The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

How to restrain Suleiman's power

With Hillary Clinton's backing for Suleiman as the lead on a transition in Egypt, we are quickly heading towards the formation of another strongman regime that cannot be trusted to deliver on the changes needed in the political environment. There needs to be a mechanism to integrate the opposition into the heart of the state to grant full legitimacy to its demand, and reduce the perception (and reality) of Omar Suleiman being the sole man at the helm. I'm no constitutional scholar, so please consider this as a brainstorm more than a serious proposal.

Under the Egyptian constitution, the president can delegate his powers by decree to the vice-president. This is what Mubarak did to grant Suleiman the authority to negotiate with the protestors. But the Egyptian constitution also allows for more than one vice-president, according to its Article 139:

Art.139:   The President of the Republic may appoint one or more Vice-Presidents define their jurisdiction and relieve them of their posts. The rules relating to the calling to account of the President of the Republic shall be applicable to the Vice-Presidents.

It would be wise at this point to curtail Suleiman's power by handing out different functions to different vice-presidents as Mubarak withdraws from any lead role in handling the crisis. Some of what multiple vice-presidents could do:

  1. A vice-president to handle to act as a constitutional ombudsman, focusing on the enforcement of the rule of law and guiding the constitutional reform process. Could be someone like Tareq al-Bishri or Yehia al-Gammal.
  2. A vice-president to oversee and investigate the Ministry of Interior. Fully delegated to have the Minister of Interior answer to him, charged with preserving MoI documents, restoring the police's presence, the dismantlement of the Popular Committees, and investigating the security vacuum. A prominent judge would be appropriate here.
  3. A vice-president for media and communications. This person would look at preventing any further tampering with communications by the authorities, and oversee state media to ensure equal access and the end of the propaganda and incitement of the last week. He would appoint a new Minister of Information to replace Anas al-Fiqi, who is chiefly responsible for the sad spectacle of state propaganda over the last week. Ideally, this should be a person known for media professionalism and neutrality: Salama Ahmed Salama, Hisham Kassem, etc.
  4. A vice-president that would oversee the relaunch of the economy, with economic ministers and the head of financial institutions such as the Central Bank and the Financial Services Authority directly answering to him — a kind of economic war room. Ideally, a prominent economist or even the respected head of the Central Bank, Farouk al-Ogda.

Omar Suleiman would remain as the vice-president representing the ancien regime and taking the lead with the negotiations with the (hopefully more united than it currently is) opposition. Personally, I think such a bargain would make it worth it to postpone the demand that Mubarak step down immediately.