Egypt’s leaders sat down for discussions with the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday. This was the first time that the Egyptian government has sat down with this outlawed and repressed group. Egyptian Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, discussed the protests and the possibility for change with the Muslim Brotherhood. He held out the possibility of political liberalization through less stringent media restrictions, easing detentions, setting up a committee to redraft election laws, and lifting the state of emergency law, which provides the government with broad power to suppress political dissent.
If President Mubarak resigns, according to the Egyptian Constitution, power goes to the speaker of Parliament, Fathi Surour, a strong Mubarak supporter. The Brotherhood and other opposition groups would like to see power go to Suleiman during the transition period and have the constitution suspended and ultimately redrafted. However, many opposition leaders also fear and do not trust Suleiman.
The Muslim Brotherhood agreed to abandon their demand that President Hosni Mubarak resign before talks begin, however, this is contingent on the sincerity of the Government. No other opposition groups have dropped their demand, and they have expressed their disappointment with the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s decision to enter talks surprised many opposition leaders who are concerned that the current regime in Egypt is trying to “divide and conquer” the protestors in an ultimate effort to shrink their numbers and reduce the pressure to make significant reforms.
President Obama, in an interview with Fox News, declined to call for Mubarak’s immediate ouster, but he did admit that it is time for Egypt to start making change (familiar call-to-action anyone?). Despite President Obama’s “call for change,” Secretary-of-State Clinton has tried to caution Mubarak’s resignation or departure because, pursuant to the Egyptian Constitution, elections would have to take place within 60 days. Moreover, the speaker of Parliament would be required to step in as caretaker president before elections. Such quick turnaround does not provide the country with enough time to adequately prepare for democracy; in fact, it could threaten the country’s transition into democracy. There is a fear that a voter roll would not be established in this time-period and there is not adequate time for the creation of political parties.
Vice-President Suleiman also has warned of instability if Mubarak resigns. He expressed his concern that if Mubarak stepped down, there would be no leadership within the country. He has urged that the Egyptian Constitution be followed during any transitional period. Opposition leader Mohamed El-Baradei, urged for Mubarak to step down, suspend the Constitution for a transition period of up to one year, and allow a three-member presidential council to step in until political parties could be established and free and fair elections could take place. This plan is contrary to the Egyptian Constitution. Ultimately, the opposition is trying to develop a document that would legalize the revolution and replace the Egyptian Constitution, which Mubarak’s regime is using to defend itself.
Should the Constitution regime “hide behind the Constitution” or should it be suspended in a time of political protest and turmoil?