This past week has marked a tectonic shift in the Middle East landscape, as protesters in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Tunisia take to the streets calling for political reform. We at the Baker Institute have been closely monitoring the situation, and I have been commenting on these historic events for major media outlets.
I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.
President Hosni Mubarak's decision to defy the street and stay in office has had the immediate effect of continuing demonstrations and now violence. He must have had at least the tacit support of the military to try to remain in office until the scheduled presidential elections in September 2011. Mubarak has stated he would no longer run for office, but it has yet to be seen how this scenario plays out.
Will the Egyptian military continue to support Mubarak or will it orchestrate another political succession from its own ranks — most likely newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman himself? This would be in line with Egypt's political history since Gamal Abdel Nasser's rise to power in the 1950s.
Or will an entirely new government with strong support from the military be formed to oversee new parliamentary and presidential elections open to all political parties and organizations? This may be the most hopeful outcome, but whatever happens, the role of the Egyptian military is critical.
Given the importance of U.S.-Egyptian bilateral ties, Egypt's geopolitical role in the region and its peace treaty with Israel, the U.S. administration is trying to walk a fine line between not "abandoning" a long-term ally of the United States and positioning itself for political change in Egypt that is aligned with the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The close relationship and the recent bilateral talks in Washington between the United States and Egyptian military are very important in terms of the administration trying to influence a non-violent political transition.
To date, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's public remarks have been deftly measured to address the Egyptian street and the ruling elite with these goals in mind. Secretary Clinton has expressed the U.S. administration's desire to see an orderly and a managed political transition to bring about democratic participatory government. However, given the complexity of the situation, even the United States cannot determine the outcome of events.
But the U.S. administration must start planning for how it is going to deal with the emerging political forces at play in Egypt in the wake of this crisis. In this respect, Washington must take fully into consideration the complex political, economic and social currents in Egyptian society and the crying need for reforms. In any political transition, the military's role in assuring political stability and national security is key. Egypt's political parties and organizations, civil society, professional associations, unions and private enterprise sector, all have a role to play in crafting Egypt's political future.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, gained over 20 percent of Egypt's 454-member parliament in 2005, and while performing poorly in last year's elections will seek its place in the political spectrum. The United States must start thinking if it is prepared to engage with them, along with the secular parties in Egypt. Here the challenge will be if the Brotherhood is truly prepared and willing to play by the rules of the democratic process and accepts the principles of pluralism and the alternation of power (i.e., not "One man, one vote, one time.") The Egyptian secular parties should make this a key requirement to avoid a scenario whereby the Brotherhood may try eventually to establish another autocratic regime in Egypt, this time in a religious garb.
No one can predict what scenarios will occur in Egypt given the dynamics at play and the complexity of the situation in Egypt and the region. Nevertheless, it is clear that every effort must be made by the Egyptians themselves, in the first instance, and the United States and the international community to steer Egypt toward an orderly transfer of power and political transition that is responsive to the needs of its people and provides them with both security and justice. Maintaining Egypt's key regional and international commitments and responsibilities, especially the peace treaty with Israel, is also essential.
Edward P. Djerejian
Baker Institute founding director
Baker Institute among top 20 university-affiliated think tanks
The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy has been ranked one of the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks in the world and among the top 30 think tanks in the United States. The 2010 Global Go To Think Tank Rankings, released in January 2011, are organized by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Rankings criteria included an institute's ability to retain top scholars, the quality of research, access to policymakers and ability to influence policy decisions.
"The Baker Institute's ranking is a reflection of the relevance and timeliness of the public policy studies and recommendations produced by the institute's fellows and scholars," said Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian, the founding director of the Baker Institute. "It also reflects, as well, the quality of the programs and events that the institute's staff organize to extend our outreach to the Rice students and faculty, to the Houston community and to national and international audiences through our state-of-the-art communications facilities."
According to the rankings report, there are an estimated 6,480 think tanks in the world, with the majority in the United States and Europe. Texas alone has 47 think tanks. Just under 5,500 think tanks participated in the 2010 survey.
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Baker Institute Blog
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Danger and Opportunity in Egypt. Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute, analyzes the causes and effects of the uprising in Egypt. February 1
Stem Cell Research in Texas. Kirstin Matthews, fellow in science and technology policy, examines in a new report the economic and political conditions affecting stem cell policy in Texas. February 1
What I've Learned from the Crisis in Cairo. Rice University senior Tom Campbell recounts the recent visit to the Baker Institute of students from The American University in Cairo, and his trip to Egypt last summer. January 31
Remembering the Challenger. George Abbey, Baker Botts Senior Fellow in Space Policy and former director of the Johnson Space Center, reflects on the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. January 28
Short circuiting a Revolution in Egypt. Chris Bronk, fellow in information technology policy, examines the role of technology in a changing Arab world. January 28.
Economists Support Health Care Reform. Vivian Ho, James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics, joins economists across the U.S. who believe health care reform will strengthen the economy. January 27
Why Congress Should Support President Obama's Education Proposals. Rahul Rekhi, an ambassador for the Baker Institute Student Forum, explains why the president's plans for education are good for America. January 26
Who Could Be Behind the Bombing in Moscow? Joan Neuhaus Schaan, fellow in homeland security and terorrism, examines the role of Chechnya's "Black Widows" in recent bombing attacks. January 24
Julian Assange: A Revolutionary Icon? Chris Bronk, fellow in information technology policy, comments on the street art he spotted near Rice University. January 21
The Health Care Bill and Job Growth. John Diamond, Edward A. and Hermena Hancock Kelly Fellow in Public Finance, joins economists across the U.S. to make the economic case against health care reform. January 19
For a complete list, visit our webcast page.
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The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.