What's Next For Egypt?

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Egyptians are waking up to a new political future, this week — one without President Hosni Mubarak. The parliament has been dissolved and the military's Supreme Council has set a timetable for a transition to a new government. To discuss the road ahead for Egypt and the region, host Michel Martin speaks with Jordan's former Deputy Prime Minister, Marwan Muasher, who is now Vice President of Middle East studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up on this Valentine's Day, we have stories of those trying hard to make a connection. We will hear from a man who is a full-time matchmaker, the only African-American man doing such work full-time in this country, he tells us. That is later in the program.

But first, to Egypt where the military presides over martial law. The parliament has been dissolved. But the supreme council of the military set a timetable for transition to a new government without former president Hosni Mubarak. Portraits of Mubarak were removed from at least one highly visible government building. But big questions remain about what comes next, including how the new Egyptian government will respond to the U.S. and Israel.

Back with us to answer some of these questions is Marwan Muasher. He is the former deputy prime minister of Jordan. He also held posts as Jordan's foreign minister and ambassador to the United States. He's now vice president for Middle East studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He's with us from there. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

Mr. MARWAN MUASHER (Vice President for Middle East Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): It's nice to be with you.

MARTIN: Now, before we talk more broadly about trends in the region, we want to talk about Egypt specifically. The people there seem very optimistic that the leaders of the military will, in fact, cede power on schedule in time for elections in the fall. What is the basis for that optimism?

Mr. MUASHER: The military is a very established and trusted institution in Egyptian politics. The irony, of course, is that, you know, the ex-regime of Mubarak did not allow any political space for political parties to emerge. And so you are seeing a vacuum of leadership that the military in Egypt is trying to fill.

It is ironic; the military is not an institution that is known for democratic values usually. So, it remains to be seen whether the military will indeed, you know, supervise a serious process of giving back - not just giving back power to the civilians, but also putting together a process that will result in a new election law, in a new presidential law that will allow people to stand for elections free of the interference and support of, you know, of the national ruling party before.

MARTIN: Now, what I hear you say is that, in part, the military is the only institution that seems to have the capacity for this because so many other, you know, sectors in civil society were suppressed and underdeveloped over the last 30 years. But can I just ask you to describe, what are the strengths of the military? We know, for example, that there are extensive contacts between military leaders in the United States and Egyptian military leaders. What else? What else gives them the capacity?

Mr. MUASHER: Well, it's been an old institution in the country. A lot of money has been channeled to the military to provide for training of its (unintelligible). And so you have a relatively well-functioning, well-trained establishment. That, once again, does not mean that it is an ideal institution for the instituting of democracy.

But in the absence of any other institutions, it seems to be the only one capable of doing so. The other institution, that of the ruling party in Egypt, of course, is an institution that is not trusted today by Egyptians.

MARTIN: What about some of the emerging leadership we see? We see that sort of some of the youth groups or youth leaders who were active in the demonstrations are now trying to, you know, organize themselves to be a part of the process. What is your sense of the prospects for this new generation showing leadership here?

Mr. MUASHER: Well, this is still a process in flux, frankly. We don't yet see any sort of emerging personalities, if you will. There is a feeling in the country that this revolution was indeed brought about by the young. But that does not mean, of course, that the young are going necessarily to rule the country.

We've heard a lot of names mentioned in the West. These might or might not, in fact, have the support of the Egyptian people. The name of Mohamed ElBaradei comes to mind. One poll that was conducted a few days ago gave him 3 percent support among the Egyptian public. Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and an Egyptian foreign, ex-foreign minister has so far 25 percent.

So, really, I don't think that there is any clear leadership that has emerged from this. And I don't expect the process to be necessarily a very, you know, smooth one. We might be seeing more of a collective system, maybe, where several leaders will get together and try to help until the institutions in the country can be strengthened in one way or the other.

Certainly, before the presidential elections, we are not going to see any one personality emerging until I think the Egyptian people will be able to decide by themselves in the voting booth who the next president of Egypt will be.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We've called, once again, upon Marwan Muasher. He's the vice president for Middle East studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He's also a former deputy prime minister for Jordan. And we're talking about what's next for Egypt and the rest of the region now that Mubarak has stepped down.

