The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged succession
What the XXXX?

There sure are a lot of XXXs in this redacted Wikileaks cable, citing an Egyptian parliamentarian's speculation that Minister of Defense Hussein Tantawi and Director of Intelligence Omar Suleiman might thwart Gamal Mubarak from succeeding his father, back from 2007:

¶6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that hisXXXXXXXXXXXX (per ref B, a 
XXXXXXXXXXXX), is XXXXXXXXXXXX at the XXXXXXXXXXXX, due to what XXXXXXXXXXXX termed the continuing XXXXXXXXXXXX.  According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, MinDef Tantawi called him XXXXXXXXXXXX to ensure that XXXXXXXXXXXX was satisfied as to how XXXXXXXXXXXX was being XXXXXXXXXXXX.  XXXXXXXXXXXX said he engaged XXXXXXXXXXXX with XXXXXXXXXXXX, asking him to help get XXXXXXXXXXXX, as he has already XXXXXXXXXXXX and 
then replied that XXXXXXXXXXXX cannot be XXXXXXXXXXXX before he XXXXXXXXXXXX, as, "we are under terrible foreign pressure to XXXXXXXXXXXX, so cannot XXXXXXXXXXXX, as they will 
then criticize us for not XXXXXXXXXXXX too."  XXXXXXXXXXXX subsequent suggestion to XXXXXXXXXXXX both XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX went unheeded.  However, XXXXXXXXXXXX allegedly told XXXXXXXXXXXX that he had instructed XXXXXXXXXXXX to not 
undertake any procedures to divest XXXXXXXXXXXX of his XXXXXXXXXXXX; XXXXXXXXXXXX
therefore believes XXXXXXXXXXXX will be able to re-assume XXXXXXXXXXXX 
¶7. (S) Comment: While XXXXXXXXXXXX is a useful interlocutor and a 
well-placed parliamentarian, we stress that he is the only 
Embassy contact to date who has raised with us the spectre of 
a post-Mubarak military coup.  While discussion of 
presidential succession is a favorite parlor game in Cairo 
salons, hypothesizing about the acutely sensitive topic of a 
coup is certainly not regularly undertaken in Egyptian 


Le Monde releases cables on US-Egypt relations, Egyptian military, and Gamal

Le Monde — and as far as I can tell, only Le Monde — has published two articles on the Egyptian military based on Wikileaks cable that have not yet been released, even on the French newspaper's site.

WikiLeaks : l'armée égyptienne est "en déclin" mais reste "puissante" -

WikiLeaks : l'armée égyptienne ne veut pas que le fils succède au père -

Here is a short summary of key points raised in the cables for those who don't read French, plus some context not in the articles: 

  • US sees Egyptian military as "in decline" and a difficult ally. "The generals long were our best allies but the situation has changed," a cable from August 2007 notes. This is shortly before the US Congress decides to withhold $100 million in military aid. Nonetheless they remain guarantors of regime stability.
  • US sees Egyptian military as unwilling to adopt strategic reforms, instead concentrating on acquisition of hardware. US would like to see the Egyptian military more engaged in regional counter-terrorism operations, but it is refusing to do so.
  • Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is seen as the chief obstacle to US ideas for strategic reform, but is trusted by Mubarak. "Since his nomination, the extent of tactical and operational preparedness has been degraded. But Mubarak has confidence in him and he could still remain in place for years." 
  • Army is major economic player with interests in water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotels and gas stations, as well as a major land owner in the Nile Delta in on the Red Sea coast. (Sept. 2008)
  • Obama Deputy Defense Sec Colin Khal met with three retired generals with high-level positions in the Egyptian Ministry of Defense — Mohamed Al-Assar, Ahmed Moataz and Fouad Arafa — on 31 January 2010. They told him that US military aid to Egypt was part of the Camp David accords and therefore not up for negotiation, and that the accords had been breached by allowing the ratio between military aid to Israel and military aid to Egypt to go from the agreed 3:2 to 5:2. US military aid is considered "untouchable". (This is probably still reaction to the 2007-2008 attempts to cut military aid by Congress, which were blocked by Condoleeza Rice.)
  • In May 2007, then US Ambassador in Egypt Francis Ricciardone calls Egypt a "dictatorship" (Le Monde says he is the only one who dares do so) and says that the NDP is ready to run a campaign that would install Gamal Mubarak as president.
  • Ricciardone says that Omar Suleiman had hopes "until a few years ago" of being nominated vice-president. He also adds that Suleiman "hates the idea of Gamal being president."
  • Ricciardone writes that, in the case of Mubarak's death before he can install Gamal, a military coup is possible.
  • Gamal promised US the end of the Emergency Law in 2006 (it is still ongoing.) It's also casually mentioned that Egyptian security services employ 1.4 million people.
  • Gamal told US that opening presidential elections to a wider range of candidates (presumably by making independent candidacies easier) would be "a recipe for chaos."

Note that I am re-translating from the French, and that I have not seen the complete cables — let me know if you have seen them online elsewhere.

Update: The relevant cables are now out on Wikileaks' site.


Succession in Tunisia

Mohammed Sakhr al-MeteriThis young man could be the successor to President Ben Ali, the dictator of Tunisia. As always in these cases, apart from being unbelievably corrupt it's not clear what his assets are for the job. From a US Embassy Tunis cable on Wikileaks:

Personally, El-Matri presented himself as self-confident, but low-key. This was in marked contrast to his reputation as a flamboyant and aggressive business mogul. His reputation derives in part from the fact that he drives an Austin Martin and a Hummer among other cars, and rumors that he owns a pet tiger. With the Ambassador, he was equally comfortable talking about political issues and personal issues. He indicated his awareness of his relative youth vis-a-vis his position in the RCD and his business success, but did not seem uncomfortable with that reality. He also discussed his wife Nesrine's commitment to using only organic products from the food they eat to the paint and varnish in their new mansion.

