Egyptian president “may stand down”

A senior member of Egypt’s governing party suggests that President Mubarak’s departure is imminent.

The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, "may stand down" this evening, according to the secretary general of the ruling NDP party, Dr Hossam Badrawi. Mubarak is expected to make an announcement about his future some time this evening.

"I'm expecting him to pass his decision for the constitution amendments and for him to go to the constitution and transmit his authorities as president to his vice-president," said Dr Badrawi in an interview with Channel 4 News today.

"He made mistakes but he sees himself as someone that does not deserve getting out of power, of his service, that way," Dr Badrawi continued. "At the same time he realises that it's the time to change. That's my impression in the last two days."

Claims that Mubarak is to step down soon have been denied by the Egyptian information minister, Anas el-Feky, who told the Reuters news agency: "The president is still in power and he is not stepping down. The president is not stepping down and everything you heard in the media is a rumour."

If Mubarak were to stand down, however, it would be the culmination of a historic few weeks in the Middle East. Popular unrest in the region spread rapidly after an uprising in Tunisia resulted in the Tunisian president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fleeing the country on 14 January.

On 25 January, protests erupted in Egypt, calling upon the country's octogenarian president, Hosni Mubarak, to resign as president. Even after 17 days, protesters still fill Tahrir Square in Cairo calling for Mubarak's exit.

The Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan argued in last week's New Statesman that the events in Egypt could prove a tipping point for political change in the Arab world:

Who could have predicted that Egypt would soon witness such unprecedented popular protest? A barrier has fallen. Nothing will be the same again. It is quite likely that other countries will follow the lead of Egypt, given its central and symbolic significance.

The regional impact of Mubarak stepping down will be huge, yet the exact consequences are unpredictable. After the revolutions in both Tunisian and Egyptian, the political message is clear: with non-violent mass protest, anything is possible and no autocratic government is safe and secure any longer.

Presidents and kings are feeling the pressure of this historical turning point. The unrest has reached Algeria, Yemen and Mauritania. One should also look at Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia: preventive reforms have been announced, as if there were a common feeling of fear and vulnerability. The rulers of all these countries know that if the Egyptian is collapsing, they run the risk of the same destiny. This state of instability is worrying and at the same time very promising. The Arab world is awakening with dignity and hope.

And in this week's magazine, John Pilger argues that the Egyptian uprising has forced the west to reconsider its vew of the Arab world.

The uprising in Egypt has discredited every western media stereotype about the Arabs. The courage, determination, eloquence and grace of those in Liberation Square contrast with "our" specious fear-mongering, with its al-Qaeda and Iran bogeys and iron-clad assumptions of the "moral leadership of the west". It is not surprising that the recent source of truth about the imperial abuse of the Middle East, WikiLeaks, is itself subjected to craven and petty abuse in those self-congratulating newspapers that set the limits of elite liberal debate on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps they are worried. Public awareness is rising and bypassing them.

Elsewhere in the magazine, the Middle East expert Olivier Roy explains the significance of the revolts and explains why everything you thought you knew about the Middle East is wrong.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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