisian president. This means, at least, that he will not siphon off a large chunk of the country’s wealth abroad.
It appears that protesters are not satisfied with these concessions. To be quite honest, from a totally objective point of view, these concessions would be enough in any other country. But the Egyptian government has a history of saying one thing and doing another. I believe that most of the protesters still remaining in place are worried that the system is simply buying time for itself and that they will continue business as usual as soon as the protests end.
Personally, I am torn between two points of view. On the one hand, I think that the concessions are significant and, if carried through with good faith, can result in a peaceful transition of power from the current ruling regime to a democratically elected government.
On the other hand, it would lack the satisfaction of seeing immediate results in terms of removing the major symbol of a disliked regime and there is a risk that the government would renege if protests stop.
I really don’t know what to think. I am not one to support vengeance, I lean more in the direction of justice. I don’t want to remove the president just for the sake of seeing him go. After all, he did oversee some major economic and social reforms that improved the country. The only reason I would support his ouster is if he was obstructing freedom and democracy. With these concessions, he may be removing the obstacles he placed on freedom and democracy. For that, I do not think that allowing him to stay on for the next couple of months is too much of a problem.
I am writing this blog while there is no Internet connection (one of the benefits of hosting your own website :)). I am just writing it to document my thoughts, perhaps when the Internet is switched back on, others can express their opinion and we can have a constructive dialog about the issue.