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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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.