from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

Egypt: Who Will Be The Prime Minister?

November 23, 2011

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When Field Marshal Tantawi accepted the resignation of the Sharaf government yesterday, he did not announce a new prime minister. Why? Apparently the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cannot find anyone willing to take the job—at least under the present terms of the position. This isn’t terribly surprising. Essam Sharaf was hoisted upon the shoulders of Tahrir revolutionaries when it was announced that he would take the place of Mubarak crony, Ahmad Shafiq, last March, but ultimately left office in ignominy.

Now it seems that Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa are in talks with the SCAF about heading the next government, but both are understandably wary. ElBaradei and Moussa have presidential aspirations and will want to avoid the same fate as Sharaf, who was hammered between the military and public opinion and as a result, spectacularly ineffective. Word is that ElBaradei and Moussa may be negotiating terms that will give them autonomy and a measure of legitimacy that will protect them and keep their hopes for the presidency alive. One historical footnote: The whole Sharaf episode reminds me of the power struggle between the Free Officers and Ali Maher in 1952. That ended when the officers decided on one of their own—Mohamed Naguib—to serve as the prime minister. It is unlikely that we will see a commander assume the prime ministry, but the fact that the SCAF can’t find anyone to serve on their own terms speaks volumes to the deep trouble the military is in. Civilian politicians, even the unprincipled opportunists, don’t want to be played by the SCAF.

One thought is to have a collective leadership—a National Salvation Council. Given the stakes and the present nature of Egyptian politics, a Council of this sort would likely deteriorate into infighting quickly, making it weak and susceptible to the military’s manipulation.

The best option, of course, would be a prime minister and government with the public support of a parliament that is elected freely and fairly. Unfortunately, Egyptians will have to wait until March—if all goes unexpectedly well—for that happy outcome.