Professor: Regime Change Can't Happen Overnight

Host Guy Raz talks to Georgetown University Professor Samer Shehata about what possible scenarios might work if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek leaves office. He says a coalition government is possible under the right circumstances, but first there will have to be a change to the constitution.

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GUY RAZ, host:

And joining me here in the studio is Samer Shehata. He's a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. Thanks for coming in.

Professor SAMER SHEHATA (Arab Politics, Georgetown University): You're very welcome.

RAZ: First to the news that President Mubarak has appointed a vice president, the first time in 30 years. He is Omar Suleiman, the head of the intelligences services. Also, Ahmad Shafiq, the head of the air force, will become the new - or is the new prime minister. Will either of those appointments have much of an impact? Will they satisfy the public?

Prof. SHEHATA: I don't think so. This is another last-ditch attempt by the Mubarak regime to survive this. But the calls of the protesters have been for the ouster of the Mubarak regime; for Mubarak to get on a plane and join his friend Ben Ali in Saudi Arabia. Now, this was a shrewd...

RAZ: The former president of Tunisia, of course.

Prof. SHEHATA: Yes, the former president of Tunisia - in Saudi Arabia, where he is now in exile. But it was a shrewd move because Omar Suleiman is a known figure. He is a respected figure. He has a history in the Egyptian military, and he has some popularity in standing.

And in fact, some time ago - before this crisis, of course - his name had been mentioned by many people as a potential successor to Mubarak. So he's much more popular than Mubarak and has some legitimacy. But in the present situation, I don't think that that's going to be enough. People want more than simply a change of faces; they want a change of regime.

RAZ: Samer Shehata, let's turn to possible scenarios. What happens if President Mubarak either steps down or even has to flee the country? Who governs Egypt at that point? Is there a formal process?

Prof. SHEHATA: Yes, there is. If there is a vice president - and a legitimate vice president; and you know, Mr. Suleiman's position is questionable - then the vice president would take over the affairs of state.

However, if there was no vice president - as there has been for the last 29 years, under Mr. Mubarak's term - technically, according to the constitution, the speaker of parliament, a gentleman named Fathi Sorour, would be the interim president for a period of 60 days. After which, there would be presidential elections. And the constitution also stipulates that the interim president does not have the right to be a candidate...

RAZ: A candidate.

Prof. SHEHATA: ...in those elections. So this opens up all kinds of possibilities. I think in theory, that is a very nice transition.

Unfortunately, the constitution, over the last couple of years, has been amended at the whim of the ruling party, and tailored to meet their needs in the sense that presidential candidates can't come forward. There are all kinds of restrictions that limit who can become a presidential candidate. And that's why Mohamed ElBaradei, for example, is excluded. So that article of the constitution, Article 76, would also have to be amended in order to have genuinely free and fair elections after 60 days.

RAZ: So who could potentially fill the vacuum? I mean, we know that the only credible opposition in Egypt has been the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak, of course, has tried to suppress that movement. You mentioned Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He is trying to raise his profile as a possible opposition leader. What do you imagine a post-Mubarak government could look like?

Prof. SHEHATA: Well, the first point is that up until a week ago, it was thought that the Muslim Brotherhood was the leading opposition group in Egyptian politics.

RAZ: Right.

Prof. SHEHATA: But things have changed significantly over the last week, and the primary organizers behind the original January 25th demonstrations had nothing to do with Islamist politics, no affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. They were largely youth and secular groups in addition to the anti-Mubarak (unintelligible) Mubarak group and then the National Association of Change, the Mohamed ElBaradei group.

But with regard to imagining a government that would be in charge of shepherding Egypt into free and fair elections for genuine reform to take place, there are many individuals in the country. The minister of industry is very well-respected, and I don't believe he's a member of the ruling party -along with figures like Mohamed ElBaradei, of course, along with the head of the Wafd, an opposition party. I think they could form some kind of an interim government that could shepherd Egypt until there are free and fair elections in the future.

RAZ: That's Samer Shehata. He's a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.

Samer, thank you so much for coming in.

Prof. SHEHATA: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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