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Mubarak not likely to step down soon, expert in Cario warns

As the unrest situation in Egypt continues, political analyst Ronald Meinardus in Cairo says it is unlikely the Mubarak will go easily and that the West must rethink its policies regarding leaders in the Arab world.

Protesters in Cario

Despite the protests, Hosni Mubarak is clinging to power

Deutsche Welle: What are the likely scenarios that you see for Egypt's future?

Ronald Meinardus: If you look at it in very basic terms, there are two scenarios. The good one is that President Mubarak gives in; the bad one is that he clings to power, which would prolong the whole conflict. My feeling is that the positive scenario is the less likely one. Mr. Mubarak seems to be willing to stick it out for the next couple of days if not weeks.

What would happen if President Mubarak does indeed step down?

It's very difficult to speculate. Basically, nobody really knows anything, probably not even in the government's inner circle. If Mubarak were to step down Omar Suleiman would be the vice president and according to the Egyptian constitution he would be the one to take over. The government insists that it is observing the constitution and that Mr. Mubarak has been elected in line with the constitution. Stepping down simply because the street is demanding it is – according to the constitution – not an option, they argue.

Vice President Omar Suleiman and President Mubarak

Suleiman (center) would be the one to succeed Mubarak (left)

Many interpret the fact that Omar Suleiman is now the vice president as a signal. It is indeed a way out of the crisis that would be in line with the constitution. But Suleiman is by no means recognized by the demonstrators as a legitimate figure to take control. I assume that many Egyptian demonstrators and opposition figures will continue the protest. They're asking for is nothing less than for the president to go and the regime to be toppled.

What is the role of the military?

Mubarak won't go easily. His strategy seems to be to show strength. Behind me, now that the curfew is coming into effect, the armed forces are flying over Cairo creating a lot of noise and showing off the power of the government. Mr. Mubarak today had a meeting with the military and the people he assigned as vice president and prime minister both have a military background. This all indicates that he wants to show an iron fist. He does not seem like someone who's ready to give in but rather like someone who signals he is ready to fight.

The crucial question is whether the militarily will actually enforce the curfew over the next few days. There are indications reported by some that the military might shoot at demonstrators. This would tip the whole equation and would be a very dangerous scenario.

The fact that the Arab news channel Al Jazeera had its license revoked could point towards more violence which the regime obviously won't want to be covered by the media.

How organized is the political opposition?

This is not an organized uprising. This is a very, very unorganized and spontaneous uprising. It is not directed by groups, parties or organizations. I have attended the demonstrations in the last few days as an onlooker and there were no signs or banners with names or parties.

That of course makes it very difficult - there's no spokesperson, there is no one for the government to negotiate with. Even Mohamed ElBaradei is speaking only on his own behalf. And it is really unclear whether Mr. ElBaradei has a large following or not. You would assume that he's popular with the media, especially with the western media, simply because he is very eloquent in English but this doesn't necessarily mean that he has a large following among the masses.

But even if demonstrations are not organized by opposition groups - is there a political opposition ready to step in if the government collapses?

The ruling regime has monopolized politics here for many years just as it was the case in Tunisia. And the ruling party has prevented an opposition as we know it in Western countries to be established. They have more or less suffocated all political life. However, my assessment is that there is more political life in Egypt outside the governing party than there ever was in Tunisia. So there are some political parties – even beyond the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mohammed ElBaradei

Mohammed ElBaradei has emerged as the opposition leader

There is the traditional Waft party which actually was in government in the first half of the last century. There are also some small socialist parties and two liberal parties which are by no means as big as the Muslim Brotherhood but which have sizable organizations.

But so far these haven't played a role - either in the demonstrations or in any form of dialogue with the government.

There is no political process going on, absolutely no political process going on because the government is not interested in this. It shows that this is not the end of a process but probably the very beginning of it.

What is the situation like on Sunday in Cairo?

I myself had to evacuate my apartment. I spent the morning in the German embassy and am now staying with friends. The German embassy will evacuate the houses of its staff Monday morning – other countries have done that already today. The embassy is encouraging people to move away from the suburbs because the security situation there is really dangerous.

The police forces have literally melted away – in fact, I haven't seen a policeman for the last 48 hours. The army is taking up strategic position but the police are nowhere to be found. The urban areas are protected by citizens' committees. I myself spent last night protecting our flat together with armed Egyptian neighbors.

It's really quite a phenomenon that all policemen have disappeared - partly also because they're afraid. Over the last few days literally all police stations have been ransacked by protesters who were taking revenge for decades of humiliation, degradation and violence that they have experienced at the hands of the police.

Soldier on tank

The support of the military will be crucial for Mubarak

So policemen have thrown away their uniforms and disappeared. Some of them of course still have their arms and are now among the looters. That looting is in the interest of the government which is trying to depict the country as having been thrown into chaos and therefore needing strong leadership.

The much bigger danger is the socio-economic volcano about to erupt. Cairo is a city of 18 to 20 million people, and the large majority are very, very poor. They're living around the wealthy areas in the suburbs and as soon as these suburbs lose the protection of the security forces, they are easy prey.

That's what we're seeing - gangs of thugs moving into the suburbs going on looting sprees. The army is trying to prevent that but they're can't. That's why there are those citizens' committees taking the law into their own hands.

How should the international community, how should Germany and the EU react? What role can they play?

Germany and Europe can only be second in line after the US government. But it should be made clear to the Egyptian government from all sides in the West that the current situation is not sustainable. What is needed now is a peaceful and democratic transition. This rhetoric needs to be backed up with very realistic threats that if this does not happen, there will be consequences with regards to the millions of dollars in assistance that Egypt gets each year – also from the Europeans.

We have to reconsider our assessment that supporting dictators is a policy of stabilization. Realpolitik today is about supporting democracy movements and not backing dictatorships - all the more if you are talking about Western governments which themselves are democratic and liberal.

Today we are unfortunately paying the price for a policy which was without principles and certainly not strategic in the sense of stabilizing a country or a region. It is a wake-up call and a good opportunity to reconsider the West's policies not only regarding Egypt but the entire Arab world.

Ronald Meinardus is the head of the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation in Cairo.

Interview: Andreas Illmer
Editor: Kyle James

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