And Egypt, of course, was a crucial ally for the United States and for Israel. Israel's most significant relationship in the Arab world, I think it's fair to say. And I think it's noticeable now that there is a great deal of nervousness in Egypt. And to some - I'm sorry - in Israel - and to some degree in the United States about the power vacuum and how these relationships with Israel and the United States will be affected by what's happening there. Are there any clues about external relationships at this point?

Mr. MUASHER: Again, the military has already, you know, declared that all the - all its international obligations will be respected. So I do not expect that the peace treaty with Israel would be affected. Relations with Israel will certainly be affected. That is to be expected. I think one of the sort of policies that will need to be revisited is not just the policy of the U.S. with its Arab allies, but also with Israel.

It is, you know, interesting to know that Israel for the longest time has presented itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. And then when a democracy was trying to be established in Egypt, in fact, the Israelis counseled the U.S. government to stick by Mubarak and not to support the protesters. That is not a sustainable policy and that will need to change.

Israel's Natan Sharansky, a member of the Israeli government, had a statement yesterday saying that the revolution in Egypt shows that you cannot keep people, you know, who are yearning for freedom, you cannot keep them under your control. Well, his own government is controlling Palestinians under occupation and therefore this whole business of making peace, of standing against people's yearning for freedom, I think is one that not only Arab governments will have to look at and revisit, but Israel as well.

MARTIN: And what about Iran? You know, initially after celebrating Mubarak's demise, because he was perceived as too close to the West, now the Iranian government is warning those wanting to march there in honor of the Egyptian uprising that such a march would be handled severely.

Mr. MUASHER: You know, Iran's position, frankly, cannot be seen except as hypocritical on all these events. On, you know, one day the Iranian government and the president cheer and hailed the Egyptian people for standing up to their government and the very next day it clamps down on its own people who are also standing against the government.

This is, you know, this is not, again, a sustainable position, nor one that anybody can be fooled for. I think that this wave that we are witnessing in the Middle East will also, in one way or the other, affect Iran. Some will say that in fact it was Iran who started this in 2009.

MARTIN: And, finally, would you just tell us about, in other countries in the region, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan have also seen protests to one degree or another in the days - in the last couple of weeks as the Egypt uprising was continuing. Could you just talk a little bit more in the two minutes that we have left about what you see next in other countries? What is the next country to which we should turn our attention, in your view?

Mr. MUASHER: I don't think that one can predict, you know, which is the next country. I think what we can safely say is that the Middle East today, after Tunisia and Egypt, is not what it used to be before Tunisia and Egypt. There are so many myths, conventional wisdoms that have been shattered by the events of the last few weeks.

One of them is that the Arab public does not go out to the street and does not protest and therefore the process of reform can be done at a very slow pace. That, of course, argument has been shattered. And I think there is a lot of thinking going on in the region and a lot - and a need to start not just ad hoc programs here and there, but a sustained and serious reform process.

Those countries that are able to do so will basically be able to, you know, have a smooth transition to a pluralistic culture. Those countries who are not able to do so, and will still engage in cosmetic changes or ad hoc programs without a sustained process, will do so at their own peril.

MARTIN: And, finally, we only have about a minute left. Do you mind if I ask you if there's any way in which your, I mean, you have a deep knowledge of the region. As we mentioned, you've had many diplomatic posts. Is there any way in which your expectations and sense of the region has been challenged by recent events?

Mr. MUASHER: I wrote a book two years ago, "The Arab Center," in which I argued that Arabs and Arab governments cannot remain focused on one issue and one issue only, which is the peace process and that the issue of reform is another issue that they will have to address if they are to remain credible in their people's eyes.

So I can claim that I did predict what is going to happen even if I did not know when it was going to happen. I firmly believe that these two, Israel's peace and reform, must be addressed simultaneously by Arab governments if they are to be credible in their people's eyes.

MARTIN: Marwan Muasher is the former deputy prime minister of Jordan. He also held posts as Jordan's foreign minister, ambassador to the United States. He now overseas the work of the Middle East programs in Washington and Beirut for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And he spoke with us from the offices in Washington there. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

Mr. MUASHER: Thank you.

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