Protesters Expected To Win Out, Mubarak Will Go

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains in power despite protesters who are trying to drive him out of office. Dr. Maha Azzam, associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London, talks to Steve Inskeep about how long Murbarak can stay in office.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get some analysis now on the protests in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak remains in power - or at least in office. Demonstrators called for a general strike today, though we're told that many shops are open. Dr. Maha Azzam is monitoring all of this. She's an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, which is a think tank in London.

Welcome to the program.

Dr. MAHA AZZAM (Chatham House): Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you think will determine if Mubarak can survive these protests?

Dr. AZZAM: I don't think Mr. Mubarak is going to survive the protests. I think that the demand of the protestors is that Mubarak must go. And the fact that Omar Suleiman has become the deputy president now means that we're in a situation where the mechanisms are being set in place to allow Mr. Mubarak a respectable exit. And pressure is also being put by the United States on the regime to find a way out and to work towards free and fair elections soon.

INSKEEP: Let's remember, Suleiman is the man who was named vice president. He was the military intelligence chief. Is the military essentially taking over here, as you see it?

Dr. AZZAM: The military has always been the bulwark of the regime. At the moment it is really at the forefront of the political process. But I think the demand of the Egyptians is that eventually there has to be some kind of civilian government.

INSKEEP: Is the opposition becoming more organized?

Dr. AZZAM: I think the opposition is still trying to get its act together. There is, of course, ElBaradei, the former head of the IAEA. There is other factions and other political groupings secular, democratic. And, of course, you've got the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist party.

All these forces are trying to form some kind of organized opposition to the regime and may come up with a spokesman for themselves from among these groupings. It may well be ElBaradei who helps negotiate a transitional government with the military.

INSKEEP: I suppose the assumption or the fear of a lot of people in a situation like this is that Mubarak would be replaced by some kind of fundamentalist government, which of course that's the great narrative of the Arab world in recent years - fundamentalists versus pro-Western forces or modernist forces. Is there some third way possible here?

Dr. AZZAM: I think this has been played up tremendously and has helped maintain authoritarian regimes for a very long time to the detriment of the interests of the United States and its allies.

If you look at Egypt, the main political force with an Islamist leaning is the Muslim Brotherhood, which really has not been involved in any kind of violence throughout the period of Mr. Mubarak. On the contrary, it has tried to behave as a political group that wants reform. It's had candidates elected to parliament. And in parliament it didn't behave as an extremist group. And what we need to see in Egypt is an inclusive system that involves leftist groups, Islamist groups and others, so long as all these groups condemn the resort to violence.

INSKEEP: And are there also non-Islamists, if that's the proper term, forces within the opposition that are worth reckoning with here?

Dr. AZZAM: Yes. I think there are. I mean, the protestors that have come out, some of them are individuals who have come out in support of the slogans of the organizers. But there are certainly key actors here.

There's the April the 6th Movement that's very important. It's a democratic secular movement. There is Ayman Nour, a man who's been imprisoned in his political party under Mubarak for just attempting to run as president. These are secular and democratic forces.

And the Muslim Brotherhood is not opposed to any of them. They all seem to have formed some kind of unspoken coalition against the regime, calling for a more democratic political order in Egypt.

INSKEEP: Dr. Maha Azzam is an expert in political Islam. She's at Chatham House in London.

Thanks very much.

Dr. AZZAM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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