“I agree fully with what President Obama has said, ”Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Friday afternoon. “It will ultimately be up to the Egyptian people who will govern.”
Harper, who replied in French and English to reporters’ questions, was at a joint appearance with the U.S. President at the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. He was seconding Obama’s remarks that, for Egypt, “going back to the old ways is not going to work” and that the “orderly transition” the U.S. has called for from its closest friend among Arab nations must “begin right now.”
“Any pretense of reform is not going to work,” added Obama in a not-so-subtle warning to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has has insisted he will step down when his present term is up in September.
So, in one week, the Obama administration has moved from public support of what it called the “stable” regime in Cairo to nudging Mubarak to go. Harper became the latest Western leader to weigh in behind a Mubarak exit and an election.
There are also increasing signs every day that Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, former infantry officer and longtime intelligence chief, is moving up as the likely heir to Mubarak, and that the U.S. would be happy with this. Earlier in the week, the 74-year-old Suleiman appeared in an interview with ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour, in which he again voiced his desire to meet with all of the opposition leaders to the Mubarak regime.
On Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden held his second telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart in the last week. Biden’s office told reporters that the vice president asked Suleiman “about progress in beginning credible, inclusive negotiations for Egypt’s transition to a democratic government to address the aspirations of the Egyptian people. He stressed the need for a concrete reform agenda, a clear time line, and immediate steps that demonstrate to the public and the opposition that the Egyptian government is committed to reform.”
In short, Suleiman is increasingly viewed as the voice of reason in Egypt and the political actor who will oversee his country’s next step toward a free election in the fall.
As to what would happen if Mubarak resigned soon—as Harper, Obama, and other Western leaders suggest he should—Hossam Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights wrote in the Washington Post: “[If] Mubarak resigns, he must sign a presidential decree delegating all of his authorities to his vice president until their current terms end in September.” In the event of a Mubarak resignation and Suleiman succession, the Egyptian constitution stipulates, elections for a new president would be held within 60 days—a situation that would give an advantage to “President Suleiman,” his perception as “Mubarak II” notwithstanding.
As to what would happen after that and just who should participate in the election and what the ground rules would be, it seems this is yet another case when the old closing line from the movie serials applies aptly: “Stay tuned.”