Scenarios for presidential succession

The health of President Hosni Mubarak is not a private matter. It’s a public concern whose smallest details should be widely disclosed as the president's decisions shape the future of the entire country and have an impact on millions of people.

For that reason, and in light of recent reports about Mubarak’s deteriorating health, discussions about likely scenarios for succession should be conducted openly and without inhibitions, while at the same time remaining sensitive to our country's national interests and security.

Let's consider the following two possibilities with their respective outcomes:

First, that Mubarak’s health may gradually worsen over the period leading up to the presidential election, foreclosing his nomination for a sixth term.

Second, that Mubarak may die or become seriously incapacitated, leaving the presidency vacant and inevitably prompting early elections.

What does the law say in each of these cases?.

From a legal perspective, Articles 83, 84 and 85 of the Egyptian Constitution specify how power should be transferred when the presidential office becomes vacant. If the president is temporarily unable to carry out his duties, he should delegate his powers to the vice president or prime minister. In the case of a permanent vacancy, the head of the People's Assembly (lower house) should temporarily act as president. If the People's Assembly is dissolved, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court should assume this duty. In either case, a new president should be chosen within a maximum period of 60 days.

The Egyptian regime will face complicated challenges in the case of a vacancy, temporary or permanent, for two reasons. First, Egypt does not have a vice president and the current prime minister is largely viewed as a civil servant and not a statesman who is fit to act as president. Second, a plan is in the works to transfer power to the president's son. This scheme threatens to spark social and political unrest if it ever materializes.

Therefore, Mubarak's decaying health could lead to a troublesome situation for which the constitution offers no solutions.

Since the Egyptian regime lacks transparency and accountability, nobody dares to call for the formation of a medical team to determine whether Mubarak is fit to carry out his duties and responsibilities in the coming period. The matter will be left in the hands of the ruling inner circle which will decide the appropriate time to move ahead with the power inheritance plan.

When they decide the moment is ripe, the presidential office will be declared vacant and the inheritance scheme will be activated. And with Mubarak still alive, there are better chances of clearing any obstacles–such as resistance from the security apparatus–to the plan's implementation.  

If the tight ruling elite, however, believe it’s not yet the time for the scheme to unfold, they will postpone declaring the presidency vacant so long as the president is capable of carrying out those duties that do not require considerable effort on his part.

If either of these predictions comes true then we can expect one of two scenarios in the near future.

Scenario one: The president becomes incapable of assuming his responsibilities while the ruling circle insists it’s still not the right moment to declare the presidency vacant. In the absence of a vice president or suitable prime minister, power is transferred to the president’s son. Such a decision would be unconstitutional, and would likely cause political instability, especially if it persists for a long time.

Scenario two: The President dies or suffers a permanent disability. The ruling circle declares the presidency vacant and adopts procedures for early elections as stipulated in the constitution.

Since the nomination of Gamal Mubarak may be met with wide public opposition, the security apparatus will possibly resist such a choice. This could lead the military to intervene in the process.

Thus, it is imperative that information about the president's health be publicly disclosed and rules for presidential succession be clearly delineated. Towards this end, I urge President Mubarak to appoint a vice president while all options are still open, and to hold a monthly press conference to apprise the Egyptian public of his health situation.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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