A spoilt brat, then. Tip of the hat to Brian Whitaker, who found another cable on Libyan sibling rivalry and succession, which he discussed here.

Succession in Ra's al-Khaima

I missed this when it came out at the beginning of the month. Interesting how these mini-states operate, also that tanks were involved...

The Politics of Succession in Ra's Al-Khaimah - GULF STREAM - Current Intelligence:

When Saqr died on October 27th, there were several hours of confusion.  Khalid re-entered Ra's al-Khaimah and installed himself in his pre-2003 palace with over a hundred supporters and retainers.  He had earlier been promised by the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai that he could attend his father's funeral and had concluded that he would be peacefully and swiftly installed as ruler, with Saud remaining as crown prince.  By mid-afternoon, however, a brief announcement was made by the Abu Dhabi-controlled Federal Ministry for Presidential Affairs congratulating Saud on becoming the new ruler of Ra's al-Khaimah.  Tanks were deployed on the outskirts of Ra's al-Khaimah and most of Khalid's guards were arrested and remain detained for questioning. Khalid and his son were not permitted to attend the funeral.

With Khalid stating that he intends to meet with the members of the Supreme Council of Rulers (comprising the rulers of each emirate) in order to discuss the future of Ra's al-Khaimah, it appears that he is unwilling to drop his claim, even though he has now had to leave the emirate.  This unresolved challenge will continue to undermine Saud and may provoke renewed instability in the future.

Incidentally I really like the publishing model of Current Intelligence.

On yesterday's Egypt protests

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was back in May that there were two demonstrations in the center of Cairo a few days apart. One, mostly led by trade union activists, took place peacefully without many clashes with riot police. The other — I think held on May 4, Mubarak's birthday — was led by political activists and members of parliament. They were treated much more roughly, because their message was not a general one about wages or government policies, but about who ruled Egypt.

I kept thinking of that after catching to the news of the last few days (I was and still am away from Cairo, so am relying entirely on press reports) and, particularly, the recent anti-Mubarak protest that gathered some 600 activists yesterday in Cairo, and more in Alexandria and other cities. Amidst all the different small protests that have taken place, these seem different. First of all, because it seems that it's been a while since 600 people participated in a specifically anti-Mubarak protest. Secondly, because the way the police handled the demo seems unusually heavy-handed: 

The demonstration was scheduled to take place in front of Abdeen Palace, the former residence of Egypt’s King Farouk, in downtown Cairo, but hundreds of riot police surrounded the area from Mohamed Farid Square to Abdeen Square, closing off all the main routes leading to the palace and preventing many protestors from reaching the location.

The underground metro exits were also blocked by riot police, described by activist Ahmed Samir as “an Egyptian army.”

Many protestors were beaten and detained for hours by riot police to prevent them from reaching the location of the demonstration and several reporters were also prevented from going through.

“The police started surrounding the area at 3:30 pm. The violations and detentions started at 5 pm. Kefaya headquarters, which is near Abdeen Square, was completely surrounded by riot police and a number of activists were detained near Bab El-Louq on their way to the demonstrations,” general coordinator of the Kefaya Movement for Change Abdel Halim Qandil told Daily News Egypt.

. . .

According to Ramy Raoof, a volunteer with the Front for the Defense of Egypt's Protestors, 14 were arrested in Cairo, 29 in Alexandria and 10 in Port Said. Protestors from Cairo and Port Said were all released before 2 am Wednesday morning. Although Raoof said he expected that all activists were released he couldn’t confirm the same happened to those arrested in Alexandria.

Qandil had earlier estimated that 30 activists were arrested on Tuesday.

Some were later released on the desert road between Cairo and Ain Sokhna, others in Al Moqattam and on the Cairo-Ismailia road.

I would venture that these protests are taking a slightly different significance for both participants and the security services in the current political context. For activists, they are the first major protests since the launch of the poster campaign for Gamal Mubarak last month, and may represent a revival of the trend of frequent large protests that we saw in 2005 in the run-up to the presidential elections. In this charged political atmosphere, it makes sense that activists will redouble their efforts and that more people might be drawn into participating in these protests: there is something more tangible to protest against today, since a Gamal Mubarak campaign now exists in public.

For the police, this might indicate new instructions to send a strong message to participants that such protests (not long ago largely tolerated and kept under control) will be handled more firmly from now on. The dumping of people on the desert highway is quite unnecessarily petty, for instance, and the rough handling of MPs unusual (although it also happened last May.)

This brings to mind something that I've been thinking about for a while: what if, in the run-up to the succession many expect to happen in the next year, Egypt sees a considerable tightening of political space? After all, in recent years, even as elections were rigged the regime could always claim to have considerably more political space than many other Arab countries. It tolerated a lot of protests, direct public criticism of the president, and many other things unthinkable in, say, Tunisia or Libya or Syria. What if it tightens the noose now? What if the recent troubles the Orbit satellite channel is said to be having, the purchase of al-Destour by the Wafd's al-Sayed al-Badawy, its editor Ibrahim Eissa's rumored booting from his talk show on Naguib Sawiris' ON TV, and many other measures point to the limited space that exists in Egypt being reduced further?

It's worth keeping this in mind, because we're not in 2005: Egypt's domestic politics are not a major part of US foreign policy, the world is not watching.

[Michael Dunn has some thoughts on the recent protests too.]